There are rare moments when distracted, multi-tasking, media-gargling young men slow down long enough to think and focus … like when they’re in bars, restaurants and entertainment venues wondering what beverage to order, discussing cool new gadgets, gear and games and destinations all the while a mash of smartphones laying in front of them.

A major national beer brand recognized that last year, and booked a product launch campaign into the vast network of place-based video screens now running in bars and fast casual restaurants across the United States. The result: 72 percent incremental sales lift on that beer, in venues where the campaign ran.

There are now more than 100,000 networked digital screens being run by Digital Out Of Home (or DOOH) media companies in the hospitality and entertainment sector.. These networks run programming tuned to the audience, aiming to capture and hold the attention of crowds that aren’t very easily locked in. The beer promotion suggests these are good places and moments to have an influence on active consumers.

Nielsen’s 2010 Fourth Screen Network Audience Report took a snapshot last summer of the biggest DOOH networks reaching US adults, and found four of the Top 10 were operating in restaurants and bars. Nielsen estimated the Gross Monthly Digital Video Ad Exposures, P18+, was roughly 210 million between such media companies as TouchTunes, AMI, TargetCast and IndoorDIRECT. Millions more roll up through other networks that are represented by DOOH ad networks such as Adcentricity that provides a massive national footprint as well as advanced targeting capabilities.

The screens are fixed behind the actual bars, at wait areas, transaction points – anywhere that normally has the ideal balance of sight line,  traffic and dwell times. Mixed with audience demographics and venue dynamics, these screens make up a wicked cocktail for brands. Their planners get access to often elusive target segments at a time when the audience is relaxed, receptive to media, and planning to stick around for many minutes, not just seconds.

This kind of place-based, highly-targeted advertising can directly impact purchase decisions in beer, wine, spirits and soft drink categories. The audience characteristics are also prime targets for big categories like consumer electronics, telecommunications and automotive.

General research on this still-developing media environment has found high levels of ad recall (47%) and very high levels (60%) of willingness to try products from booked advertisers. Field research being shared by DOOH network operators is also steadily indicating big upticks in purchase intent for promoted products.

Here’s some of what we know, from Arbitron and other research, about digital media in these venues:

  • 50% of Americans visited a bar/restaurant-bar as a customer in the past month, and 31% in the past week;
  • 9% of all Americans 21+ saw a DOOH screen in a bar in the past month;
  • People visit these places about four times a month;
  • The bar crowd indexes high for young adults, 21-24, male, with college degrees.
  • The numbers are strong on older age brackets;
  • Fast casual restaurants deliver high concentrations of teens and young adults, and affluent consumers.

The planning, distribution and management systems typical with most DOOH networks are powerful tools for brands and media planners who can easily tune campaigns by attributes. Most networks profile their venues by a variety of characteristics that can get the right messages in appropriate places. Creative produced for the Hispanic market can be efficiently targeted just to those zip codes and venues that sync up by profile.

Digital provides the ability to do national promotions that also have localized relevance. With a little planning, a campaign for a wireless carrier can point viewers to the store nearest to that venue. Available inventory – the easily said but not always so easily done job of aligning advertising with what’s actually sold on-premise – is truly easy. Test campaigns are also readily executed and measured when digital manages both the distribution and reporting.

Digital Out Of Home is the first medium that’s taking emerging social and location-based technologies, bringing them off PC desktops and smartphones and making them part of the venue experience. Companies such as Locamoda and ScreenReach are stitching steadily-updated, crowd-based social streams into the programming of screens, and encouraging direct engagement through interactive polling and check-ins.

Networks and brands are working with vendors with brands on opt-in, proximity-based programs (such as Bluetooth) that are pushing out coupons and invitations to phones and email accounts.

Mainstream media has also started partnering with DOOH networks to extend content into out of home environments to develop audiences. NBC, for example, ran a special episode of its comedy series Community in some 1,000 fast casual restaurants last April, layering in special video segments with Facebook and Twitter tie-ins. 

Longer dwell times – as much as 2.5 hours in some venues – combined with low CPMS of $1-$6 has made the hospitality sector a consistent top five performer in DOOH bookings, and just as strong in RFP activity quarter on quarter.

As the sector and the story of its effectiveness grows, people will be under the influence of more than what was just in their glass.

Author: Jeff Atley, Cofounder of Adcentricity