Blog: Keith Kelsen 

Keith Kelsen (bio)
Chairman & CEO
5th Screen Digital

Tuesday, 03 June 2014

4 of 4

As with any good business process, Gamification follows a formal design framework.  This framework identifies the essential elements of the concept and the outcomes that they generate.

The Gamification framework starts with the business and marketing objectives. These could range from attracting new customers to increasing basket size or simply promoting the brand.  Next, what shopper behaviors will the game change and what metrics need to be collected to measure the results? For example, the business objective may be to increase sales but the behavior change may be to encourage return visits.

The most complex step is defining the personas of the desired players. Who are the shoppers who will be participating in the gamified activity and what is their relationship to the brand? This information is then used to design the game’s structure and determine what feedback will best motivate the players to engage in further actions.  This includes rewards and other reinforcements the players could receive such as custom offers. But the most important element is offering a game that is fun. Ensuring that the gamified system is fun remains as important as the game design.

The final step is to determine how the player will engage with the game.  Will it be on a mobile device or some other platform such as a large interactive screen at the ‘Point of Purchase’? The games used in a Gaming Digital Destination can also be downloaded to the shopper’s smartphone to continue the connection once they leave the store.

The overall goal is to create compelling interactive applications using gamification to drive emotional connections across all screens.  These include in-store touch-points, tablets, smartphones and online at home.

What shoppers remember about a Gaming Digital Destination experience is determined by the intensity of emotions created in specific moments – not the overall experience. For a digital experience to address the emotional equation, it must trigger one or more of the 8 psychological drivers. To do this for busy shopper’s in-store – one that encourages brand loyalty and advocacy – it’s essential to have a deep understanding of what triggers theses emotions and motivations that drive their brand preference and behavior.  These rich media experiences serve to educate the consumer about products and services that are potentially not on their current shopping list. And gamification makes every customer visit an opportunity to create loyalty, add value and tell the brand story.

SELF-CREATION is an emotion that reveals itself through creating, enhancing and expressing one’s identity by stimulating self-reflection, status, bragging rights and values.

MASTERY is evoked by learning, performance and sharing. For example, consumer electronics is a category where knowledge transfer creates a feeling that the shopper has mastered a complex product.

DREAMING is hope, inspiration, ambition and looking at the possibilities. To evoke this emotion one must create content that is relevant to these aspirations. Department stores that carry kitchen products and bedding and home improvement stores are great examples of locations where Digital Destinations can be created to inspire shoppers and encourage them to buy products that lead to their dream home, patio or deck.

PLAYTIME is engaging in child like fun, expression and amusement.  The engagement that triggers this emotion needs to be entertaining and include aspects of creativity and stimulation. Although this can apply to many different types of products, certain ones are very good fits – like amusement parks and cruise lines.

SPORT Similar to playtime is sport, which drives the emotion of adventure, being on the hunt, competitive contests and strategic. Sport is pursuing a goal with enthusiasm and then completing that goal with a sense of personal achievement.

CONNECTION develops, maintains and deepens relationships that help the customer feel like they have bonded with the brand and belong to a special group. Deepening the relationship with the members is best done by offering free samples, coupons and free downloads of music for example.

SANCTUARY represents a safe, calming escape and relaxed emotions.  When a shopper is rushing around, the location can create this emotion which helps slow down the shopper’s pace and provides an opportunity to introduce the brand message.

SECURITY Preparedness, replenishment and nesting are key factors that evoke the emotion of security.

Creating content that is relevant to these emotions will be helpful to the shopper, engage them in the right type of game and ultimately create a conversation with the brand and the shopper while driving more sales.

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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Part 3 of 4

Until recently, 90% of all purchase decisions were made at the store shelf. Now, the moment of truth is no longer at the store shelf. It’s about buying anything, anytime, anywhere. According to a recent PriceGrabber Survey, 13% of consumers shop online. And of those who still shop in stores, over half also shop on-line or use their smartphones to shop in-store.

So what has changed? Not too many years ago, the sales process was linear. The shopper would view an ad, probably on TV or in a magazine, go to the store, compare options, choose the best option and buy the item. Now, the sales process is non-linear and cross-channel, creating the phenomena of Web-First for many shoppers. But this has resulted in a chaotic landscape of inter-connected channels. And today’s empowered consumer demands a seamless brand experience across all channels. They will only shop where they find it. This is causing a major business disruption for retailers, brand marketers and agencies alike and the rapid transition to omnichannel retailing.

