Interacting with Outdoor Advertisements

“I feel drawn to experiment with ways that technology can interact with notions of intimacy, because so much of technology is done in a way that’s very cold and has such an opposite effect.” Jaron Lanier

1.Abstract

This paper is a multi-case study. The main argument developed in this paper is that when imply digital interface in the field of outdoor interactive advertisements (shorted as OIA in this paper), the normal principles of interactive principals in new media interface don’t always fit. Being metamedia, those ads use new technologies and strategies to combine pictures, videos, even holograms to create novelty, high-jack attentions and to enhance user experiences. Although being called interactive in its name, most of the OIA are designed with closed systems. They are not necessarily intuitive and transparent as other interactive machines are. They often are designed with a choice of share. They are designed to have narrowed options and using the three elements of advertising to direct the process. They sometimes are designed to offer treats as feedbacks. They follow the rules of semiotic and cultural practices.

This paper simply introduce the basic concept in advertising design and the some technologies used in OIA, then use multiple cases to illustrate the interface design values in the normal interactive machine and in OIA.

OIA have many forms. In this paper I only concentrate on the one kind which contain digital interfaces, and interact with human instead of with environment. Without specific pointing out, the OIA in this paper are references for the ads as above.

2. Introduction

In the movie The Minority Report (2002), the OIA have been evolved into personal detailed, holograms and cloud sharing information ad. The billboard can call you by your name at first sight, provide shopping history and recommend new items based on your preferences. These personal ads seem a lot ahead, while Peter Schwartz, chairman of the Global Business Network, thinks differently. “This is not too distant future. This is imminent.”It’s never too bold to imagine the future. I personally agree that the technology and the interaction used in the field of advertising which happened in the movie will soon be realized.

Nowadays with more and more non-traditional forms of outdoor advertisements transformed to new media, the interactivity of ads also catch a lot of attention. Will it work? How will it work? These questions has haunted advertisers’ mind from day one. While the technologies have become more and more mature, a lot of ideas of interactive outdoor advertisements have been realized. Research shows that in the high-involvement conditions, experienced users will possess more positive attitudes during interaction than the inexperienced users. This result suggests that in OIA, although creating a whole novel experience to hijack attention and to promote share is vital, retrospect and remediation is also important. From traditional media to metamedia based on time and space, how to design the interfaces of OIA becomes a valuable question to ask.

3. New Medias Remediated in OIA

The appliance of new media in the field of OIA is a tendency all over the world, yet not the only choice. It should be granted that traditional media without digital applications can also work its magic out perfectly if doing it the right way, as in many successful cases in the market. In this paper, I focus on the kind of OIA which are perceived as a time-based metamedia, containing digital interfaces. Being metamedia, those ads use new technologies to combine pictures, videos, even holograms to create novelty, hijacking attentions and to enhance user experiences. Although quite different from the traditional ones, OIA media remediated the old in many ways and will continue doing so in the future. The technologies and the applications listed below are the realistic foundation of the follow-up interface design.

3.1 Technology support

To realize the even simplest OIA requires some sort of algorithm and furthermore digital interaction design. With new media used in the outdoor advertising, OIA create novel and entertaining interactions thanks to the development of the following technology support. These technologies differentiate the new media from the old static ones, letting the audiences feel new and fresh meanwhile not too far away from the experiences of the traditional media.

3.1.1 Eye Tracking

Eye tracking technology is a methodology that allow the researcher to detect where a user is looking at, and furthermore to depict a path and hot spot map of user’s eye movements. Moreover, we can detect how long the user looks at something.  When the concern is the identification of elements in visual scenes like an interactive application, the technology called “point of regard (POR)” (Young and Sheena, 1975) is used to measures the orientation of the eye in space. This technologies are widely used in many fields as research method, including psychology and marketing. Meanwhile it can also be used in OIA. The most common way of using it aims at data gathering. By collecting and analyzing the data of audience attention, the information is fed back to advisors to improve the creation and interactivity of advertising. With the eye tracking technology becoming more and more mature, there’s no doubt that a new situation has been created for the OIA and a more accurate delivery of outdoor ad can might well be realized.

