What Will It Take For You To Bump A Billboard With Your Phone?

Clear Channel Outdoor is testing new NFC-enabled billboards on the street and in pedestrian spaces. What will it take for you to bump a billboard with your phone?

Clear Channel Outdoor (CCO) is one of the world’s biggest billboard companies. Every time you drive down a road, walk past a bus shelter, or see an advertisement in a subway station, there’s a good chance Clear Channel is responsible for the billboard you see. This week Clear Channel is enabling 75,000 of their global pedestrian ads to interact with passers-by through their mobile phones. The ads are visible in places like bus shelters, subway stations, retail points of sale, and common public spaces.


The new project, called Connect, beams content to customers via NFC tags embedded in billboards (and QR codes and SMS text message numbers as backups). This allows pedestrians to download content from billboards, like coupons and store flyers. It also has a hidden bonus for advertisers: Every time a passerby downloads content, the advertiser captures metrics including the date, time, location, conversion rate, and the kind of device the person owns.

Suzanne Grimes, Clear Channel Outdoor (CCO) president and COO, told Fast Company that the first American rollout of the NFC billboards would take place in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. in June. Both cities were chosen for their high pedestrian traffic levels. Airport rollouts are next. The company is currently discussing adoption models and choosing initial advertisements with clients for the June launch.

Testing of Connect began in 2013 with 10,000 NFC-enabled physical advertisements in the United Kingdom; similar ads were subsequently unveiled in Singapore and several European countries by CCO. The NFC ads here in the States are part of a global rollout that includes nations from Brazil to Turkey.

Marketing materials released by CCO indicate that the advertising company is positioning the NFC codes as a way to push customers maps of physical locations (like malls and zoos), to encourage customers to buy items through billboards, to push branded games and apps, and as a portal to brand’s social media sites. The company claims that as of June 2014, Connect will reach 175 million global customers monthly in 23 countries.

For Clear Channel and advertisers, it’s a win-win: CCO gets to offer a premium form of advertising, and advertisers get the holy grail of foot traffic metrics. The big problem both have, however, is guaranteeing customer engagement. As Co.Design’s Mark Wilson notes, despite the best efforts of Samsung and credit card companies. The dominance of tablets and sensors mean that we’re entering a brave new world where our QSR restaurants offer touchscreen menus and big box stores know which aisle you’re in. While Clear Channel has pushed the technology forward, it’s now up to the world’s advertisers to find the magic hooks that will get customers to engage their phones with billboards.