The challenge now is to create a technologically enabled, compelling shopping moments that culminate in lasting, consumer-brand relationships.

To accomplish this, the brand and the retailer must develop an integrated plan built around ”A deep view of the customer at all stages of interaction.” This is OMNICHANNEL RETAILING and includes:

Mobile POS – A recent RIS survey found that 87% of retailer’s plan to deploy POS on a tablet over the next few years

Save the Sale transactions when products are not in stock or not carried in the store

Clientelling for uninterrupted relationship-building and on-going exchange with the customer

Business Analytics to allow associates to inform the shopper in-store of their purchase history, order status and product specs

Most retailers and brands are still driven by the 4P’s – Product, Price, Promotion and Place. Today, they must shift from the 4 P’s to the 4 C’s in the new omnichannel world:

Connections:  In an omnichannel world, retailers need to connect very early in the consumer journey, when they first start researching online. And the shopper expects to continue that connection in-store.

Choice: Store-based retailers must connect their virtual shelf to the store shelf to enable “seamless” shopping.

Convenience: Today’s time-starved consumers are expecting the convenience of shopping online in-store.  Also, they demand the convenience of ship to home, pickup in store or even pickup at another location.

Conversation: Shoppers are looking for conversation and connection with brands they value. Continuing the conversation AFTER the initial sale is critical for today’s brands and retailers.

Studies show that sales opportunities are lost when the consumer can’t get assistance or find a product. Products out-of-stock, products in-stock but not found, or items not carried in the store can reduce store sales by as much as 20%. Lack of sales associate availability can reduce store sales by up to six percent.

The best way to overcome these issues is through in-store Gaming Digital Destinations. This shifts the store’s focus away from simply making a sale to cultivating an immersive brand experience. It also connects physical space to the digital shoppers and brings a level of discovery, fun and education to the in-store experience.

Next article we will dig into the emotional connection of Gamification.

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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Part 2 of 4
Consumers today are more demanding and frustrated than ever with their in-store shopping experience.  And evoking a positive reaction to motivate a shopper to buy a product in a retail store is extremely difficult.

Independent research firms KRC & Vanson Bourne reported in a recent survey of 5,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 69, that there is an overwhelming agreement amongst shoppers that retail ads and promotions do not resonate. And the channels most likely to be LEAST APPEALING are ads through mobile apps, email, online and in-store. However, over three-quarters agree that they would be more likely to purchase from a retailer again if they provided offers targeted to their interests, wants or needs.

Furthermore, around half of those surveyed are prepared to share online preferences and shopping behavior in exchange for receiving ads or promotions that are more targeted to their personal interests and needs.

Almost all would be willing to share at least one piece of personal information if it means they receive more customized offers. And 78% of shoppers would be willing to share their email address.

To attract and converse with today’s “Digital Everywhere” shopper, the store must meet the consumer on their own turf by providing true ”Digital Destinations.” Digital Destinations are a well calibrated combination of psychological, emotional and social ingredients that engage the shopper’s persona, augment the retail store’s physical environment and enhance the brand’s image.  And at the heart of these digital engagements is “Gamification.” Gamification is the study of how games can be designed and used to engage shoppers and create a more stimulating, fun and persistent shopping experience.  For more than a century consumers have been exposed to games when they shopped.  These ranged from Green Stamps to redeeming a free gift for cereal box tops.

Gamification – A chance to win from genres of games, providing the psychological motivation to play and win

“Gaming Digital Destinations” are captivating, fun, bold engagements within the store that carry on beyond the four walls of the space to provide a truly omnichannel experience. At the same time, they create an entertaining experience that motivates the shopper to come back to the store to play again and again.

The Gaming Digital Destinations involve not only the larger screen experience but also the consumer’s mobile screen and the associate’s tablet. And it continues at home leveraging the relationship created at the Gaming Digital Destination.

Gamification relies on an understanding of human psychology to inspire and motivate shopping behavior. The key psychological, emotional and social ingredients of Gaming Digital Destinations include:

Emotional Drivers – Creating a connection with the consumer by triggering one or more of the eight psychological drivers: Self-Creation, Mastery, Dreaming, Security, Playtime, Sport, Sanctuary and Connection

Selfie-Sharing – Creating a two-way conversation between the brand and the digital shopper

Personalization – Using unique visual choices that align products with the distinctive persona

Using these key ingredients, the retailer and the brand can engage the digital shopper to have fun on their in-store Gaming Digital Destination and when the consumer leaves the store, continue that conversation on their pocket screen and home screen — anywhere, anytime.