3.1.2 Face and Gender Recognition

Face recognition contain the face detection and expression detection. In OIA, these technologies have high values concerning the interaction they might realized. At least, it can base on the number of face it detected to create some changes, such as the London’s Women’s Aid Poster showed below. With each more face recognized, it will reduce the bruise piece by piece, in doing so call for attention on family violence towards women.

Also, the use of face and expression detection can also realize digital image simulation and therefore satisfy the ego-self-identification need of the users, creating an OIA with high entertaining rate. Moreover, nowadays a camera with software can detect whether the passer-by is a male or female. This gender recognition technology can be used in OIA to adjust its ad on the digital screen accordingly. Similar technologies include the age, race and probably identity recognition. With the technology more and more similar to the one in The Minority Report, surely arise the considerations for privacy protection, which will influence the willingness of interacting in the OIA.

3.1.3 Skeleton Tracing

Like face recognition, skeleton tracing can tell the information about the audience by detecting the 3D images. It can calculate the position and the movement of human bones and therefore simulate the movement on the digital screen.

3.1.4 Near Field Communication and Techs to Link Devices

Near field communication technology is a kind of high frequency radio communication technology used between digital devices to carry out non-contact point-to-point data exchanging. First developed by Sony and Philip, now this technology is more commonly installed in mobile devices like smartphones. Similar technologies like bluetooth are also widely applied in OIA nowadays. Normally, audience use one of the technologies that allow them to contact their smartphones with the OIA, by doing so receive “information”. Like the one below, by putting phone to the cued place, the device will connect and showed a song in the list using the tech of near field communication.

3.2 The application of ad design elements

In the field of advertising, the design is mainly constructed by three basic elements, which are image, text and color composition. Coded in the application, these three elements become core of the visual design, conveying information deeper and further than themselves. In that way can be also perceived as semiotic system in the field of visual design. Different from the traditional ads, OIA use media that can exert these elements in a dynamic way, and meanwhile remediate the print media.

3.2.1 From Static to Dynamic

Transition from the traditional media like magazine, internet and bus stop billboard, OIA use new media that are can apply dynamic footage which not only have widespread commercial value and prospects, but also provide a space for advertisers’ creation. Thanks to the contents of new media, the three elements in OIA possess abundant transformation and composition effect. The speed of changing images and texts, the movement path, the dynamic color can all be used to attract attention (and furthermore to lead their attention to specific cued place).

Like the London Women’s aid ad I mentioned before, that OIA use seemingly static images as part of the ad. However once detect faces in front of it, the image will start changing by slowly reduce the bruise. Another part of the ad is the huge text. It stay static while leaving the model’s face changing more evidently. Meanwhile, it chooses dark and solid color as background, making the only change more prominent. These three elements combined together, making OIA have more novel way to attract attention and to lead attention.

Also, audience can be led to change attention from place, thanks to the dynamic elements. This feature can hardly be realized by traditional media.

3.2.2 From Presenting to Interacting

Traditional outdoor advertisements are used to present, showing changeless information to all the audiences. While OIA use new media to convey different information to different audiences by interacting. The design elements of advertising are changed in speed, scale, position and color according to the external input. In which case, it is far more advanced and novel than the video billboard which present time-based footage.

On the one hand, mostly the dynamic elements are activated by external input, aka human interaction. In the same Women’s Aid ad, only when faces of passerbys are detected, the image on the billboard will start to change. In other word, the remediation from the video billboard set a switch in the new media, which allow the OIA’s design elements to change from the stimulation of the external world. One may call this switch “interaction”. On the other hand, from the interaction, OIA allow the audience to decide the elements composition they were shown. In OIA, audience has the choice not to interact, while in the old media and traditional outdoor ads, the advertising is always ongoing. In other word, the switch is put in audience’s hand, not the advertisers. From the perspective of the audience, the ads are not just some static background. They listen to them and seemingly change “at their will”. This feeling is what traditional media cannot elicit.

3.3 The application of the five senses

Advanced technologies create more method for advisors to achieve creativity, sometimes including the immersed experience of five senses: vision, audition, olfaction, tactile and gustation. Traditional media can also apply five senses in their ads. Vision and audition have been applied since day 1 of advertising. Even olfaction, tactile and gustation can be realized with traditional media, like the one below. PlayStation 2 stick bubble wrapped to the bus board, letting audience burst bubbles while waiting for bus.

