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In 2010, I wrote a white paper entitled "Ad Funded Digital Signage: Is There A Future In It?" That paper discussed how Apple's 2008 launch of the iPhone 3G and the iTunes App Store was a catalytic event that spawned a new era in mobile communications. The paper went on to describe how this new era in mobile would, over time, severely limit, or perhaps even decimate, the long-term growth prospects of ad-funded digital signage, which is also known as digital place-based signage.

The gist of the 2010 white paper was that the Apple-inspired mobile revolution was going to be profoundly different from any technology-inspired movement that had come before it. The subtext of the paper was that mobile would ultimately offer marketers/brands/agencies/ad-buyers a new level of consumer engagement and analytic insight that digital signage could never hope to match. The paper suggested that the purveyors of ad-funded digital signage learn how to leverage this new mobile revolution or get run over by it.

Well, here we are just three short years later. For those of you who don't follow the "state-of-mobile" regularly, you may be surprised to learn that the embrace of mobile — particularly by marketers/brands/agencies/ad-buyers — has been unprecedented. You may also be surprised to learn that mobile has been sucking billions of ad dollars away from other ad media at a faster and faster pace.

As a result of this rapid change, I have written a short follow-up to my 2010 white paper, entitled "Ad Funded Digital Signage: Is There A Future In It? Circa 2013." In this new paper, I question whether those who advocate a bright future for ad-funded digital signage really possess the necessary credentials to authoritatively do so. I also briefly discuss the current state of mobile advertising, which I follow with a more detailed discussion of the future prospects for the medium.

During my discussion of the future, the paper briefly outlines five trends that will ensure mobile advertising's rapid growth as well as solidify marketer's/brand's/agencies'/ad-buyer's growing interest. These trends illustrate the increasing...

  1. Pace of mobile innovation
  2. Depth and breadth of mobile metrics
  3. Sophistication of engagement analytic tools
  4. Sophistication of content management systems
  5. Sophistication of marketers/brands/agencies/ad-buyers to tap into mobile.

This new paper also discusses the future of mobile-enabled consumer engagement and illustrates how the world of mobile engagement could realistically look around the turn of the decade — which, of course, will have a huge impact on marketers'/brands'/agencies'/ad-buyers' interest in mobile.

The 2013 paper closes much like the 2010 paper by encouraging those who have an interest in consumer engagement — particularly ad-funded digital signage or digital place-based signage — learn how to capitalize on this (still early stage) mobile revolution.

One last point: Some of you have asked me if I think that the mobile revolution will affect traditional digital signage in the same way as it is affecting ad-funded digital signage. The short answer is no, but I'll discuss this in more detail in a subsequent post.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Lyle Bunn
    Steve... your comments are a pretty picture of mobile and its big potential.. Use of that communications approach is merited, in particular for highly targeted "audiences of one" and those willing to opt-in and use an app. Please, press on in your promotion of the medium. As evidenced by mobile exhibitors and presenters at CETW, the product paths of content management systems and in virtually all digital signage project planning/updates, mobile is an element. Convergence in the paid-owned-earned media model is the sweet spot where interfaces provide value beyond what any one device provides.
  • Guy CLeveland
    AND radio will die! DS integrates and augments not made extinct by one technology or another.
  • Steve Gurley
    Thank you Lyle. Great Point. I would, however, say that mobile is not "an element" of out-of-home engagement, it is quickly becoming "the anchor element" and all other media platforms are working to learn how to support of the mobile engagement. (Except of course in those deployments where mobile utilization is impractical, e.g. driving) Guy, digital signage will not die -- especially traditional digital signage. It is a strong, relevant and vibrant medium that has a distinct purpose. It will, however, continue its trend towards being a commoditized offering that yields commoditized revenue/earnings stream for its purveyors. I have written extensively about how mobile and digital signage will work hand in hand. Check out my blog at Ad-funded digital signage, however, is another matter altogether. There will always be those who will want to advertise on it. However, it is my belief that it will be very campaign and location specific, which means the message will have a definitive start and a definitive end and will be positioned for a definitive set of locations and be designed to deliver a very specific message in a very specific way. Those who want to use it as a perpetual advertising medium where the screen is always filled with general ad content will have a very tough time competing for ad dollars against the digital triad of desktop, mobile and social (social primarily being mobile). Those three (two) will provide a degree of measurement and engagement that ad-funded digital signage will never be able to match. Regarding measurement, there was an article in today's MediaPost Agency Daily that discussed the increasing emphasis on measurement. Agency measurement budgets have risen on average from 2.3% in 2010 to 5% in 2013. If digital signage can't provide the metrics, it will be relegated to second class citizenship. Except of course in those instances where mobile usage is impractical. Let's face it, marketers are wanting more and more info on campaign effectiveness. Digital Signage just can't hold a candle to the analytical-driven nature of desktop, mobile and social (again social is really becoming synonymous with mobile). It can be used in support of the triad, but, without the metrics, it will only play a minor role.
  • Jesse Plunkett
    You don't get it. The next gen (best gen) of digital place-based advertising will allow users to engage/interact with mobile. OF COURSE there is still a future in putting ad messages in places where people can see them.
  • Steve Gurley
    Jesse, but I do get it. There will always be a market for putting ads on screens -- especially in areas where the use of a phone is impractical. In areas where the consumer has an equal choice between engaging with personally-relevant content on their smartphone or engaging with content designed for the masses via digital signage, the consumer will always chose to engage with personally relevant content. In those situations, ad-funded signage hasn't got a chance. Advertisers are not stupid, they know this and will increasingly stay away from place-based-media that competes with mobile. If you're saying the technology is going to allow users to engage with place-based-media via mobile, I'd absolutely agree. It's being done today by JC Decaux, ClearChannel, Posterscope, and many others. In fact, I've been a big proponent for a number of initiatives that they've rolled out -- especially their efforts to use NFC. If, however, you're saying convergence is going to be the salvation of place-based media, I'd whole-heartedly disagree. The number of consumers that engage with these convergent implementations is really, really small. Today, it's partly a technology issue, but in the long run it will be a consumer behavior issue. The point of my paper is that companies that rely on an ad-funded model to bring them success haven't got a chance if they're going to go head-to-head with mobile -- even if they roll out a convergent solution. The only chance for survival is deploying their place-based solutions in areas where use of a mobile phone is impractical. Appreciate your feedback.
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Latest posts by Steven Gurley
Steven Gurley
Steve Gurley is broadly recognized as an industry expert and thought-leader in mobile and mobile content management solutions. He is a widely published author of numerous papers, articles and blogs on mobility and serves on numerous mobile advisory boards and committees, including serving as the current chairman of the Digital Screenmedia Association's committee on mobile. Steve is currently the President and CEO of Pyrim Technologies, a mobile business and new market development company.
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