Next week I will highlight Omni Channel and Gaming Digital Destinations.

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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Part 1 of 4

According to the Forrester Group, ecommerce accounted for eight percent of total retail sales in the U.S. during 2012.  By 2017, it is expected to account for a full ten percent of all retail sales. This still leaves 90% of retail sales generated in the retailer’s store.

But shoppers today are more demanding and frustrated than ever with their in-store shopping experience.  This dissatisfaction comes from increased competition, including on-line sales, that drives the need for higher service levels and greater differentiation.  A recent study found that 80% of the retail CEO’s surveyed believe they now deliver a GREAT customer experience.  Unfortunately, only 8% of their customers AGREE.

To attract and converse with today’s ‘Digital Everywhere’ shopper, the store must meet the consumer on their own turf by providing a true “Digital Destination.”  Digital Destinations are captivating, fun, bold engagements within the retail environment.  They also carry on beyond the four walls of the store by enhancing the Omni-channel experience. They create an entertaining experience where the shopper is motivated to come back to the store to engage again and again.

Digital Destinations are an elusive blend of psychological, emotional and social ingredients that engage the shopper’s persona, augment the store’s physical environment and enhance the brand’s image.  And the heart of any effective Digital Destination is ”Gamification.”

Gamification is the study of how games can be designed and used to engage shoppers and create a more stimulating, fun and recurring shopping experience. It relies on an in-depth understanding of human psychology to be able to inspire and motivate shopping behavior. It is a formulated combination of one or more psychological driver, personalization and selfie-sharing.

An effective Gaming Digital Destination must motivate shoppers to take time out of their time-starved lives and connect with the brand; then continue that connection on their pocket screen or online at home. But each retail vertical holds its own unique challenges so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all.

In the next four weeks, I will write about the framework for developing effective in-store Gaming Digital Destinations including a major brand case study.  I will explain how brands and retailers can meet the digital shopper on their own turf by creating in-store Digital Destinations that are bold, engaging and unique.  I describe the process required to connect emotionally with the shopper and keep an ongoing conversation once they leave the store. It is a Win-Win for the retailer, brand and shopper.

The math is simple; to maintain equivalency, a 10% growth in eCommerce only requires a 1% lift in store sales.

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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Regardless of the type of network or the frequency of content refresh, keeping the content machine churning is a potentially daunting task. When the network is switched on, content needs to be produced and delivered in a constant stream. This is a problem familiar to people who put out content for many of the other four screens, such as the manager of a television station or the webmaster of an Internet news site. One of their main tasks every day is finding new content or determining what they have in their content library that can be re-presented to viewers.  Let’s look at the process of determining how much content a network needs, ways to organize that content, and some sources for content that will help to fill in the gaps. Anyone setting out to launch a digital signage network should think of it as a journey, one that, if carefully planned and considered, will prevent an unpleasant encounter with the insatiable monster aspect of the network’s personality.

Approached correctly, the monster can be tamed into a domesticated animal with content that is fresh in the eyes of the viewers.
Keeping it Fresh

Keeping viewers interested in the content is a primary challenge of a digital signage network. For some networks, it’s a greater challenge than others. For example, keeping a corporate communications network fresh can be especially daunting because content is presented to the same viewers day after day. To keep up with that need, many managers of corporate communications networks make a crucial mistake and display all their content assets in the first month of operation and leave themselves with nothing new for the rest of the quarter or even longer, not to mention that their audience becomes bored and is likely to lose interest rapidly. In all networks, and here in particular, pacing the delivery of existing assets is a key to success.

Keeping ahead of content demands begins with the development of a significant pool of assets prior to launching the network. Think of these as basic building blocks that will be available for a relatively long period and can be mixed and matched in different ways. This is not stockpiling the content around a specific campaign, but rather it is about the overall look, feel, and identity of the network.

This involves creating key graphic elements and templates to develop a large library that can be manipulated as you create and present your content. It’s crucial to know the current and upcoming campaign objectives (at least for the quarter, and preferably for the year) to be able to create the necessary content elements well in advance. This is an area that requires full attention, and procrastination is not an option. The more planning for content, the more successful a digital signage implementation will be.

