Coke uncorks 3-D ad in Times Square

Huge sign gives viewers taste of latest technology

July 02, 2004|By COX NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - The Coca-Cola Co. unveiled a super-sized $6 million billboard in Times Square last night, calling it the world's first high-definition "3-D advertising sculpture."

The sign is the latest addition to a new generation of outdoor advertising that seeks to turn heads with visual tricks and technical wizardry.

Companies see a growing need for such innovation as consumers increasingly avoid television commercials by using TiVo-style digital recorders and watching on-demand movies.

"As technology changes, then you adapt your sign and your messaging," said Phil Mooney, a Coke archivist.

Times Square has long been a center of innovation in outdoor advertising, Mooney said. Coke put up its first billboard there in 1920 and added neon lighting three years later.

To produce vivid images in trillions of colors, the new six-story, 30-ton display uses more than 2.6 million light-emitting diodes, a $1 million computer system and enough power to run 10 homes. It has 32 screens that can display separate images or pieces of one giant image.

The unique feature of the new Coke sign is curved, 3-D display surfaces, said Reece Kurtenbach, a senior manager with Daktronics Inc. of Brookings, S.D., which built the sign.

Kurtenbach said that while the sign's nearly 900,000 pixels are much farther apart than those on a traditional TV screen, the images have the clarity of high-definition television when viewed from the street hundreds of feet away.

The outdoor ad business has had steady improvement despite recent slumps in advertising overall, said Stephen Freitas, chief marketing officer for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.

He said the $5.5 billion industry, which includes everything from roadside billboards to ads on taxis, benches and coffee sleeves, is experiencing 5 percent growth.

"A lot of advertisers are looking for alternatives, certainly not to replace their TV ads, but to augment them," Freitas said.

Outdoor signs are growing more sophisticated, using thin LED or plasma screens and technology that customizes advertising to particular audiences, Freitas said. For example, many New York taxis with digital signs use global positioning system devices to help display promotions tailored to specific neighborhoods.

In the future, roadside billboards may identify signals sent out by passing cars and customize signs based on the interests or demographics of the car's owner, Freitas said. The signs also could transmit coupons or other information to the car's computers or the driver's cell phone or PDA.

Yahoo Inc. merged the technologies of cell phones and billboards in April with a promotion touted as the world's biggest video game. Timed to coincide with the New York Auto Show, the campaign for Yahoo's auto site let people in Times Square call a toll-free number and use their cell phones to control race cars on a giant screen far above the street.

Teams of Yahoo employees worked the crowds, encouraging people to play and even sharing their own cell phones to spur competition.

Advertisers also are taking their messages below ground in new ways.

New York-based Submedia creates advertising in subway tunnels, stringing images together in long chains so riders on moving trains will perceive pictures in motion outside. It's the same visual effect that allows rapidly changing individual frames to be perceived as animation.

"Basically it's a flip book," said Submedia's chief executive, Peter Corrigan. "It looks like the windows of the train turn into a giant plasma screen."

Submedia deployed the first of its subway animations in Atlanta in 2001 and now also has displays in Tokyo, Hong Kong and two New York locations. New displays are being built or planned in other places, including Chicago and Paris.

Corrigan said advertising studies show the subway tunnel ads, which last about 15 seconds, leave a more lasting impression on consumers than television commercials.

"Advertisers are just looking for ways to get to the consumer in a receptive environment," Corrigan said. "TiVo is scaring everyone in the business."

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