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Publicis MRE, the advertiser that wanted to create new digital promotion spaces

Posted on 15 March 2013 by Pierre Picard

When you’re the media brokerage arm of the world’s third largest communication group and especially active in new technologies, innovation isn’t just a state of mind. It’s in your DNA. The challenge? At a time when printed media is increasingly giving way to digital, how can you bring advertising posters into the digital era? That’s just what the Médias & Régies Europe (MRE) has done. The Publicis Group subsidiary has developed new, intelligent digital billboards for metro and mainline stations in Paris. These advanced M2M systems are controlled by a solution that Bull developed and customized for the project. It guarantees high levels of billboard availability, automatically diagnoses the vast majority of faults remotely, and makes it easy to carry out software updates across these new-generation digital advertising screens. The result? An installed base of almost 1,000 highly reliable screens in stations, that have added a whole new and profitable driver for growth to MRE’s already very rich range of digital offerings (cinema advertising in 3D with Médiavision, digital ads posted on Vélib spaces, etc.).


Interview with Jérôme Chellet, Innovation Project Leader, MRE

As a major player in media brokerage, you have embarked on an innovative initiative around intelligent advertising billboards. What challenges do you face?

When it comes to billboard advertising (in stations, subways, on the sides of buses…), digital technology is bringing about three fundamental evolutions: in speed, flexibility and interactivity. Compared with traditional printed posters – which take hours of logistics to roll out a new campaign and where a minimum order can take over a week to produce – now it only takes a matter of seconds to upload a new visual to the 1,200 connected digital billboards that we have installed in the Paris Metro and mainline train stations across France. This has given us unprecedented flexibility for this kind of media. For advertisers, it’s now possible to request that a campaign is displayed for an extremely closely defined period (for example, just for one weekend to coincide with a particular football match), or just on certain geographic locations, and to update that campaign day by day, depending on what’s happening at the time… For a media buyer like MRE, it’s a way to make our offerings infinitely more flexible, or extending the ‘catalogue’ approach and deploying a commercial strategy that is 100% focused on the advertiser, where we now have a systematic made-to-measure solution to an issue we often encounter.

Finally, it’s a way of being more interactive, because digital technology offers new ways of doing this with the growth in wireless technologies (WiFi, NFC…). Integrating these technologies into our future generations of billboards will open up whole new areas of possible interaction between advertisers and the public. This approach is not only winning over our existing customers, but also bringing us new ones who are attracted by the qualities of this digital medium as well as by the new visual aesthetic it offers. Advertisers from the automotive industry, the hi-tech sector (Bouygues Telecom, Microsoft, Orange, Samsung…), as well as all kinds of other brands that are keen to ensure their communications have all the trappings of modernity, are especially interested in the display quality of the full-HD 70-inch video screens on which their campaigns are shown. Not only do they offer very high resolution, but even more importantly they enable them to communicate even more efficiently with millions of travelers.

What are the big challenges and best practice on an innovative project like this?

First and foremost this is a technical challenge, because these digital posters sites are much more than just a screen! Over and above the video imaging functions offered by the HD tiles, we have to construct a truly intelligent billboard. Not only does it have to meet the technical constraints of a public environment (meeting the regulations regarding noise levels, fire standards, thickness, etc.) that can be extremely hostile to technology (it must be resistant to vandalism, shocks, fluctuations in temperature and electrical current, leaks, vibrations, etc.), but also – and above all – it has to include numerous embedded management, services and M2M communications components: an integrated PC that controls the unit and the services it receives, monitoring devices, telecoms equipment and so on. In short, it’s a complex system that connects remotely to equally complex back-office systems.

The second big challenge is a cultural one. As with any innovation, novelty value excites a lot of interest – we’ve seen this with our newest advertisers and the public interest they have generated – but sometimes there is also a degree of resistance which, even though it only comes from a small minority, has to be addressed. When we launched these new systems we had to do a lot of training and education, with the help of the transport authorities (RATP and SNCF). We were faced with questions about how environmentally friendly the solution is. But we have been able to demonstrate that our approach is designed to save resources (the screens are turned off at night and their brightness automatically adapts to ambient light levels …), that energy consumption is almost the same as for back-lit paper posters, and that we are avoiding all the attendant costs of paper, printing and logistics. We have also fallen victim to certain misinformation campaigns and vandalism by ‘anti advertising’ movements, who feared that audience measurement systems that were initially included in the specifications might be subverted into a more intrusive approach and targeted advertising. In agreement with the concession holders (RATP and SNCF), it was decided not to equip the billboards actually installed with this audience measurement system, which would have allowed us to count the precise number of contacts viewing each visual. It should be noted that, at this stage, advertisers are still very sensitive to the qualitative feedback and the power of the environment in which these billboards are deployed.

So what future evolutions do you have planned?

As a media buyer, our priority is to develop marketing innovations to support advertisers. With these new tools, digital technology is allowing us to control the whole advertising value chain in real time, from media planning and space buying software to the intelligent digital billboards themselves, spread out across the whole country. This is enabling us to develop original, made-to-measure digital strategies that would have been impossible before. For example, we have designed a system that allows us to insert data flows with information updated in real time, into poster visuals. During the Olympics, Eurostar included a real-time newsfeed with the results of heats, medals won, and rankings into its advertising campaign. And that data feed could be adapted for different locations. We could also embed a timetable of forthcoming screenings at the nearest cinema into the advertising for a new movie, with the number of available seats, all of which is regularly updated.

Thanks to WiFi and NFC, we will be able to offer travelers interested in a campaign much more than just a QR code to scan: games or competitions, badges or coupons to download, all of which can be adapted in real time based on marketing analyses. For example, the first ten passers-by who show an interest could be offered a €10 discount if they buy from the local dealer or on line within a given period. We can offer competitions to attract passers-by to the brand and build their loyalty. All this can be optimized in real time depending on demographic profiles, demand analysis, stocks… in a geographically specific context. Over and above the responsiveness and flexibility, which already deliver immediate benefits, it is in the area of interactivity that digital billboards will really open up new possibilities in the longer term. It will probably take some time for it to become established in terms of usage, until people perceive these video billboards as much more than just digital posters, but rather as services hubs. But a whole new world is opening up and MRE is doing all it can to be one of the major pioneers in this landscape.

Identity Card
Publicis in the 3d media group worldwide. It is the leader in digital and interactive communications and Number 1 in Creative Performance in the Gunn Report.
Present in 104 countries on 5 continents – € 5.8 billion revenue – 49 000 employees.


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