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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

With spring here, I thought it’s time to talk about color. The basics of color can summed up by saying that there is a rainbow out there– so use it. BUT…use your rainbow sensibly. Some color combinations a pleasant to view; others are jarring, even ugly; while still others send messages based on our common cultural background (red and green mean Christmas in the U.S.; red, white and blue imply patriotism). And some combinations simply make it too difficult to present text in a readable and comprehensive way.

First, let’s look at the typical color wheel that is most familiar when choosing colors while working in PowerPoint or Word. (Figure. 1) If one looks closely at the color wheel, one notices the outer edge of the color wheel displays the darker colors while the center shows the lighter colors. This is based on the 32-bit color standards of RGB (red, green and blue, where values of zero for each creates black, while R, 255 G, 255 and B,255 is white. A value of R,255 G,0 and B,0 is pure red, and so on. Setting different values for R, G and B within this range of 0-256 gives several million possible color choices, although a very slight change in a single value rarely produces a color that the human eye can distinguish from the original.

When selecting colors from the wheel one can use the combination of inner wheel colors and outer wheel colors to set a contrast to any presentation using text. Figure 2 shows how choosing contrasting values — such as white on black and grey on black — directly affect how well the content will be comprehended and the speed at which one can comprehend the message.

Similar thinking can be applied to color in practical ways while choosing contrasting colors that work. First and foremost, choosing a dark color for the background and a light color for the foreground or vice versa will have a direct impact on the ease of comprehension (Figure 3).

Which colors work best with other colors? Take a look at the basic color wheel (Figure 1), you will notice that in its original design there are twelve colors that make up the wheel. The first circular color diagram was designed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666. The color wheel is designed so that virtually any colors you pick from it will look good together. While important aspects of the color wheel and color theory are well known to artists, they might not be fully appreciated by someone that has a technical background. Although the wheel is made of twelve shades of colors, there are basic primary colors that are made of red, green and blue (Figure 4). This is different from the primary colors we learned at a very young age, which are red, blue, and yellow. These new primary colors are based on the medium that we are working in – projected light rather than reflected light.

The colors adjacent to the primary colors) are the three secondary colors of cyan, magenta and yellow. The final six intermediates are formed by mixing a primary with a secondary are known as tertiary colors, for a total of 12 main divisions.

Analogous colors are directly next to a given color. If you start with blue and you want its two analogous colors, you select purple and red . A color scheme that uses analogous colors usually matches well and creates natural and comfortable designs. When choosing an analogous color scheme, however, it is important to make sure you have enough contrast. Choose one color to dominate, a second to support. The third color is used (along with black, white or gray) as an accent.

Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel (for example, red and green). The high contrast of complementary colors creates a vibrant look that is undesirable for digital signage, especially when used at full saturation. Complementary colors are best used as accents or when you something to stand out, but is particularly inappropriate for text (Figure 5).

Warm colors and cool colors are on the opposite side of the color wheel (Figure 4). One can use this basic warm or cool scheme as a guiding palette.

As with any media there are colors that work together well and combination of colors that collide. When choosing colors that work well together, one can reference the color wheel and remember to look at the contrasts (light over dark) even within the same color. For the RGB scheme of colors, yellow and blue work, as well as red and yellow. Just the opposite is true on colors that fight each other or vibrate on the screen (Figure 5). Color combinations to avoid are typically the tertiary complimentary colors.

Applying these best practices will get you great results.  Working with brands and company colors, one can use the color wheel to create tasteful backgrounds and other graphics that will work well with the company’s color scheme. Remember however each display is different from one manufacturer to another.  Colors will vary out in the real world from display to display, so corporate colors will never be a perfect match.

In creating any message, choosing the right color combination can make or break the comprehension of the message.

Author and speaker Keith Kelsen, chief visionary at 5th Screen, is considered one of the leading experts on digital media. More information about his book, “Unleashing the Power of Digital Signage – Content Strategies for the 5th Screen”, published by Focal Press, can be found on the book’s companion website at Reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @Kkelsen.

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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Changing content based on what time of day it is and what day of the week it is can critically affect the impact of digital signage content on customers and associates. The same loop that is effective for the demographics of morning customers or midweek customers will not necessarily appeal to customers who frequent the business at other times. In addition, the employees of the business can easily become annoyed or bored with an overly repetitious loop of content. The danger is that associates may communicate that feeling—even unconsciously—to customers, negating some of the value of the screens. Or they may simply tune it out altogether, eliminating the screens’ usefulness as training or employee information tools.

