Billboards seem so last-century don't they, with their huge paper posters and badly-glued peeling corners? You've obviously not been keeping up with the times then: Digital interactivity is the new trend, and it's just the beginning.
We've talked a bit about this before (remember the Japanese billboard that watches you watching it?) but a round-up post by Craig Kanarick over at his blog EXP does a fabulous job of pointing out just how clever advertisers and bill-board makers are getting these days. Aided by cheap, clever and miniaturized technology, billboards are swiftly moving beyond the centuries-old paper sheet and glue system into full digital, animated interactivity.
The round-up starts in 2003 with Coca-cola's 99-foot interactive digital sign on London's famous Piccadilly Circus that responded to weather and people waving at it below (shown at the top of this post).
But the biggest slew of examples is from 2009, showing how amazingly swiftly the technology is growing. These include the interactive weighing scales bus-stop billboard in Rotterdam, and Nikon's clever ad in Korea that makes the billboard emulate the multiple flashes of paparazzi as you walk past.
It's all amazing stuff, and far less boring than normal printed ads (you may argue it's also more intrusive, yet if we're going to have adverts, I say make 'em good ones). But actually, I think this is just the beginning of a billboard revolution that's going to be driven by three technology changes: Falling big-screen LCD prices, 3-D display tech and Augmented Reality.
Most of the examples shown above are custom-crafted to suit a specific purpose. But where no ad-specific hardware is required, the natural replacement for an ink-and-paper billboard is a large screen. As LCD prices drop thanks to the HDTV revolution, we can expect to see more of them serving as small- to mid-sized billboards. And, of course, with a computer hooked up behind to run multiple ads there's also the possibility of interactive hardware: Think of Twitter-reactive ads, hair color-changing Webcams and so on. The next step for this is naked eye-visible 3-D displays, an emergent technology that will eventually replace flat billboards with more eye-grabbing 3-D ones.
And finally, augmented reality. By this I don't mean the kind you see on smartphone apps, but in interactive billboards that are themselves smart. They'll recognize you as you walk by, say how nice it is to see you after a few weeks, snap a 3-D picture of you, and then display an image of what you'd look like wearing the newest variation of cargo pants from the Gap. Subtly augmented reality, and highly targeted. It's coming, you know it is—it's relentless, and in a freaky Tom Cruise Minority Report style versus the friendly intelligent freeway sign in Steve Martin's LA Story too.