Q&A: The future of outdoor advertising

A virtual advert appears in the sky over the city

We're all familiar with the giant advertising billboards we see daily on buildings and at the roadside. They can be surprisingly effective at bringing your business to the attention of a wide audience

But technological developments are shaking up the traditional billboard. From the creative use of data to display highly targeted messaging, capturing the right people at the exact right time, to interactive campaigns pulling together audience contributions sent from smartphones, out-of-home (OOH) advertising is moving at a remarkable pace.

We talk to Daniel Siden, CEO of Lightvert, an outdoor augmented reality (AR) technology company, about the latest developments.

What is AR, and what does it mean for OOH advertising?

DS: "AR is any means by which digital content can be displayed 'on top of' the real world. The power of AR is in its ability to deliver context-specific content seamlessly, enhancing the user's experience.

"It allows us to unlock vast amounts of high-value advertising real estate, as the technology can be used in almost any location."

How did you develop the idea for persistence of vision (PoV) advertising?

DS: "We had been working with PoV displays for a well-known lighting artist for some time, and several of the commissioning clients expressed interest in large-scale displays. That is when the idea came together for our patented projection technique."

How do PoV displays work?

DS: "PoV is the same effect you get when you look at a bright light, and then look away - you see a ghost of that bright light for just a moment. We use this effect to 'print' an image in the viewer's eye - temporarily and safely.

"An ECHO display consists of just a thin single vertical line of light which takes a digital image and breaks it into vertical columns of data. As the viewer's eye moves left or right, the ECHO display 'prints' the data in the viewer's eye, and the viewer sees an image for what feels like 1/10th to 1/4th of a second. Each time their eye moves, the image appears again."

What can you display using ECHO?

DS: "Technically, you can display anything! But ECHO is a new medium, and the challenges for us, and for content creators, is to design content that maximises the value of the medium, and really plays to its inherent strengths. We find that big, bold, expressive images work well."

What's the benefit of ECHO over traditional billboards?

DS: "With PoV display systems it is possible to create very large-scale images, up to 35 meters tall. Because the system is so thin, just a single vertical line of light, it can be placed in locations traditional screens and posters can't go.

"We have also developed a mobile deployment vehicle which allows us to set up a 20-meter ECHO display within 30 minutes. The system is totally self-contained.

"But the truly valuable element of ECHO displays is that they engage viewers in a wholly new way, making them a compelling medium. People are very good at ignoring traditional billboards and posters, and ECHO displays break the mould.

"Images can be dynamically controlled, just as they can on traditional digital displays. We're also developing powerful mobile engagement software that will allow for highly targeted content to be delivered to viewers."

Will it be cost-effective for small businesses?

DS: "Absolutely, one of the great benefits is that the capital equipment costs are much lower than for traditional media. This allows it to be much more adaptable to suit different budgets and deployment sizes."

Does PoV technology herald the end of the billboard?

DS: "While we do believe that ECHO technology plays a valuable role, we don't expect it to supplant traditional screen and poster media. It will be used strategically by advertisers to emphasise or enhance their message."

Written with expert input from Daniel Siden of Lightvert

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