Ditch London’s digital signage immediately!

During this summer’s visit to London, I was struck by the amount of digital signage, or rather digital advertising, that’s sprung up since I was last here.

All over the place, advertisement hoardings have been replaced by digitial screens. In the Tube, small TVs line the escalators and projectors shine onto the curved walls of the underground stations. Lots of ‘digital hoardings’ seem to have sprung up in new locations as well.

With no exceptions, I hated all the digital advertising I saw.

I don’t want to sound like a luddite. I work in the technology industry, for goodness’ sake. I have nothing against the technology per se, just the way it is implemented.

There’s clearly a time and place for digital signage. What I detest is digital signage being used for digital advertising.

I was really impressed with the digital signage I saw when we arrived at Manchester airport last Friday, for example. The content being displayed around the passport area was very well done. It was informative, helpful and projected in a way that caught your eye but wasn’t intrusive. Similarly, it’s obvious that digital signage in airport terminals, railways and other locations can be an efficient, convenient tool.

What I utterly detest is the idea of a future where we are surrounded by intrusive, mind numbing, backlit, video advertising content being shoved in our faces the moment we walk out of the door.

I am sure people had similar complaints when ‘normal’ advertising began, so it’s probably easy to dismiss my complaints as the moanings of someone who’s out of touch. Perhaps they are, but I really don’t think anyone outside of the advertising and signage industries themselves likes what’s happening now. At best, people might be indifferent – I am betting that most people dislike it.

‘Normal’ advertising is something I have grown up with, so it would be easy to argue that since I am used to it, I don’t notice it or don’t mind it. – whilst I would prefer fewer adverts on the streets, in buses, trains and so on, there’s a key differentiator between traditional advertising and its new digital version.

The new technology is intrusive. The backlit screens catch your eye, even if the content is static. Moving content is intensely intrusive and distracting. It’s the digital equivalent of invading my personal space.

I have mentioned here before how much I dislike TVs in bars and pubs. You just end up starting at whatever’s on, regardless of its relevance. At Waterloo station the other day, I caught myself and twenty others all staring gormlessly at the advert that was playing on the wall in front of us. We all looked like brain dead zombies.

I am sure the people who sell this technology have some very compelling numbers to help justify the business case. Yes, these devices consume power, but overall carbon is doubtless reduced, according to their figures, as noone has to drive around in a van to replace the paper equivalent. Doubtless the ‘engaging content’ means more eyeballs.

I don’t have the figures to show in whose favour the environmental angle is tipped. I do think that filling the Underground with 180W TVs pumping out heat during a London summer is a Bad Idea.

The engaging content doubtless causes lots of eyeballs to swivel in its direction, but is it any more effective than static, traditional advertising? I can’t, for the life of me, remember what the advert I was watching at the Tube was about, just as I can’t really remember what any of the paper hoardings were about either. Maybe there is something subliminal going on. Either way, is the intrusive digital advertising any more effective? I don’t think so. Just because an advert is dancing around in front of you doesn’t mean it’s a better advert. I am not going to start insuring my car with Insurance Company B because Insurance Company A’s ads didn’t involve a bumblebee that moved around in front of me whilst I waited for a bus.

Buying petrol at a BP garage now seems to mean being forced to stand in a queue with a TV shoved in your face, distracted, despite yourself, by an endless stream of irrelevant traffic updates and ads. I am sure the salesman wowed the people who bought this system by burbling about the number of eyeballs it would attract. He forgot to mention that it makes the whole purchasing experience at BP simply bloody awful.

If the business case made no sense at all, the companies using this technology probably wouldn’t use it. To be quote honest, I am so sick of seeing these things all over the place that I don’t care about the business case – I just hate the way it’s being deployed in its current form.

The proliferation of so many new digital hoardings, or conversion of traidtional into digital, surprises me. It’s not easy to get planning permission in London. People have trouble changing the design of their front doors – so why are the powers that be allowing something so clearly intrusive and ugly?

It strikes me that things are in a bit of a new and unregulated stage. I’m hoping, probably against hope, that people will start complaining and that the appropriate government authorities will start to take an interest. We need a London equivalent of this.

‘What about Picadilly Circus?’, people might ask. A fair question. Picadilly Circus is a one off, a show. I don’t want a Picadilly Circus on every street corner.

I’m not against the medium being used for advertising per se. I just feel that at the moment it’s too intrusive. Perhaps e-ink technology, like the sort of thing being used in the Kindle, will soon give us advertising hoardings that are digital but which don’t impinge on people so negatively. I would expect the people creating the content to up their game over time as well. The current adverts remind me of web pages circa 1998, with pointless animations distracting from the core message the page is meant to be conveying.

I’m terrified this stuff is going to start to blight Dubai. It would fit right in – I can imagine acres of hideous flashing drivel causing car crashes all day. Some malls are already ruining the shopping experience by bombarding us with video images everywhere we look. Perhaps our developer could hang some digital ads of the ‘lamp poles’ they are installing in our sidestreet.

Perhaps, by preferring a world without constant video intrusion, I am simply an anachronism. I don’t think I am. I truly believe that we are in danger of the sci-fi world shown below becoming a reality. I really don’t believe anyone thinks this level of digital signage would improve our world in the slightest.

What do my sixty or so regular readers think?

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2 Responses to “Ditch London’s digital signage immediately!”

  1. Nicolaas Says:

    HI Christopher,

    Here a reply from reader #61: I agree with most of above and believe you re not an anachronism but maybe even in the avant-garde of a trend we are seeing for some time: people getting fed up with traditional advertising. The problem is the companies and their agencies are not able to get away from one-way broadcasting static commercials. Moreover, most of the outdoor advertising is irrelevant to the location you are in (unlike to what you saw in Manchester). Making advertising relevant to the context you are in would already be a great improvement. Also, I wonder why advertising remains so boring while it can also be surprisingly engaging and/or funny. Even McDonalds is proving this today (I think it is Copenhagen): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u0ij9D5S4Y or the Falling Angels campaign last March: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFuUFeQIdpk. Hopefully this is also the beginning of a new trend…

    Cheers,

    Nicolaas

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