Smart billboards attack!

Chief editor - Vladimir Krylov
Deputy chief editor - Michael Nikoulichev

New carrier is rushing into huge industry of outdoor advertising. Nobody still clearly understands how it works but everybody who is involved in the industry heard about new carrier. There is even no common name for the new carrier. Someone calls it “paper-like display” and others call it “smart billboard” or “ink display”. There are other variants as well.

All photos from the site of company Magink - www.magink.com.

One thing can be said with confidence – new carrier has already raised a clamour. And it was not a result of carrier’s efficiency and profitability as in fact all clamours were caused by a huge number of articles about new technology in different newspapers. In this issue of our magazine we will also try to understand what is that “billboard made of ink paper and which works as a video screen”.

Aggressive start

Israel-based company Magink was founded in 2000. Magink headed the breakthrough of the new technology into the world market of outdoor advertising. In that period, 6 years ago, Magink announced the start of ink displays’ expansion. And it was also announced that this technology gives the best fit for outdoor advertising.

Magink’s staff were not the pioneers in this technology as the researches and work for creation of controllable “smart ink surface” had been done long ago. But these works had no success and the researches were frozen. Magink showed itself as a leader in development of the new technology because “smart paper” gave an opportunity to create a real advertising carrier.

Magink billboard (Cannes, France) Magink billboard of Clear Channel
Magink billboard (Cannes, France) Magink billboard of Clear Channel

What is that carrier by Magink?

Smart billboard at the first sight looks like common advertising billboard. It consists of carcass (operator can change its design at discretion) with lighting and advertising surface as well. But if you take more careful look at the surface you’ll see that it is not usual. It is divided by several identical blocks which make the whole surface. And boards which divide these blocks are well seen for the eye.

Magink display Magink billboard of Clear Channel
Magink display Magink billboard of Clear Channel

And what are the main features of Magink’s product? It seems to be helix-form molecules which are pasted on plastic or glass substrate. Each helix is 1 micron long. Under white light, the helixes normally look red. But send a certain signal from a computer to a specific grid junction and the helixes there change shape slightly. The image on billboard can be repainted 70 times a second. And it allows showing animation on the billboard. The helixes are in a layer with thickness of 5 micron. That’s why the surface of smart billboard looks like a sheet of paper.

The billboard doesn’t’ need a lot of electricity. Electricity is needed only for changing of content on the billboard and lightning in the night. Operation of the carrier can be made remotely through Internet connection.

Magink billboard (Hamburg, Germany) Magink billboard (Holland Park, London)
Magink billboard (Hamburg, Germany) Magink billboard (Holland Park, London)

For entering world market Magink had to develop. Israeli market was not enough for “fight” against standard outdoor advertising carriers. Lately Magink found international investments and now there are company’s offices in the USA and the Great Britain. Magink started close cooperation with Mitsubishi which installed some billboards in Japan for testing. But the U.S. and British markets are still priority for Magink.

Pro and con

So what are the main advantages of new technology in comparison with other outdoor advertising carriers? Creators of smart billboard compare it not only with common billboards and with LED screens as well.

Magink says that the brightness of ink display is equal to common advertising billboard. But one by Magink is much handier. Changing of content on smart billboard is much easier as it can be done through Internet connection. At the same time an operator has to have a staff to change content on common billboard. And staff needs time for it. Client doesn’t need to waste time and money for production of poster as well. Ready-to-use file in jpg format is all you need to start the campaign on smart billboard.

Magink billboard (Holland Park, London) Magink billboard (Vauxholl Cross, London)
Magink billboard (Holland Park, London) Magink billboard (Vauxholl Cross, London)

One more advantage of smart billboard is that images on it change constantly and it attracts an attention of pedestrians and drivers better that static billboard does. New technology cannot compete with large-format carriers because of its size. The biggest smart billboard nowadays is only 20 sq. m. The main advantage of ink billboards in comparison with common billboards is an ability to change content at any period of the day. The advertising message can be rotated as often as client wants. LED video screen has the same features because remote control for changing content on digital screens has been being used for a long time. The brightness of ink display is not as good as LED screen has.

But manufacturers of smart billboards emphasizes that LED screen absorbs sun lights and smart billboard resists them. It means that the quality of image on ink display is the same during the whole day (when it is dark the lightning is switched on) and it needs less electricity. Smart billboard needs electricity only for changing the advertising content on it. When it is changed it displays without any additional electricity. Scientists say that advertising message can stay on the ink display for 12 years without electricity and won’t lose its quality.

Ran Poliakine, CEO of Magink, notes one more advantage of new technology. According to him, advertising agencies often balk at the need to prepare special content for LED signs. So for placing clients’ advertisement on smart billboard advertising agency can use creative made for placing on common billboards.

And finally price. According to manufacturers of smart billboard, the price of it is 10 times lower than the price of LED screen with identical technical characteristics. At the same time the price of smart billboard is much higher than the price of common billboard. But manufacturers of smart billboards insists that return on investments in case of ink displays use is better that if you use common billboard. Consider that it is easy to use and there is an ability to have several client at the same time on one carrier.

Words mean nothing without real deals

The only way to understand new technology’s efficiency is to see it working. But big world outdoor advertising operators didn’t rush to pay money for new technology. Besides, the operators in the U.S. market started to replace their billboards with LED screens. And they have announced that they are going to keep on doing it. Millions of dollars the operators are going to invest in it is another proof of this. That all goes to such big companies as Clear Channel and Lamar.

Magink billboard (Archway Road, London) Magink billboard (Vauxholl Cross, London)
Magink billboard (Archway Road, London) Magink billboard (Vauxholl Cross, London)

It was not so long ago when Lamar started to replace its billboards with LED screens. And it gives really wonderful results as new carriers make very good profit. Clear Channel published its official data that only 7 video screens in Cleveland has generated 2.8 million dollars in sales during 10 first months they've been in operation. And that compares with the $300,000 they made in the previous year.

And Clear Channel became the first big outdoor operator who decided to build a network of smart billboards. It took a long time for the company to test the new technology before starting this project. The main things to be tested were brightness of ink displays. The system of network operation should have been regulated as well. Management of Clear Channel Outdoor UK announced that a network of 10 smart billboards will be installed in prestigious places of London this autumn. The company is planning to sell 5-second spots which will rotate every 30 seconds. 5 of 6 clients will be commercial and one spot will be used for traffic news, weather forecasts etc. Will see how successful this project will. By the way, Forbes.com published news that Lamar was going to be the next one to use new technology in the nearest future.

As now nobody knows how successful the network built of smart billboards will big outdoor operators develop their LED screens networks. On 15 of November it was announced that Clear Channel launched new installations of LED screens in Tampa, Florida and Milwaukee. The company is going to build networks of screens in those cities. So the U.S. market chooses LED screens but looks at experiment in London intently.