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14 October 2016

Could Yahoo’s new “smart” billboard transform OOH advertising?


Yahoo pic

Yahoo has filed a patent for a new type of “smart” digital billboard that could potentially transform the OOH industry by taking data collection via the medium to a whole new level.  

Remember that scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise walks through the shopping centre and gets bombarded with advertising? It’s sort of like that, but maybe not quite to the same level…

The patent, filed by Yahoo on Oct 6th, describes how the new type of smart billboard would collect people’s information and use this to deliver targeted ad content in real-time. More specifically, it would use a combination of sensors (including microphones and cameras located either on the billboard or in nearby drones), to watch and listen to people in close proximity to the billboard to get a sense of who they were and how they were reacting, and thus tailor the advertising displayed to them – talk about proper targeting!

Giving an example of how one such billboard could work, in the patent application, Yahoo said: "According to one example, a digital billboard adjacent a busy freeway might be instrumented with or located near traffic sensors that detect information about the context of the vehicles approaching the billboard, e.g., the number and average speed of the vehicles. Such information might be used in conjunction with information about the time of day and/or the day of the week (e.g., Monday morning rush hour) to select advertisements for display that would appeal to an expected demographic and to display the advertisements for durations that are commensurate with the level of traffic congestion."

The patent document illustrated the way it would work here:

Yahoo 1

And here’s how the whole process would work:

Yahoo 2

It also explained that the billboard might work with advertising exchanges, meaning that it wouldn’t just display its own ads, but might also put them onto tablets, phones, smart watches and TVs.

Stephen Gates, chief research intelligence analyst at NSFOCUS says: "Although the story timing for Yahoo is not the best, the concept of using real-time targeted adverts on electronic billboards, signage, placards, posters, etc. will likely happen. It’s just a matter of time. Many who have watched Tom Cruise in the movie Minority Report, observed the directors demonstrate this very same concept. Remember, that movie was released 14 years ago. However, today there is no need to scan retinas. Having real-time access to mobile usage and tracking data may be all that is needed.

“The risk to consumers is the lack of privacy, or even the invasion of privacy. Since there are limited or no laws that exist to protect consumers from this type of potential activity, advertisers will likely move forward and support this possibility. It’s done quite effectively on the Internet today. Targeted ads are pushed to users’ browsers constantly. Based upon where users have recently surfed the Internet using their mobile device, could result in some pretty interesting or even embarrassing electronic billboard advertisements."

It's certainly an interesting concept and one that we'll be keeping a close eye on.

There's no doubt in the power and effectiveness of OOH as a medium - we’ve seen a bunch of innovations in OOH over the years. Check out some of our top billboard case studies below:

The Mosquito Killer Billboard [Posterscope – Brazil]


Marvel’s Ant Man: Heroes don’t get any bigger [Marvel – Singapore]


Billboard Massages [Kit-Kat – Colombia]


See beyond the edge [Samsung - Sweden]


Pimm's Thermal Activation [Pimm's - UK]




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  • Right Brain, Left Brain sums up the dichotomy of a media business that’s constantly battling with the challenge of delivering a profit and discovering new ways to communicate to consumers. The Cream editorial team combined with a dream team of industry pioneers from around the world share their expert opinions.

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