Advertising may or may not be the second-oldest profession, but signage is surely its first-oldest form. It all started with signage.
The History of Signage
It all continued with signage, too — literally for centuries. Sure, the production of signs evolved from stone cutting to wood cutting to paint to ink and paper and eventually electric signs, but it was all the same thing: a one-way message from advertiser to consumer. Even if you check Wikipedia's definition of signs, that's about as far as it goes.
Suddenly, in the past decade or so, signage evolved. Screen technology made signage digitized, scalable and interactive. After centuries of signs that featured only one-way messages, suddenly signs were really screens that offer two-way communications: advertiser to consumer and vice versa. As these technologies developed, signage became a way for consumers to reach advertisers.
Back to the Future
Blade Runner and Minority Report both had futuristic signage technology, but Blade Runner was made in 1982 when advertising still had a (mostly) one-way mentality (advertiser-to-audience), while Minority Report, made in 2004, featured interactive ads, probably because the advertising business had already started becoming interactive. Similarly, this past year at Cannes there was a Grand Lion for Innovation awarded to an interactive billboard at Sochi. Passers-by could take photos with their smartphones and project them as a 3-D image on the billboard.
Why Signage is a Modern Medium
Signage is not only ubiquitous, it's been modernized. Here are some tips to make the most of it:
- Elicit an immediate response. In many cases it's sufficient to remind people to drink Diet Coke or tune in to tonight's reality TV show. But why stop at awareness? If your message is compelling enough, the audience will respond to you via SMS, toll-free call, mobile Web, social media or an app download. But you have to offer something useful, informative or entertaining.
- Make it relevant. Screens give signage the ability to increase relevance to the consumer. The most basic example would be to rotate messages according to the time of day (a QSR client advertises breakfast until 9 a.m., switching to lunch messages after that), which isn't possible with ink and paper. You can also place messages according to where the screen is located, e.g., in an elevator or a doctor's office waiting room.
- Plan ahead. Screens make signage flexible, but paradoxically that requires advance planning, not the least of which might be convincing a client to try something new and taking the time to develop creative that's relevant and elicits an immediate response. Once you have a game plan, you're much more prepared to make adjustments.