Is virtual window-shopping the first truly measurable advertising billboard?

QR code on phone screen

Ambient advertising is all about placing ads on things (and in places) you wouldn’t normally expect to see an ad. It doesn’t have to be outside, either. Ambient advertising can be found anywhere and everywhere. And, it seems, the more creative, the better.

Like the UK park bench designed to look exactly like an unwrapped Kit Kat. Or the toothbrush-shaped paddle pop sticks that Colgate inserted into ice creams in Thailand. At Bloomingdales, New York, an interactive window display projects images of sunglasses onto the faces of passers-by allowing shoppers to try on sunglasses without going in the store.

My favourite is the Fitness First advertisement on an Amsterdam bus shelter that displays the weight of the person waiting for the bus!

There is no doubt these ads are a fine example of creative genius. They are smart, clever and innovative. But do they allow for adequate measurement of the advertisement’s success? I am not convinced.

The marketer in me has always been concerned about ambient advertising given there is very little in the way of measuring its return on investment. It is difficult to gain a clear understanding of whether the dollars spent on these ads equate to sales in the store. That is until I heard about interactive window-shopping and, what I believe, the first truly measurable advertising billboard.

Australian fashion chain Sportsgirl launched its interactive window-shop on the side of its Chapel Street store last month. Followed closely by one in Paddington, the billboard features regularly updated Sportsgirl products that shoppers can buy by scanning a QR code with their smartphone. It then takes them directly to the Sportsgirl mobile store, where they pay for the items before having them home delivered.
Each billboard is in place for about six weeks before moving to a different location and can go anywhere including bus shelters or train stations.

This follows British grocery giant Tesco installing a virtual grocery store on the walls of a Korean train station. Busy commuters simply scan the groceries they want as they walk past and the products are delivered to their homes when they arrive. Tesco reports on-line sales between November and January increased by 130 percent following the introduction of their virtual grocery store, with the number of registered members rising by 76 percent.

Virtual window-shopping sets a new precedent in billboard advertising. Not only does it target the impulse buyer, it is one of the easiest-to-measure advertisements available. It either works, or it doesn’t. People stop, scan and buy or they walk past. It really is that simple.  And it’s set to explode with the NFC (Near Field Communications) enabled phones making it easier for consumers.  These phones will allow you to scan an ad, and buy a product or service on the spot (using services like Google Wallet).

An advertising campaign as measurable as this is something us marketers have been searching for, for a long time.

I often hear stories of long-time retailers that were too scared to innovate and were left behind following the digital revolution so it is great to hear stories such as Tesco’s and Sportsgirl’s. They have shown they can change with their customers to offer a uniquely innovative alternative to traditional shopping.

In my opinion, retailers that are prepared to spend money on outdoor advertising should look to incorporate virtual window-shopping into their plan. It might be the only way to test its effectiveness. Whether you go this way or not, Sportsgirl has proven consumers are shopping more and more with their phones whilst on the move between work, transport and social events. Virtual window-shopping allows a business to fit in with these habits rather than trying to have the consumer fit in with theirs. It certainly takes online shopping to a new level.

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