New media allow OIA to apply more complex interaction involving the five senses, but the underneath purpose is generally the same: to let the audience not only see and hear the ad, but to touch, smell and taste them like in real times. Different from the traditional media which involve olfaction, tactile and gustation experiences, the new media allow the OIA to looks like personal designed, only activated when the external input is entered. Without external activating, the ad will be anything like the traditional ads. Like the one below, the smell of barbecue will only come out when audience tap their card as cued.

To conclude, the new media of OIA remediate the traditional media in three ways, which are shown above: technologies, design elements and five senses. The specific application will be elaborated in the following chapter.

4. Interface Design in OIA

4.1 Interactive Machine Interface Design

4.1.1  From and Based on Turing Machine

Turing Machine, as the first electronic digital computer used a closed, non-interactive system, can only carry on sophisticated computations. However, once the algorithm started running, it will stop receiving external inputs and go on operating until the computation stops. On the other hand, interactive machines can be engaged by the third parties during the operating. It can learn from the outside world and adapt to experience. The results yielded from interactive machines are depended upon unpredictable external actions, in doing so endow the machine smartness compared to the algorithm in Turing machine. Human-computer system has been recognized as the first truly interactive systems according to Beaudouin-Lafon. The SketchPad designed by Ivan Sutherland use digital pen to input messages and engage with a cathode ray tube (CRT) display. This pioneer technology can still be seen today, like Ipad. Until nowadays, graphical interface design has the core feature of interaction.

Also, from the basis of Turing machine, scholars and scientists propose new ideas on the interactivity that could be applied to machines. Van Leeuwen and Wiedemann offer a new implication of interactive computing. The interactive Turing machine (ITC), as they called it, captured the essence of computing meanwhile evolve interactive systems. This new model of computation is “in theory” more powerful than classical systems. Goldin et al extend the Turing machine system based on dynamic stream semantics, called Persistent Turing Machine (PTM). The PTM will carry on normal computations once they read an input from input tapes and will end once they produce outputs on outputs tapes. The additional worktape is responsible to retain its content from one computation to the next. Goldin’s model of PTM falls in the general class of interactive transition system. However in my point of view, it’s more expressive than interactive. With this sequential feature, PTM can yield results based on computations that remain a process of ongoing.

4.1.2 Principles of Interactive Design

Janet Murray provides perfect principles in the fields of interaction design. In her point of view, as in human computer interaction, human users are unreliable, so the designer should get ahead of the time. In other word, all of the principles in the interactive interfaces design are treating users as toddlers.

Firstly, the interface shall be intuitive. The patterns of operation, the semiotic meanings of the icons and indication signal should be drawing from our conscious expectations about the digital behaviour, experiences and subconsciousness of the world. Janet provides an example of trashcan icon. In the interface if a user see a icon similar to the looking of a trashcan in real life, it’s logical and certain to refer this icon to the function of “deleting”. It’s vital to provoke “intuitive” response which serves similar functions in real world. Also, in consideration of the complexity of the semiotic reference, one icon can logically refers to several meanings according to conventions that govern our engagement with the world and the media. Therefore the designers should also be able to distinguish among the many possible conventions while designing the interactive machine interfaces.

Secondly, the interface shall be transparent. By transparent the most evident explain is “to provide immediate feedback”, and in Murray’s opinion it’s a better design value than intuitive. Immediacy allows the interactive machine to be more similar to electronic devices that we are familiar with. Like a switch can turn on a light immediately, the mouse pointer, light pen, or touchable devices should allow the users see the changes immediately after the operation. This is helpful when a user encounters a new interfaces and be a faster learner due to familiar interaction patterns.

Also as she mentions, “a robust digital media process should pay attention to the values of all the relevant design disciplines and media traditions.” As a cultural practice, interactive interface designers should always bear in mind to consciously and in advance exploit the users’ convention and pre-existing knowledge.

In conclusion, intuition and transparency are two main features of interactive machine. To realize these two goals require the insight in the cultural tradition.

4.2 Closed Systems in OIA

Technically, the media of OIA can hardly be called as “interactive system”. As illustrated above, most of the OIA are not open systems. Instead they are modeled by algorithms and directly yield the outputs as coded once being activated by the inputs. No matter how interactive it may looks like in the outside, deep down the interaction is determined by a closed, non-interactive system, shutting out the external world once receive it inputs, and can not learn from the outside and adapted to experience. However, it is stilled called interactive advertisements as long as it can respond to audience’s operation. So although it is wrongly named technically, the OIA’s interactive system along with its interface create a novelty in the crowd and bring interaction to the audience. And their design value and principles are quite different from the interactive media I presented above.