A simple approach is to change the loop of content three times a day: morning, midday, and afternoon. This will keep associates happy and also creates programming that is diverse to the customer. It’s also important to think about changing the order of the content within each playlist as it is repeated. The content can still be delivered in an overall pattern that is effective for the marketer in reaching different customers, but that doesn’t appear to be overly patterned to either customers or associates. A more sophisticated approach is to add and delete pieces of content throughout the day and week to keep playlists fresh. Like a radio station playing popular music, hit songs are repeated often, but not at the same time every hour, and new songs are brought into the mix as others are taken out to create variety and interest and keep people listening. The same idea applies here; continuous small changes to the overall content, plus shuffling its order, will prevent customers and associates from tuning out.

Although this may sound like a lot of work, the process can be automated through the use of cloning tools for playlists that are built into some software. These tools take one playlist, create a clone, and then change the order of the content according to certain rules. In effect, one now has two interchangeable playlists. This can be done several times depending on the length of the playlist and the length of the day segment for which that particular content is intended.

Software can also greatly help in delivering relevant content at the right time, right place, and right target. One can profile day parts with the demographic information, and that profile can be applied to each screen. Then, if one applies that same profile to a piece of content, that content can automatically match up to that screen. As networks become larger, automation is a must have to apply maximum relevant content to the right audience at the right time.

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Tuesday, 08 April 2014

Keeping viewers interested in the content is a primary challenge of a digital signage network. For some networks, it’s a greater challenge than others. For example, keeping a corporate communications network fresh can be especially daunting because content is presented to the same viewers day after day. To keep up with that need, many managers of corporate communications networks make a crucial mistake and display all their content assets in the first month of operation and leave themselves with nothing new for the rest of the quarter or even longer, not to mention that their audience becomes bored and is likely to lose interest rapidly. In all networks, and here in particular, pacing the delivery of existing assets is a key to success.  In a corporate communications network it is best to rotate several categories in the main window: corporate content, policies, benefits, financials, and safety tips for instance.

Having a number of pieces ready to be placed into the loop at any time is critical and having them vary a specific messaging while maintaining the integrity of the category flow. A loop that has a safety message in it for example would play through the entire playlist, and then each safety message advances to the next safety message in the queue. This resets the safety message up to the top each time it goes around. So you’re always are getting a new safety message that is different every time—just in case you did sit through the loop twice, you’d get a new safety message.

Keeping ahead of content demands begins with the development of a significant pool of assets prior to launching the network. Think of these as basic building blocks that will be available for a relatively long period and can be mixed and matched in different ways. This is not stockpiling the content around a specific campaign, but rather it is about the overall look, feel, and identity of the site. This involves creating key graphic elements and templates to develop a large library that can be manipulated as you create and present your content. It’s crucial to know the current and upcoming campaign objectives (at least for the quarter, and preferably for the year) to be able to create the necessary content elements well in advance. This is an area that requires full attention, and procrastination is not an option. The more planning for content, the more successful a digital signage implementation will be.

Creating a multitude of assets that can be tapped into at any time will allow flexibility in most any campaign. Start with creating graphic elements that can be put together in a number of diverse ways. This enables one to change the look slightly by shifting the elements around on the screen. These graphic elements span the gamut from logos and labels to photographs and icons. A network that will be selling coffee drinks will want to gather images of the coffee cups in use, the logo of the brand, and any logos of the drinks themselves. An in-store network at a consumer electronic retailer would want to gather images of its key products, manufacturer logos, and brand marks, such as Blu-ray.

An internal communications network that will mix messages about safety with those about corporate policy might want to develop several sets of related designs to go on top of the relevant text—a red striped bar for a safety warning, a blue striped one for policy—that will carry consistent elements of the network’s design across various content segments. In some ways, this is similar to the idea behind designing a web site or a print publication.

Although there will be a constant stream of shifting content, there are certain graphic elements that are used all the time and that let viewers know visually what site or publication they are looking at. These elements help create a sense of connection and comfort with viewers yet provide a great deal of flexibility in terms of how a particular piece of content can be presented. Because these elements are important to a network’s identity and used so frequently, they are considered and developed ahead of any other content.

