Watchfire's digital billboards ignite interest

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When Watchfire Digital Outdoor, a division of 70-year-old billboard manufacturer Time-O-Matic Inc., Danville, IL, was launched last quarter to offer LED (light-emitting diode) billboard screens that support outdoor digital advertising, it hoped to capitalize on what it claims is a growing market.

The company recently released predictions for increased revenue for outdoor advertising companies and their clients in 2007.

"Digital outdoor advertising solves a lot of problems that traditional outdoor advertising has," said Darrin Friskney, director of Watchfire Digital.

Whereas traditional is inflexible and difficult to change, digital lets marketers switch messages at the drop of hat. Marketers can update, customize and day-part their messages. Outdoor advertising companies are able to sell the same sign to several different interested local marketers keeping down price. Law enforcement can even use the signs to run Amber Alerts. Watchfire Digital has thousands of outdoor LED signs in daily operation throughout North America.

Ads on the digital billboard can be served by local outdoor advertising companies or by an optional ad-service from Watchfire. A typical ad runs for 6 seconds to 10 seconds during each rotation, and many rotations include somewhere from six to eight advertisers.

One huge advantage of one board for many advertisers is the ability to grow revenue without raising prices or building additional boards. Due to strict cap and replace ordinances, there is often a limit on the number of billboards a company can own.

"The most effective campaigns are the simple ones," Mr. Friskney said. "Preparing a campaign for outdoor is pretty simple…for the most part they are just big static images."

Some of Watchfire Digital's predictions are that outdoor advertising selling strategies will become more sophisticated and adjust to exclusive category sponsorships, unlimited copy changes and automated database-driven updates.

Ad testing is also expected to increase. Varying creative techniques will allow advertisers to tweak their billboards for maximum ROI. The company predicted more adoption of digital in mobile outdoor mediums such as billboard trucks, too.

"The medium has changed," Mr. Friskney said. "Digital outdoor advertising offers marketers much more than traditional advertising. It allows them to test different offers and make campaign changes based on the results. They need to think about it as a totally different medium."

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