4.2.1 Unnecessarily Intuitive and Transparent

After hijacking the attention, the OIA have to keep the audience interested until they make the right interaction. Under this circumstances, intuitive and transparent are vital. Furthermore, applying the three design elements and five senses to OIA, the immediate feedback can be designed in limitless possibilities.

On the one hand, it is important that the interfaces design follow the rules of the audience’s convention and their experience. They should not only be able to know what to do, but know that immediately, by right of pre-exist experiences. Like the bus stop OIA made by Guardian of the Galaxy, which remediate the old radio machine and let audiences to know right away the plughole is used for earphone. And from the early experiences, they are expecting to hear music after they plug in.

However on the other hand, intuition and transparency are deliberately avoided in OIA. As advertising strategies, ads often create a sense of suspense or appeal for shockness to make a strong impression and henceforth improve brand recall rate. So do OIA. So sometimes, the ultimate results to audience’s engagement are delayed by using visual effects to make suspense and reinforce the artistic appeal; sometimes the feedback is not necessary to meet expectations of the audiences, create surprise moment or shock feelings. Like in the following OIA made by Nestle Contrex in Paris, audience only know that they are wanted to ride on the bicycles at first. And once they ride the pedal, the beam is emitted from the bike, while no one know what happens next, until the lights on the wall converge and start to transform into a show. Although there’s beam emitted right after audiences’ engagement, the beam per se simulates the electric current, yet is way slower than real speed of electron. In this scenario, the audience may have a feeling about the results from their interaction, but the feedback is deliberately slowed down. The whole execution works against the value of transparency.

Furthermore, some OIA expect the passer-by to “discover” the feedback instead of showing them intuitively, by doing so create surprise and make impression. In the example showed below, the bus stop OIA combined the technology of augmented reality to cater to Axe’s global angle’s falling campaign. By showing only a bottle of Axe on the billboard, audience can’t know what to do or what will happen when they press that icon. In fact, when they press the button, an angel will fall down to the ground and walk towards you and wave and say Hi. These following sequence are not pre-exist conventions in the user’s head. Since the audience cannot trace any directions base on their previous experience and conventions about the world, the value of intuitive is completely abandoned in this kind of OIA.

4.2.2 Shareable

In recent years, mobile applications and devices gradually change people’s way of consumption. The conventional agreement is that the consumer behaviour pattern has changed from AIDMA to AISAS. The most significant part of changing is that consumer stopped being passive receiver of the information, and turned to be positive searcher. This process makes “share” more and more important. OIA cost much more money and time per audience than other mass media, so the feature of “shareable” becomes economical and beneficial.

One of the strategies used is “personal designed advertisements.” These ads will be activated by single stimulus which will give audience an illusion that this ad is designed just for him or her. When seeing this kind of ads, it will for a moment attract audience’s fully attention. Meanwhile the fantasies and self-ego identifications which the interactive design provided them will not only correspond with the brand or product, but will also arouse the desire to share. In the OIA below, the ad allow the audience to create superhero selfies and slightly adjust it. After being absorbed in this interaction, the OIA provide an option of share. You can share it directly through the interface, no matter to your own device or your friends. Furthermore, audience also may choose to take a selfies with the OIA billboard together, since it’s self-ego complacent to see one’s face on street billboard to some extent.

Another strategy called “augmented reality” provides similar choice of sharing. Even if there’s no direct choice to send through the OIA itself, the unique experience will encourage audiences to record this moment, and share. In other word, the value of “shareable” in OIA media design is two sided, one is providing option for audience on the interface (like the example above), one is satisfying audiences’ self-ego identification and spontaneously arouse the desire to share. A lot of augmented reality OIA have been very successful due to the above reasons, such as Axe’s Falling Angel Campaign, National Graphic Campaign, Hugs for Health Bus Stop Ad, etc. One common point is in these videos, you can see a lot of audiences taking pictures of themselves with the OIA after joining the fun, no matter in what country, in what kind of locations.