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Wednesday, 02 April 2014

One fundamental question about displaying content on the screen goes back to the real estate analogy. Should there be a single structure taking up the whole display property, or is it better to subdivide and put something in two, three, or even more distinct areas? In digital signage, these screen areas are called zones.

Some networks will take the full area of a 16:9 screen and split it up into three areas: one that retains the 16:9 format, another next to it in the 4:3 format, and a short, wide zone along the bottom of the 16:9 area. One would use the first zone for branding content, the second for informational or secondary ad content, and the third as a ticker.

Indeed, the question of how many zones to use—or whether to use any at all—often arises when a network will use data-driven content, such as news headlines, weather forecasts, or stock prices.

Although at first the zone approach appears to deal with a number of issues—from providing a way to display the full images of content in multiple ratios to creating variety for the viewer—there is a fundamental question to ask…Is it preferable to display this content at all times or does that create a distraction that confuses the viewer or prevents the viewer from focusing on the revenue-generating content or the main message?

Another study clearly shows that doing so many different things at once can actually impair cognitive ability. In a 2009 study, Stanford researcher Clifford Nass challenged 262 college students to complete experiments that involved switching among tasks, filtering irrelevant information, and using working memory. Nass and his colleagues expected that frequent multitaskers would outperform nonmultitaskers on at least some of these activities.

They found the opposite: Chronic multitaskers were abysmal at all three tasks. The scariest part: Only one of the experiments actually involved multitasking, signaling to Nass that even when they focus on a single activity, frequent multitaskers use their brains less effectively.

This conundrum is not an easy one to solve, and the answer often depends on the type of network involved. So let’s look at a few types of networks that have zones and some that do not understand why the given choices are inappropriate.


As a rule “Point Of Transit” (POT) networks do not employ zones. Why not? Because the function of these screens as something akin to a live poster, combined with the limited time the viewer is exposed to them, means that a powerful message needs to be conveyed in just a few seconds. Advertisers understandably want full command of the screen so there is no interference with their message. Although the message on the screen will change periodically, at any given time there should not be any competition for the viewer’s attention from secondary zones.

There are occasions, however, where even a POT network can be more effective with zones, provided they are used in a creative manner. Keep in mind the issue of viewer relevancy. At an airport, weather and other information about a destination is of great interest to a viewer, and having such information displayed in a zone on the screen could attract and hold a viewer’s attention for a somewhat longer period of time, exposing the viewer to ads in the main zone. But it cannot be a moving ticker at the bottom or motion zone on the right or left.  If it was a single text with weather Icons and with NO movement and it changed every 60 seconds then this would not be distraction from the main message, and could attract the viewer and expose them to the main message.  At the same time, the weather information could also be displayed full screen as part of a loop that also contains advertising like a convertible BMW on a sunny day. Care needs to be taken with such choices given the existence of several credible studies that suggest zones in POT networks do not work and detract from the message the advertiser is trying to get across.


Point of Sale (POS) Networks typically are driving a single message to purchase.  We see zones used in this environment way too often. To the viewer who is surrounded by many products on the shelf a screen with zones becomes nothing but noise in the retail environment.  Instead one zone should be used and the purpose should be to offer a helpful message that needs to say “How can I help you buy this today”.  POS networks need to understand their function.  So many times we see ad related networks in a retail environment that has ads that are not relevant to the shopping there and now experience…but I digress.  POS full screen one message at a time and interactive if possible is very effective.


One subset of Point of Wait (POW) networks that is amenable to the use of zones is the elevator network. Although there is still a limited amount of time to get a message across and a relatively small amount of screen real estate to do it, the fact is that the average person in an office building rides the elevator six times a day, and each ride lasts an average of 1 minute. This sort of network is ideal for presenting short bursts of content (15 seconds or so) in a few different zones on the screen. The viewer who chooses to focus on one zone during one ride may well choose another zone on the next ride, maintaining interest in the screen and making this approach a viable option for this type of network.

The other subset is internal corporate communications (not lobby screens), where the viewer sees the same screen many many times.  Zones here are very useful precisely because eliminating the chance for boredom is an important concern.  These zones help keep the messaging fresh.  Providing zones of information lets viewers focus on different parts of the screen because they are engaged frequently over a longer period of a week.  In addition one can catorgorize the look and feel of each message type to cue in the viewer.  Safety messages for example can have a yellow and black ICON to signify that his is a safety message.  Then the viewer that is concerned about these issues will notice the messaging and pay attention to this subject matter.

