Occasionally I am too lazy to stock my apartment with breakfast foods. On such mornings, I go to a particular bagel shop that I like near my office. I have been lazy for the past three days, so I have ended up in the bagel shop for the last three mornings. The bagel shop has a digital network screen belonging to one of the most well-established, reputable, technologically advanced networks in the country. I sit, eat my bagel, watch the screen and then watch other patrons to see if they look at the screen.
Unfortunately, for two of the past three mornings, that screen was dark. Completely dark. I watched some of the restaurant’s employees try to turn it on, but it gave an error signal and shut off again. I find this situation to be alarming. By far one of the most advanced networks in the country, its technology seems to have a glitch. I understand that modern networks have software that informs the operator of screen malfunctions, but there were still at least 2 days of lost impressions in that location (it was working the 3rd day, but how many days previously had it been down?).
I decided to further my limited and unscientific investigation into the networks near my office. Another couple venues have screens, so I decided to look at them just to check their functionality. I checked one location of a completely different network, and—you guessed it—the screen was dark.
I then thought about both of the last two DOOH programs we have run, and recalled that each of them had issues with screens going dark. In one case the screens went dark for unexplained reasons. In another case the screen was actually turned off by the venue manager. In each situation we were put in the incredibly uncomfortable and awkward position of having to explain to the client about the loss of impressions and were forced to negotiate for lost time on the network.
Put simply, through my personal and unscientific observations/ponderings of the past couple of days, I have come to the following common sense but crucial conclusion: Despite the rapid advancements in technology and increasing reliability of hardware and software, the screens will occasionally go dark for various reasons. Each malfunction will highlight the networks’ weakness, even if it is an unusual or temporary problem. Such issues will compromise an advertising campaign--and at this early stage of the development of the industry--perhaps shake advertisers’ confidence in the medium. Make-goods are fine, but they certainly don’t compare to a perfectly-executed campaign to set an industry-wide precedent of precision.
Why am I writing about such a gloomy subject? I’m a DOOH media buyer and thus inherently a proponent of the medium. Why would I point out glaring weaknesses of networks that I believe overall to be particularly strong and effective? I suppose it is because this industry needs to reach another level. We can no longer simply be satisfied with scale, research, content and impressions. Even if a campaign is running on dozens or hundreds of screens, the absence of one screen because it goes dark has a symbolic as well as tangible impact. The tangible impact is that impressions are lost, and agencies have to negotiate makegoods and offer awkward explanations to their clients. The symbolic effect is that for every dark screen, perhaps the perception of DOOH being a new and unstable industry will be perpetuated. We must account for hundreds if not thousands of venues simultaneously and ensure that they function with faultless precision or, if something does go wrong, they are repaired immediately. Each and every screen serves a crucial purpose, and we pride ourselves on being an industry of flexibility, targeting and digital precision. We need our networks to stand behind these statements with performance.