Wireless dishes up digital ads

Wi-Fi wireless networking technology is being used to bring digital advertisements to retailers at Auckland airport.

Digital signage is a form of advertising in which digital displays in shops can be changed to target different consumers at different times. Also known as dynamic signage, the technology has been around since the mid-1990s when oil companies used floppy disks to change signs. But John McCarthy, business director of provider OpenEye, says high speed and wireless internet has "opened the doors" to it being more widely adopted.

"It's narrowcasting, and wireless networking has allowed the medium to grow. It's a very cheap distribution system."

OpenEye uses Wi-Fi's limited-reach technology but is looking at also using Woosh Wireless' broadband fixed wireless technology. The system runs on Inspire, one of a number of software packages for distributing content on digital displays.

Wireless LANs allow portability within a retail environment, McCarthy says, with moving signs around far easier than if the display content was provided via wired internet.

Regency Duty Free at Auckland airport has three screens at its arrivals store, two in its Made In New Zealand souvenir store and two at its departures store.

Regency multimedia manager Gareth Lathey says the system, provided over a Wi-Fi LAN, is working well.

"We have many different groups of people coming through the airport wanting different products. And then there's the language barrier, with flights from Japan, Korea, China, Tahiti. We can schedule the signs to be in Japanese, Korean, French etc, so from a customer service point of view, it's great."

Different nationalities are known to have preferences for different products and so a targeted ad, in their language, can be very effective, he says.

McCarthy formed OpenEye last year with backing from a private investor and Auckland's Icehouse business incubator, a joint venture between Auckland University and several corporate backers.

OpenEye, which has three other staff, is one of several of digital signage providers in New Zealand. McCarthy says the technology can work well for certain retailers, but it's not a cure-all for all commercial enterprises.

"I think advertisers need to be wary of large promises from digital signage providers with limited knowledge of the advertising arena. Digital signage providers need to fully understand how the medium can be integrated into the total media mix and how this translates to their client's bottom line, not theirs."

McCarthy describes Digital Signage as being "where the internet was in 1996" -- full of potential but not to be over-estimated in terms of cash generating power, as the net was during the dot-com era.

The Wi-Fi technology has generally proved reliable -- Auckland airport has a policy of co-ordinating wireless LANs to avoid interference -- apart from "the occasional hiccup, but you get that with any technology."

The hiccups have mostly been due to external factors, such as when the LAN was switched off unintentionally by the airport.

"The screens at the arrivals store went down but once we realised what happened, we got them back up again."

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