4.2.3 Directing the Process by Giving the Only Option

All interfaces include some degree of guidance directing users to operate the system. However, as a metamedia with extreme transparent and simple affordances, OIA interfaces shows the guidance feature very evidently, and more salient than real interactive interfaces with open systems. With a closed system, audience’s options and responses are often narrowed down to only one option. People should understand what this OIA want them to do at the first sight and this require the interfaces to be designed with directions wrapped up by the design elements elaborated above.

Using text to lead audience is the most common and efficient way. The Women Aid ads use “Look At Me” which takes up half of the billboard to guide audience’s sight. In this case, the text must be conspicuous enough for the audience on first sight. Same requirement also fit to the image. Color composition can also play roles of cueing the interaction in the OIA. The Economist once made an OIA with a big light bulb hanging on a solid red background. The light bulb was installed with motion sensor that once someone walked under it, the light bulb will be suddenly lit up. The color composition was concise and terse, laying stress on the key part of the ad——the light bulb.

More complex directions combine the three elements together. Like the OIA below, the interface direction is constituted by a two parts. One is the text and camera icon which direct the audience to touch the icon to start taking selfies. The countdown number on the lower left also limit the time which the audience should be ready. The other is the image and color composition which draws out the area where the audience should be put themselves in. If don’t follow the above directions constituted by the three elements of advertising, the interaction will be failed.

The truth is that these directions reduce interacity by exclude other options. The audiences are provided with only direction, which become the predictable external inputs. In real interactive machine design, designers also have to direct users’ operation, yet not to this extent. In open systems, inputs are completely uncontrollable, so the machine can learn and update itself through interaction. So we can assume OIA which use closed systems and removes the unpredictable agents can never update themselves. By directing the process, the OIA give audiences the only option, and by doing so assure every interaction is exactly and without accident the same.

4.2.4 Treats as Feedback

Unlike traditional advertisements, some OIA designers specially design treats as feedback to audiences’ option. In this case, when audiences complete the whole operations directed by the designers, some treats will be offered as feedbacks. The treats can be virtual like a personal designed selfie like I presented before, or real like the one below. Also they can be related to the brand they are promoting, or not. Those automatically give-away actions are coded as part of the algorithm so will continue until the stocks are empty. As the OIA below, the no-sugar Coca-Cola are distributed as treats if the audience shout out “YES” to the voice-activator. In this case, the shouting as directed can be seen as the external inputs, the outputs or feedbacks are designed as giving away a bottle of drinks as they are promoting. The treats are real, and related to the brand.  

Some traditional OIA also use these strategies, to give away some treats as feed backs. However compared to the digital OIA, those traditional OIA can either arrange staffs standing aside to control the scene and create a promotion environment, or leaving the OIA alone working their magic by themselves. In this case, the treats are not the feedback to audience’s interaction. In these traditional OIA, the feedback can also be either related to the brand like the La Place Restaurant traditional OIA which give away fresh fruits, or related to the timing or place like the Wilkinson Razor traditional OIA which give away roses in Valentine’s Day. However in this case, the traditional OIA can only give away real treats to achieve the purpose of publicity.

4.3 Open Systems in OIA

Despite the closed interactive system discussed above, some advertisers do use open system in OIA interfaces. It should be granted that the use of open system can’t guarantee the ad to be more interactive nor more effective than the ad using closed system. However, with the technology developing so fast, and people are always fond of the new and tired of the old, soon the OIA with closed system will be at every corner. Without the novelty and freshness, how long will the OIA stand its advantages? So the use of open system in OIA is a promising attempt. Who knows, one day, you might be able to chat with advertisements on street.

4.3.1 IIMs

Wegner describe the interactive-identity machines (IIMs) as interactive machines which output their inputs immediately without transforming. In article he stressed: “Though IIMs are not inherently intelligent, they can behave intelligently by replacing intelligent inputs from the environment.” In the field of OIA, many designers decided to take advantage of the intelligent but simple feature of IIM, transforming the environment directly and achieve interactive results. Normally, this kind of OIA install video player on site, and broadcast live scene from another site. Audiences are filmed through camera and footage directly sent back to the place where the video are filmed. Two groups of agents and two places are connected by a screen, whose only function is transfer real-time images. Like the OIA showed below, the bus stop billboard is actually a huge screen, broadcasting real-time images of an old grandpa. Audiences can interact with the OIA interfaces, but are in fact interacting with the man behind camera.