With zones, keep in mind that it is all relevant to the mind-set of the viewer and the type of network. Viewers will ignore the screens if their mind-set and the type of network do not match the purpose of why the shopper, person with dwell time, or person on the go is in the venue in the first place.

With changes in both content and technology, the perception of the viewer is becoming altered as well. Smart phones and tablets are part of our appendages, and are part of the tool kit of high school students. Digital signage is now that ubiquitous, and viewers are more accustomed to them and pay less attention to the screen on the wall.  Continual evaluation is the only thing that will clarify how this element of digital signage will be perceived.

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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

If digital signage were real estate, then the aspect ratio would be the overall shape of the lot – in the case of screens, its width divided by its height. Many people are already familiar with this general concept thanks to the proliferation of HDTV and its “wide screen” images. For digital signage, this is more than about the sheer size of the screen, though – it’s about getting the shape of the content, particularly video content, to match up with the screen.

It’s quite likely, unless a network or multiple networks are of single aspect ratio and all the content for the networks can be built from scratch or acquired in that same ratio, that the network operator or agency will need to decide how to place content of one ratio onto the screen of the other.

The aspect ratio of the traditional television screen prior to HDTV was developed from the movie screen, built to display the 35mm film that had been developed in Edison’s time. It is not quite square: The aspect ratio is 4:3, (Figure 1) also known as 1.33 (what you get when you divide 4 by 3). Until recently, most computer screens were also built on a 4:3 aspect ratio. Almost all films prior to the 1950s, the vast majority of TV programs until very recently, and TV ads, were all shot in this aspect ratio and hence fill up the full frame of such a screen.

In the 1950s, in an attempt to stave off competition from television, the movie industry developed a collection of wide-screen formats, and today filmgoers are accustomed to seeing movies that are almost twice as wide as they are tall – and in some cases, even wider. The development of HDTV involved the adoption of the most common of these newer aspect ratios, 16:9, also commonly called 1.78 (Figure 2). Many films since the 1950s, significant prime time and sports programming on TV, and some TV ads, are in this aspect ratio. Almost all PC screens being sold today are in this format, and as HDTV becomes more widespread, more video will be available from the TV world in this format as well. If one is installing a new digital signage network, chances are it will consist solely of 16:9 screens, whether they are small shelf-mounted POS screens or large outdoor billboards.

These are the most commonly encountered aspect ratios but there are others, notably the 2.35:1 format used by some movies, typically high-budget productions. (It is extremely rare to find digital signage in this format; there are few manufacturers.) And some screens in custom form may have unique ratios, or they may be taller than then are wide to accommodate the location (the large exterior digital signs in Times Square are an example of the latter).

The reason these ratios matter is because content created in one aspect ratio must be modified in some way to be displayed in another. This can create a number of problems for a network operator – if a digital signage network consists of screens of different aspect ratios, the same content will look different on each type without special treatment. Even for a network comprising a single screen format – and 4:3 is being phased out in existing networks as hardware is updated – any content created in another ratio poses the same display issue. (This is another reason for considering carefully the direct use of TV commercials in digital signage networks, since almost all ads today are still in 4:3.)

There are two basic methods for taking 16:9 content and presenting it on 4:3 screens, methods that might be familiar to buyers of wide-screen movies on DVD but watch them on older TVs.

The first is known as letterboxing (Figure 3). In this approach, the 16:9 image is allowed to fill the horizontal width of the screen. Because of the difference in ratios, this means the content will not extend the full height of the screen. Instead, it is centered vertically on the screen and two black stripes are displayed as borders on the top and bottom of the image. Letterboxing has the advantage of retaining the full image of the original content, although it leaves some significant screen real estate unused. If the screen is not sufficiently large, then some individual objects in the image might become less distinct.

A second approach is to allow the 16:9 image to fill the full vertical height of the 4:3 screen (Figure 4). By necessity, this means that the full width cannot be presented and some of the original image will not be visible. This can be done by cropping out both the left and right sides of the original image and displaying the 4:3 section at the center, or by a more laborious process called “pan and scan” in which the cropping may be more pronounced on one side or the other in order to keep important parts of the image centered. This typically requires an editor or technician to view the original content and determine which part of each frame to crop, and then creating a 4:3 version of the original according to that decision. In either case, the content takes up all the available screen space, but at the loss of a considerable amount of the image.

Know what type of network the content will be deployed on — Ask for the specifications.

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