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Signage in the City

Print and Digital Signage Shape Times Square

By Thomas Franklin

Before Faisal Shahzad’s botched fireworks thrust New York City’s Times Square onto the front pages, the teeming metropolitan crossroad was famous for its theaters and, of course, its wall-to-wall graphics.


It’s no secret why advertisers throng to the square. Roughly 364,000 visitors a day—or 728,000 wandering eyeballs—squeeze through its crowded streets, a number that’s grown 15 percent since 2008, according to the Times Square Alliance. Between 1982 and 2030, the volume of pedestrian traffic during peak hours is expected to grow an outstanding 500 percent.


In this rush of humanity, marketers are constantly muscling for eyeballs, making Times Square a hot spot in the out-of-home advertising market. It’s also a showcase for the display industry’s continuous evolution, as print and digital signs crowd the landscape.


The Digital Dawn

Digital signage is not new, least of all in Times Square. But this unique space provides new opportunity for continued innovation and experimentation for brand managers and marketers alike as they press towards the limits of what the digital signage medium can offer, says Harry Coghlan, president, Clear Channel Spectacolor. “It’s an environment that allows for experimentation. Times Square really is the laboratory for the out-of-home industry,” he continues.


Indeed, some of the same factors that attract marketers to digital signs—the ability to “day part” your message and make quick changes to key in on timely promotional messages, and the opportunity for multiple messages in a single platform—join with new opportunities afforded by this one-of-a-kind landscape.


First among the benefits of digital advertising in Times Square is full motion video, which is not permitted to be displayed by many roads or other locales. New digital signs in Times Square increasingly experiment with interactivity, observes Coghlan.


Digital signs also draw in onlookers with texting contests, polls, and games. “All of these features enhance the interactivity of the sign,” he says. Radio stations, for instance, began to leverage instant communications by streaming a rolling, “now playing” update to digital signs.


With the rise of digital, has print lost its edge? Absolutely not, shares Coghlan. “It is viable. Whether an advertiser chooses print or digital is going to depend on client preference and the nature of the statement. There are statements that need a 24/7 static presence.”

The growth of digital signage has not pushed aside print because in many instances the two formats are combined. “Every campaign in Times Square is customizable. If you’re looking for short term—where short is a few hours—go digital. If you wanted a few weeks, consider print,” notes Coghlan.


While agencies are comfortable with print, they’re still grappling with the digital medium. Many find themselves repurposing content for the digital format and end up taking more time and devoting more resources to digital signage, giving print a financial allure.


“Now we’re seeing agencies starting to take digital on from the planning stage of a campaign,” observes Coghlan. As for print displays, their effectiveness “really comes down to the content, it’s what you put into the creative.” A well-conceived concept is just as effective in print as it is in digital.


What does the future hold for Times Square and digital growth? Coghlan sees a happy co-existence. “I would not want to see Times Square fully digital. I think it needs the mix—whether it’s print or neon. I’m a bit of a traditionalist. You need a balanced landscape,” he admits.


In the overall print industry, one must consider the client. Providing different options—between print and digital—is a necessity to stay viable.


Jul2010, Digital Output

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