Digital Signage That Users Can Control With Their Smartphones

On a skyscraper in the middle of New York City's Times Square flashes a digital ad, screaming for attention in a sea of other digital ads. But what if consumers could interact with that ad, literally taking it over to show thousands of ad gawkers—even if only for a few seconds—exactly what they want to show?

An alliance between CBS Outdoor and Clusta is testing out such an approach using iPhones as the control devices. Will it deliver more eyeballs and ultimately better sales of whatever is being marketed? And could the same approach also work in a mall or department small, where the crowds are presumably much smaller?

The approach—which was first detailed by Engadget, which has a deliciously cynical take on the effort--is starting off small. The ad might display a sneaker and the phone could make it kick to the right or kick to the left or zoom, spin and change color. The technique was indeed tried in Times Square and the devices were set with sequence and time limits, so that the first person in the crowd to try would do it first and the second would get the next shot, etc. They would each control the image for a predetermined number of seconds.

The premise is that this will make people watch the ad more, being exposed to its logo or other image longer, theoretically burning it into their memory more effectively. I'm guessing that this gimmick could get old very quickly as busy city-dwellers learn to ignore it after the first few weeks. (Clusta marketers beware: If the effort tanks in NYC or L.A., be ready for a new slang/IM/Twitter phrase to emerge: Being Clusta-f-----.) But that is assuming that the interactive capabilities continue to be as elemental as the launch efforts.

What if the interactions start becoming useful and informative? What if there are human beings (or, failing that, marketers) staffing laptops somewhere answering the questions posed by walkers-by? Scale this down to grocery store sizes and you may have something interesting.