Screenmedia Expo London: Inspiring, and Yet So Depressing
I have mixed feelings about the things I heard and saw at Screenmedia Expo in London last week. It’s a much more intimate show than the Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas. But for all the lack of people, content-wise, I found it to be more thought-provoking. The presentations that I attended spanned everything from an agency that had created a one-off interactive experience for an ice cream company based primarily on art, to a Ph.D. student presenting his own work on turning absolutely any surface into an interactive experience (literally, anything from a piece of a glass to a tree to a balloon becomes a musical instrument). In between, printable electronics and best practices in interactive television (that one’s for you, Paula!).
However, my enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that also in between the agency and the doctoral student stood a lot of the same old digital signs, and the same people delivering the same tired message: mainly, “Retailers will get it this time! Consumers are ready! We know there is a solution for screens in retail!”
When a digital signage event is populated primarily by hardware (“units” instead of solutions), and dominated by taxicabs and urinals topped by screens, then I despair of display technology ever taking its proper place in the retail-consumer conversation.
It’s not like the timing isn’t right. My own presentation at the show made the case that right now is a near-perfect storm of opportunity for completely rethinking the role that technology plays in the in-store experience. The agency with the interactive art experience has the right idea – they got some famous artist whose name I didn’t recognize to create images that related to different dimensions of taste – a different image for creamy vs. salty vs. fruity, for example. The agency created an app, deployed on iPads, where consumers would rate the flavor dimensions of the ice cream they sampled, and the app would combine the artist’s depictions into a unique taste display based on that consumer’s inputs. The consumer could then share it via Facebook or Twitter, and the shop would also display consumers’ taste art on a screen in the store.
It’s still out there – you can try it out yourself at the Freggo ice cream shop on Regent Street in London. But it’s a one-time deal. Is this a solution that can be deployed against other foods or experiences? Not without some significant development, and maybe a new contract with the artist. It’s not leverage-able. It’s not repeatable, at least not without a lot more effort.
I’ll give you another example. I wandered down Oxford Street my first night in London. I saw the Nike store. They’re heavily promoting this bracelet thing called Nike Fuel, which I guess integrates with Nike Plus. I’m not entirely sure, and I’m not going to look it up online because everything I learned about these bracelets I learned from their in-store interactive kiosks. It’s quite the display (though I suspect there is going to be some white or yellow & black tape put up on the edges of the raised platform where the bracelets are on display, because about 10 people tripped over the thing in the 10 minutes I was there, including me). But there was no content. I learned that anyone can use it and it will track any kind of activity. And I guess there’s an app that goes with it. But what it tracks isn’t exactly clear – it’s not calories, as best I can tell. It’s like some kind of Nike-specific number. It was a slick video, though, in a slick all-black display. It looked great – but it did nothing to help the shopper, unless their intent is to help the shopper fall to the floor.
This is the problem that exists in digital signage today. Retailers are ready. They not only want to invest in in-store technology, they are near-panicked at the idea that online and digital experiences are overtaking the store and need to invest to overcome this large and growing gap. This should be digital signage’s bright, shiny moment – the moment they’ve been waiting for since TESCO and Walmart first put TV’s in their stores in 2004-5.
Digital signs – particularly interactive ones – should be able to step up and fill that gap between store and online. They should be able to create inspiring experiences that can be tailored to individual customer needs and wants and they should be adaptable to any channel – online, mobile, in-store, whatever. Leverage-able. Reusable. Differentiating.
And yet here we are, standing in front of urinals that are promoting 25% off in menswear.