Billboards Go Digital

In offline advertising, the billboard is a cornerstone of an ad campaign. It exposes your product or brand to the masses, generates thousands of views each day, and can be customized for maximum brand recall and results. It even offers a certain degree of advertiser exclusivity; when there’s nothing else to look at along the highway, my eye certainly welcomes the distraction from the hour-long commute.

There are, of course, a few drawbacks to billboard advertising. All the eyeballs you attract and the response you garner as a result are impossible to measure accurately. And reaching your target audience in a sea of random drivers and passengers is on par with trying to catch flies in the dark.

So if you heard about an opportunity to purchase a digital billboard, you’d probably greet it with some scepticism. But the similarities between this ad unit, which formally launched about six weeks ago after several years in development, and the real thing, are few and far between.

A product of AdDiem, whose parent company is Synovativ Technologies in Utah, the Digital Billboard (PDF download) is a downloadable desktop application that’s easy to create, place, and measure. And though it may look like a billboard, the company says it’s better viewed as an email replacement.

That’s because it’s a permission-based marketing channel that allows advertisers to develop a personal relationship with Internet users, much as an e-newsletter does. Media buyers have the ability to post messages on consumer desktops, update content on the fly, and incorporate audio and video as desired. Once a consumer installs AdDiem on his computer, he can access content delivered via Digital Billboard at his convenience. There’s no danger of the advertiser’s message getting lost in inbox, site — or highway — ad clutter.

To promote Martha Stewart’s conglomerate of media properties, for example, AdDiem created a Digital Billboard that contains a daily cooking tip and links to recipes, Stewart’s TV show and magazines, and more. Netflix, meanwhile, uses the technology to deliver a movie-ticket-shaped billboard designed to recruit subscribers and generate word of mouth (billboards can be forwarded to friends). According to Synovativ Technologies CEO Evan Richmond, who spawned the ad concept after working at a calendar company, EPSN and SBC Communications are also scheduled to employ the Digital Billboard.

Like the traditional variety, Digital Billboards come in many shapes and sizes and can be customized to an advertiser’s needs. They can also be targeted based on Internet user preferences. AdDiem uses proprietary tracking technology to deliver the ads, as well as measure consumer interaction, all without using cookies.

Other advantages of the Digital Billboard, Richmond says, include “absolute privacy without personal information being gathered that can be sold or stolen,” along with its effectiveness as a CRM (define) tool. He also notes the application can “help any print publication to gain another revenue stream.”

To afford advertisers the flexibility to use the Digital Billboard at their discretion and in numerous ways, AdDiem charges a licensing fee that Richmond says amounts to “about the cost of an HTML email campaign.” AdDiem then works with the advertiser to develop the billboard into a branded content channel that the advertiser then informs his customers about to attract subscribers and generate application downloads.

Desktop advertising hasn’t taken off quite the way I expected it to, in part because issues with spyware and spam have made consumers wary of downloading ad applications. Billboard advertising, meanwhile, is slowly being replaced with more measurable, flexible, and interactive media buys.

AdDiem could be the solution for advertisers looking to blend the benefits of both media. Some major brands certainly seem to think so, and there’s a good chance the entertaining, content they’re eager to deliver will encourage consumers to engage to an equal degree. The unit will only become more appealing when desktop advertising reaches critical mass.

Could we have stumbled across a method of billboard advertising that truly has it all?

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