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Beneful Lets People Play With Digital Dogs

  |  May 7, 2012   |  Comments

Dog food brand allows passersby to play fetch, customize a virtual pooch on interactive billboards.

Dog food brand Beneful is encouraging people to play with virtual dogs on interactive billboards in a five-city campaign.

The New York installation uses a 64-foot long digital board at the Columbus Circle subway station near Central Park. Once a person is detected walking by the screen, a virtual dog runs up to chase and play with him or her. Passersby can then play a game of virtual fetch and even customize their dog, choosing details like color, size, snout, tail, and fur pattern.

Beneful really wanted to talk about how their brand should be associated with play," said Steve Birnhak, CEO of Inwindow Outdoor, the outdoor advertising company that developed the technology used in the campaign. "People can walk past and are 'assigned' a dog that will try to engage the passerby and when they do, there will be a pile of tennis balls on the screen."

Users can also have a photo taken next to their virtual dog, which will be delivered via text message and can be shared on social platforms.

While there are still some kinks to work out in the New York display, which uses different technology than the other cities, the basic idea behind the campaign still rings true: Play is an integral part of the dog-owner relationship. In addition to New York, Beneful has interactive billboards in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and St. Louis.

There are about 30 virtual dogs available to play in the New York display, which launched May 1, Birnak said.

beneful-peopleIn addition, the New York display includes lasers that constantly track the footfall at ground level and an algorithm that determines when two walking legs equal a potential playmate. In addition, he says Inwindow will be able to track traffic and let Beneful know how many people have walked by. (No data is available at this point.)

Beneful Brand Manager Jamin Hemenway likens the motion-activated technology to an Xbox Kinect and says the other locations employ touchscreen technology instead.

Two days after its installation in New York, Birnhak said Inwindow Outdoor was "still making a few tweaks" because the New York display is "not perfectly working." Bina Booth, account director at Fallon, which is Beneful's agency of record, said it may have been because there are times when the system needs to be reset.

Indeed, passersby seemed to struggle with picking up balls to throw and customizing the dogs' features on a recent afternoon.

"This is new to the world technology, so there' s going to be a learning curve," Hemenway said. "With that location specifically, there' s so much traffic…so we' re still working through how to calibrate it." According to the MTA, which operates the station, Columbus Circle is the seventh most highly trafficked station in its system with 21.3 million annual riders.

In addition to Columbus Circle, Beneful interactive billboards have been installed on Michigan Avenue in Chicago; at open-air shopping complex Santa Monica Place in Los Angeles; near another shopping complex in Atlanta; and near Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

What' s more, Beneful is manufactured by Nestlé Purina PetCare, which is based in St. Louis. And Hemenway said the brand has a certain affinity for Atlanta after conducting its first dog park makeover there.

The various installations will be up until about June 1.

Inwindow and Beneful also partnered with CBS Outdoor on the project in New York as CBS has the rights to the space though a contract with the MTA.



Lisa Lacy

In addition to ClickZ and Search Engine Watch, Lisa's work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.

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