Other examples like Talking Tunas, Mattel’s Draw Something, etc. IIMs like this make OIA seem more interactive than the one with closed systems. They take in inputs from the unpredictable outside world which makes themselves have richer behaviour than the closed systems. 

4.3.2 Touch-screen Video Games

Another kind of OIA with open systems is those implant games within. The modes of use in these OIA verify with the kind of games they implant, but normally are simple and similar. With interaction like a video game, it rely on audience’s previous experiences of game common sense to some extend. Also the game are normally designed as touch-screen games, so the sensitivity is salient. In this case, transparency and intuition are two principles that matters.

Game OIA remediate the real touch-screen video games yet are placed in public. But the interacity varies according to different ads. In the Surf Life Saving OIA, audience can only touch limited area and there’s only two modes as on and off in these icons. It’s easy to see that behind the interfaces are still algorithms and the systems are not open enough. However, by providing more than one choice, these ads simulate the early time videogames and henceforth create a more interactive experiences than those who leave the audience countable options. There are OIA like Adobe EchoSign Digital Sign-off Game that can provide different levels of difficulties; There are OIA like San Jose Earthquakes Shooting Game that allow audiences to choose every directions they want; There are OIA like Pepsi Puzzle Game which allow the audience to move the pieces wherever they want. They also add gravity effect in this game which make it more like the interactive pad. Etc.

OIA with open systems are receiving higher involvement of interaction than those with closed system. They are designed to cope with the unpredictable external world. And the principles for intuition and transparency are more valued than the closed systems. Besides, the “shareable” and “treats as feedbacks” features are also followed.

I’m not assuming that open systems are more effective than closed ones. Just as new media didn’t eliminate traditional media, OIA with closed systems can be more effective and provide impressive interaction no less than the ones with open systems. So I believe with the more and more technology applied in the OIA, there will always be novelty on street which keeps hijacking attentions, while those OIA can be either designed with open or closed systems.

4.4 Semiotic and Culture Practice

Advertising is a field that has close relationships with semiotic and culture, so every piece of work shall also been seen as a practice in this field and follow its rules. The reason of this design matter is that designers should always have a deep understanding of the references in the symbolic world to avoid taboos and to design OIA that can convey information properly.

In Peirce’s interpretant level table, people come into the perceptual information first and then recognize them as patterns. In most cases, traditional OIA which can’t attract fully attention will stayed in this layer because they only work as background and are not specifically adsorbed. But OIA are designed to have fully engagement with its audiences. As metamedia, OIA probably contain every channel (language, music components, image components, film/video) in the table for audiences. The three basic elements in the advertising which I listed before can be viewed as signifying features of these media. The audience can view the text as part and understand what to do next, and can also combine the text and the images as whole to understand how to perform a better interaction. Furthermore, most advertisements are coded within the environment of culture. Like the Light Bulb ad of The Economist presented above, the whole composition of a solid background and an impending light bulb don’t refer to simple meanings like “the light is turned on”. In fact, by putting it above a person’s head, and lighting it up have a semantic meanings of “inspired” or “bright”. Furthermore, the cultural encyclopedia not only help with the designers to create novel ideas within shared symbolic societies, but also help them to avoid taboos. Like the Axe’s Falling Angel Campaign can not be placed in the Muslim Society not because people there can’t understand it, but because in their shared cultural encyclopedia, it’s inappropriate.

5. Conclusion

In this paper I mainly discussed one kind of OIA which have digital interfaces and interact with human. Although most of the OIA listed above are designed with closed systems, to audiences’ mind they are interactive enough and have influence towards their affection, cognition and behaviour. Scholars have discussed what principles an interface of interactive machine should follow, however OIA have its own values.

As described, the value of intuition and transparency is not mandatory due to the need of producing surprise and suspense in OIA. However in those which implant games within, the interface should still be designed as intuitive and transparent. Secondly, OIA have advanced conditions to be designed with an option of share and with treats as feedbacks. Also, because of the closed system, most of the OIA can only produce simple options for the audience to operate. So designers should be able to direct process on the interface. Finally, as a cultural and semiotic practice, OIA designers should also follow the values of proper symbol and culture pattern.

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