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dot life Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 07:51 GMT 08:51 UK
The ads we can't avoid
Prada Broadway
Prada: Shop, media space and technology lab

Suddenly TV screens pumping out ads are in shops, clubs, buses... in fact, all over the place. It seems we just can't escape those trying to sell us stuff.
You may not know it but your lifestyle is causing all kinds of problems for people who want to sell you stuff.

Sophisticated 21st Century consumers get information from so many sources that advertisers find it hard to target those who might be interested in their products.

On the box
Spending on TV ads in 2001 was down 11% on 2000
World Advertising Research Centre
And television advertising is losing its place as the best way to reach consumers.

When there were only three channels in the UK, prime-time adverts would be seen by enough of the people the marketers wanted to reach.

Now with tens of TV channels and increasing competition from the web, radio, newspapers and magazines, the adverts on commercial television channels are simply not being seen by the right people.

As analyst firm Verdict Research put it: "The scattergun of old must be replaced by a collection of rifles aimed at more segmented customer groups."

Clinic waiting room, BBC
Captive audiences are ripe for marketing
So now attention has turned to places that host captive audiences with roughly the same interests.

For instance, many railway stations see crowds of commuters pass through every morning and evening. Also doctors' surgeries are host to regular clinics when particular groups, such as expectant mothers, are present.

And those who patronise some shops are from a very tightly defined demographic, much more so than the audience for any TV advert.

It is these places that advertisers and brand owners are starting to target - and they are using technology to get their messages across.

Watch your back

The Prada mega-boutique in New York has cameras and large screens in its changing rooms to let shoppers see what they look like from behind in one of the designer's creations.

Selfridges exterior, BBC
Selfridges is now studded with plasma screens
The same system can also show the same outfit in different colours and display possible accessories.

The image-conscious shopper can also adjust the lighting in the changing room to check what they might look like in daylight, harsh office lighting or in the evening.

Prada is using the technology in only a few of its stores but others are more wholeheartedly adopting it.

Selfridges has put 50 screens in its flagship store on London's Oxford Street, and WH Smith's and Debenhams plan to follow suit.

With good reason. It is much easier to influence the buying behaviour of a shopper than someone sat on the sofa at home.

Bob Clarke, founder of the Instrumental Media Group which builds and manages in-store networks, says three-quarters of all buying decisions are made four feet from the counter.

"Consumers are notorious for getting to the point of sale and being seduced by what they see in front of them," he says.

Power of persuasion

And we are particularly susceptible while out shopping for items we want rather than need.

David Beckham celebrating
"I'll have what he's having"
We all need fluid to survive, but a bottle of Alpine spring water glimpsed in David Beckham's hand can be much more desirable - and a timely reminder may help open your wallet.

Shops can also tie the adverts and programmes they are showing to what they are selling. If demand for a product is down, an in-store advertising blitz could up sales.

Importantly for retailers, the adverts and messages shown are not policed by the Independent Television Commission. Editorial and advertising are free to mix.

And the shops can sell advertising slots to brand owners and charge more for busy times, just as TV channels do. Selfridges, for instance, stocks more than 3,000 brands and each company will want their product to stand out.

It's not just shops installing screens.

Instrumental Media is working on plans to put screens in doctors' surgeries and working men's clubs. These will show programmes tailored to these very specific - and sometimes very large - audiences.

It seems that soon we just won't be able to avoid adverts.


Some of your comments so far:

Viewrinals - little TV screens set into urinals. You watch adverts while going to the toilet.
Matty, UK

The local grocery store placed a small screen with motion detector advertising a popular drink. But the noise level was much to high and ended up surprising customers into dissatisfaction - even to the point of making small children cry. It was pulled after just two weeks.
Paul, Hong Kong

Last year my gym showed get fit quick weight loss programs every morning, on screens in front of the running machines and exercise bikes. I changed gym.
Liam, Norway

Whenever someone sends me junk mail by post I return it with any other pizza leaflets, estate agent blurb, etc in their pre-paid envelope.
Ann, England

In a club I was mildly annoyed to find that in the gents toilets there were small video screens playing X-Box adverts - I no longer have any desrie to own one.
Jamie, UK

In a supermarket in Toronto I picked up a moisturiser, and an ad for a competing product played on a small monitor above the bottles. So I put back the first bottle and picked up another brand - and the screen started playing an ad for the first one! I couldn't make a decision, so I bought one bottle of each and then felt bad about it.
Amelia, UK

At a petrol station recently I was almost deafened by the adverts being projected across the forecourt. It was very unpleasant but not as unpleasant as for the man who lived opposite and was asking for the din to be turned down to reasonable levels - only to be told that this was not possible.
Ellen, UK

In Japan there are little (and not so little) screens everywhere. One of my personal favourites is a little video screen in the supermarket, running an ad about a shampoo, just next to said shampoo. Trains and subways have television screens with useful information (like the weather) interspersed with ads. It made journeys more interesting.
Anon, England

Several petrol stations have recently installed large screens so they can bombard you with ads for credit-repair scams and "make money by claiming compensation" legal services. I tend to go elsewhere.
David Moran, Scotland/Australia

Have you seen ads screening in places you don't expect - and have you been persuaded to buy?

Every Monday Dot.life looks at how technology has changed our lives, and more importantly how we would like to change our lives. Let us know your views, using the form below.

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Weely guide to getting buttoned up

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26 Nov 01 | dot life
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