Increasing numbers of shopping centres around the world, including in Africa, are adding digital displays to their out-of-home offerings. The trend is creating exciting opportunities for advertisers and points of interest for shoppers.
Mall advertising is one of the fastest-growing media categories in South Africa, according to Spectrum, a local signage company. Given the popularity of shopping malls in South Africa – and their growing footprint across the rest of the African continent – increasing in-mall advertising strategies is important for brands looking to remain at the forefront of consumers’ minds.
Digital billboards enable advertisers to target consumers where they shop, using technology to convey immediately relevant messaging. “They can deliver messages at the right time and the right place, which is essentially the out-of-home (OOH) holy grail,” Bruce Burgess, OOH agency Posterscope’s Development Director for sub-Saharan Africa, said during an interview in a recent issue of ‘The Media’ magazine.
Taking a larger-than-life approach to digital displays, Sandton City was the first SA shopping centre to install video walls in 2012. “Each comprises 12 seamless digital screens which function as one large screen,” explains Spectrum, the technology provider for the Video Wall at Sandton City, which was installed by Primedia Unlimited.
Explaining the technology, Spectrum says: “The screens display advertising for local retailers, weather forecasts, latest news updates and even Twitter feeds when requested. This screen runs on Spinetix (a digital signage player and software dedicated to digital signage applications) and is extremely versatile for this particular site as it can accommodate almost any requests.”
In addition to large digital display units in centres, stores themselves can install their own point-of-sale (POS) units, where they can flight in-store specials or, in the case of fast-food chains, highlight large stockpiles of food that are near their sell-by dates in order to sell them off.
One Digital Media, which claims to be one of Africa’s largest digital signage companies in the retail space, offers a multi-layered platform that enables stores to remotely manage content. “The engine also incorporates a timing mechanism that lets retailers cue product specials or marketing messages well in advance,” CEO Andrew Ridl explained in a press release. This allows retailers to schedule messages to display at certain times of the day – for example, highlighting lunch specials between 11am and 2pm.
One Digital Media supplied the recently revamped Woolworths store at The Mall of Rosebank in Johannesburg with 13 different digital signage communication points. These range from video walls to large-format LED displays strategically placed throughout the store.
In addition to in-store digital displays, new technology also enables retailers to access consumers across multiple channels. “Mobile devices can also be used to blend virtual and physical shopping experiences in new ways,” reports ‘The Media’. Examples of this include apps paired with customer loyalty cards that allow for advertising to be tailored to a shopper’s personal needs and preferences.
Primall Media and Mallworx Media have, for example, developed an app around their mall directories. Lee Curtis, Executive for Sales and Marketing at both companies, said this innovation enhanced “our ability to speak to shoppers via our innovative advertising modules”.
Branding experts warn, however, that whether you use apps, digital mall displays, social media or other channels, keeping an advertisement’s look and feel consistent is key for retaining customer loyalty. “Shoppers don’t like to be bombarded with random ads about different products or brands. Targeted advertising is key to keeping your consumer engaged. You therefore need to know what your shoppers’ likes, where they are buying and how much they are spending,” says Curtis.
While these digital advertising innovations may not yet dominate the African retail space, analysts predict that it’s only a matter of time – about five years, estimates Posterscope’s Burgess.
Is the advertising industry's traditional 'agency of record' operating model under threat from marketing departments seeking a fresher and more nimble project-based approach to creative campaigns?
Large corporates have traditionally had a major advertising agency that acts as the agency of record to coordinate advertising and related activities, and ensure consistency of branding. However, the greater fragmentation of media channels in the digital age is seeing more marketers question whether this approach is becoming unworkable. Instead, they suggest different, specialist, agencies should handle emerging channels such as video messaging, social media, and the round-the-clock two-way conversations that consumers now expect from brands.
"Agency of record arrangements dominated the ad industry, primarily because agencies knew the traditional platforms of broadcast and print well," observed 'Forbes' business magazine in an article. "While having an agency of record continues to be common, client attitude toward it has changed. [These agencies] didn't manage to convince clients that they could handle the speed and complexity of the new interactive and social platforms as well. Now, marketers are increasingly seeing instances where moving forward without an agency of record was not only possible, but also beneficial."
Last week Frito-Lay, the division of PepsiCo that manufactures potato chips and other snack foods, announced it had ditched its agency of record, Energy BBDO, in favour of a project-by-project and brand-by-brand approach.
"I hate to say one brand is with one agency for eternity," Ram Krishnan, Chief Marketing Officer for North America, told the industry publication 'Ad Age'. "The way we look at it is: who is the best-suited for what we are trying to do with the consumer and the message?"
He added that creative agencies were once viewed as the custodian for brands, but this view was being circumnavigated by the two-way conversation occurring on social media directly between brands and consumers.
'Forbes' suggests that advertising agencies themselves "participated in fraying the relationship" by unbundling their media operations into specialist businesses. "Their inability or unwillingness to integrate marketing communication led to fragmentation. Specialisation became the name of the game and the belief that no single agency could possibly handle all client needs became prevalent," wrote marketing consultant and columnist Avi Dan.
"Perhaps an even greater paradigm shifting was the rise in importance of procurement and a cost-efficiency model. In many companies, the full service agency of record model is being challenged as [the procurement department] is taking the lead on finding agencies."
But opinions remain divided. Deanie Elsner, Group Chief Marketing Officer at processed foods manufacturer Kraft Foods, believes agencies of record are still needed to be the "caretakers of large creative ideas". Speaking to 'Ad Age' last year, she noted that "the big idea is still alive and well", although the "translation of that [idea] across different media channels may be more executionally appropriate outside of the agencies of record. Or the agencies of record will have to figure out a way to translate [ideas] across different mediums in a more cost-efficient way."
'Media Post', a communications industry website, has also been supportive of the traditional agency of record concept. "It is my belief that the agency of record is the best model and that brands who shop every last project out to the some specialty [agency] or the lowest bidder are doing themselves a disservice in the long run," wrote outspoken commentator Richard Whitman.
"Why? Because every new [agency] wants to put its stamp on the brand – and that almost always results in different iterations of the brand promise when it should be consistent year after year after year. Yes, specialty shops can move quicker than most mainstream agencies, but unless a lasting bond is formed between agency and brand, the two shall never come to a true understanding of one another."
While South Africa’s advertising industry watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), ruled on Friday that FNB bank must withdraw a prominent national campaign urging the public to ‘Un-Steve’ themselves, the country’s consumers seem divided over the furore.
The campaign was the latest derivation of a multi-year strategy involving a mythical, but humorous, character named Steve who works as a call centre agent for an un-named ‘Beep Bank’. However, in the current campaign, consumers were told to ‘Un-Steve’ themselves by moving to FNB rather than enduring a range of frustrations with their existing bank. Some elements of the strategy also suggested that consumers who did not know about certain benefits of banking with FNB were ‘a Steve’.