“Every lamp post and every bus stop will one day very soon, and before the 2012 Olympics, be Wi-Fi enabled.” Boris Johnson, Mayor of London.
With the advent of smartphones and the much touted omnipresent ‘cloud’, digital is making its way out of the home and into every minute of our everyday lives. It’s unstoppable and inescapable. At least, until you’re in a dark tunnel under the ground.
If you are anything like me then at some point in your daily commute you have wanted to reach out to the world and send the funniest tweet you’ve ever come up with and couldn’t. You have probably wanted to check your route, or find a venue for a last minute drink with a friend, or check what time a film starts so you won’t be late. And if you ever get the tube you will almost certainly have wished at some point you could get the word out that you are running late. But you’ve just gone into the tunnel and won’t have any signal for half an hour.
If you are an advertiser who has ever invested in the ad placements on the tube you will likely have wondered, ‘if someone sees my poster wouldn’t it be better if they go straight to my website, whilst they still have the URL in front of them?’ ‘Won’t they just forget?’
In cities across the world, from Stockholm, to Hong Kong, Tokyo and Moscow, commuters already make use of mobile internet in their daily travels on public transport. In the UK, we already have it on some trains and coaches. After a brief trial at Charing Cross Tube station, half of respondents surveyed said that having Wi-Fi on their commute would make their experience of the tube better.
Back in March 2011 on the back of the pilot with BT open zone, TFL invited telecoms companies to tender for wi-fi provision at up to 120 stations across the network by June 2012. Supposedly coming just in time for the Olympics the move sparked much speculation across the net and rumours have been abound ever since, with some suggesting TFL was to open its own staff networks for use at 16 stations across town.. But since then we’ve heard very little.
A few may suggest that the underground should be kept free of the web, a sanctuary from the digital age. Such views seem misguided to me – the tube is hardly a luxurious place for downtime. Here at bigmouthmedia we like to dream big and that’s why this blogger thinks having mobile internet on the underground will rock both our world and change the possibilities for advertising on the move.
Look around you on your commute and you’ll see LCD panels popping up on escalators or the cross track projection systems that pause when a train arrives. When I see them, I can’t help but notice the massive potential just waiting there to be switched on. Imagine every poster spot had a screen hooked up to the net and the world outside. Apply the same real-time bidding (RTB) system already in use amongst online ad exchanges and combine it with TFL’s Oyster ticketing data feed. Online RTB lets advertisers make decisions on what advertising to buy in real time, as the user waits for the page to load, the advantage being that you can make decisions based on data you have about that user and minimise wastage. Applied to advertising on the tube you could choose when and where your ad would appear based on how many commuters are on the train, on the platform and how long it is between stops before serving your ad ‘impression’.
Interactive formats. We’ve all seen the videos, hook up a Kinect and you can use natural gestures to create astonishingly cool interactive games. Imagine playing Angry Birds against the guy in the seat next to you using a flick of your hand, the winner unlocks content or offers to share with the carriage and beams their grinning victory photo across to their friends on Facebook.
The weather. Being realistic (this is the UK after all), imagine not needing to wait to see the wet people from the opposite direction onto the platform to know you needed an umbrella. What if you could see outside from inside? Wi-Fi could turn a poster into a window. It could generate an ad reminding you about the sunny cafe terraces above ground on a beautiful day, or tropical beaches further afield on a damp, misty morning. We already use weather information to increase the relevance of our online advertising at bigmouthmedia, why not do the same in the real world?
Realtime information. Think beyond weather. Think breaking news straight to your phone and think crowd sourcing useful data from commuters, like a pigeon terrifying passengers on the south bound platform. Feedback and service updates from TFL could be instantaneous and when your train stops in the tunnel, you can find out why. If you’ve seen UK Snowmap, you can probably already imagine the possibilities.
NFC Tags and QR codes that are actually useful. Imagine you see an ad that says ‘swipe here’ and it can actually take you straight to the right page on your smartphone with what you wanted to know – and we aren’t the only ones who see the potential here, in fact TFL themselves are investigating NFC on the underground. How about a poster for a film that directs you to the trailer. At the moment these sorts of posters are limited to above ground, when people are rushing past, oblivious – the dwell time of the tube makes it the perfect place. Even more exciting, think about scanning tags across the underground and have a story follow you, unfolding on the next display you pass as you journey across the city.
Gameification. Take Chromarama and Foursquare to the next level. Challenges, scavenger hunts and bonus points scored in realtime, through tunnels, across platforms. The tube is already a London icon, but let’s make it a place to be rather than just a mode of transport.
On the underground your ads are competing for a captive audience of four million people per day, who spend an average 3 minutes waiting on a platform. These ads are welcomed by people – 87% of those that see them view tube adverts as a welcome distraction. And that’s before we’ve even made them as engaging as new technology could let us.
I can’t help think the opportunity is there, but who is going to pay for all this? With the right partner I’m sure this is a project that could really pay off – implemented well it would allow more advertisers to utilise the masses of space available for maximum impact and the payoff will be a long-term revenue stream for TFL. I’m sure all of us would welcome reinvestment in our transport system, making it safer, faster, cheaper and ultimately more fun.
So come on Boris, we need more from you than just snazzy blue bikes. Get innovating and let’s see you fulfil your mission to make London the best city in the world.
Image Source: The Guardian