High Street advertising and ‘smart cities’

a man walks down a busy road with high street advertising

With the advent of smart cities, the face of high street advertising is evolving. Advertisers are harnessing the latest developments in technology to produce ads that are functional as well as beautiful.

What are ‘smart cities’?

As the populations of urban centres swell and technology progresses, the notion of ‘smart cities’ has emerged.

It is about harnessing developments in information and communication technology (ICT) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to forge a networked cityscape fit for the interconnectedness of modern urban life. Key concerns of Smart City construction include:

  • Enhancing transport systems using integrated user data and data from civic groups and companies
  • Providing street furniture and artworks to improve quality of life for citizens

Smart cities are not just about using new tech, they are also about using existing communications tech in different ways.

IBM are one of the pioneers of Smart Cities, launching a People For Smarter Cities campaign in 2013 in conjunction with Ogilvy.

This featured a series of functional outdoor ads that doubled up as benches, shelters, and access ramps. Perhaps the unofficial mantra of smart cities is IBM’s contention that ads should be “not only beautiful, but useful to city dwellers”.

Future City Glasgow

Over the last few years, Glasgow has been the UK frontrunner of constructing smart cities with its £24 million Future City programme.

Their mission statement is to, “harness the power of data and technology to make our city a better place to live, work and play.” Key pillars of this vision include:

  • Using non-personal data-sharing to aid the integration of transport, communications, and other infrastructure.
  • Crowd sourcing mobile user data using customised apps to encourage cyclists via traffic updates and cycle-friendly travel directions. One upshot of this could be more effective town planning with common cycle paths being used to ascertain where to build new cycle lanes.
  • Improving transport by applying route optimisation to re-route the city’s minibus network.
  • Apps to optimise energy consumption by allowing users to control and monitor their energy consumption needs. Updates can even recommend information on insulation providers and energy conservation funding.

Marketing the future

Glasgow’s marketing bureau has been compiling data as part of what it dubs its “Busyness Index“. The aim is to create events that attract people to the city without impacting negatively on local businesses. The index uses consumer data to allow retailers to order extra stock or offer discounts. Retailers are providing their data to the marketing bureau because they understand they can benefit from a burgeoning Open Data movement.

How are smart cities changing the face of high street advertising?

At first sight the civic nature of smart cities appears to preclude the intervention of marketing into this interconnected mix. However, a report from Clear Channel Outdoor observes that governments and citizens are increasingly recognising the ways in which high street advertising can make a positive contribution to the urban environment. The report revealed a majority of people think that out-of-home advertising makes a positive contribution to society.

The ubiquity of mobile devices combined with an increasing trend to make purchases via smartphones makes the outdoor environment conducive to tapping into the interconnectedness of smart cities.

high street advertising is integrating with smartphone use

82% of those surveyed agreed that outdoor advertising (including billboards, digital screens and posters) has a positive impact, from adding “colour” to surroundings to bringing money in to communities. The report also revealed that 78% of people in London look to outdoor advertising to inform them about brands and to shape their preferences.

One of the ways high street advertising can interact with the smart cities model is by actually using outdoor advertising mediums to provide information on public events and services, and providing data via maps and clocks.

One innovative concept comes from “modern day inventors”, Breakfast, with their “Points” multi-directional digital signpost. The sleekly engineered arms of the sign rotate 360 degrees to direct pedestrians towards a range of landmarks, venues and events happening in the area; all controlled by a user-interface control panel which offers different menu options depending on the time of day.

For example, the tech can draw in data from popular hashtags to display the directions, “#BeerFest – Montauk, NY”.

This signals a future where data is pooled from a range of data streams like Google maps and social media, and is re-processed via civic street architecture; a sophisticated fusion of civic advertising and retail marketing.

Smart Billboards

Digital billboards have a 75% recall rate and are memorable in 55% of cases. Smart billboards feature cameras that can detect the gender and age of passersby to trigger targeted ads. Recent developments include drawing on social media data to reconfigure ads on the fly. For example, Nike ads may be displayed if a big sporting event is taking place.

Smart tech can even track smartphone usage; sending an Apple ad to an iPhone user, or even targeting wearable tech like the Apple Watch.

Porsche made pioneering use of smart billboards with a 2015 campaign which identified Porsche drivers in traffic and displayed the message “it’s so easy to pick you out in a crowd”.

A digital billboard campaign for Cannon featured displays in much-photographed tourist locations, displaying instructions on how to take the perfect photo, with smart slogans such as “traffic just started moving on 7th Avenue – turn taillights into beautiful light streaks.”

Gimme Smart Shelter

Big fish, JCDecaux are engaged in forging smart cities. They recently unveiled a smart bus shelter in Panama City with free WiFi and a free-of-charge portal that provides transit information and tracks incoming busses using geo-location data.

They’re installing City Information Panels (CIPs) “offering larger-than-life street encounters 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” The CIPs feature a digital ad on the back and civic information displays on the front; an encouraging indicator of how the smart cities of the future can incorporate an empowering balancing of the civic and the commercial.