Local firm embraces digital advertising

October 13, 2008
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Some of the first forms of “advertisements” were painted on walls or rocks in ancient villages. In 2008, Grand Rapids-based Great Lakes Narrowcast Inc. is using digital displays, wireless communication and high-definition IP media. Though advertisements sometimes still are painted on walls, it’s fair to say the industry has become a bit more sophisticated.

Great Lakes Narrowcast is part of a growing form of advertising known as narrowcasting, also called “out-of-home television.”

To put it simply, narrowcasting is strategically placed and controlled digital advertising. To put it even more simply, it is televisions placed in high-traffic areas that show specific commercials at specific times.

“What we try and do is hit our viewing public throughout their daily lives,” said Wes Spencer, founder of the company. “What we focus on is placing our screens and displays throughout high traffic facilities that everyone is going to hit at least once in their daily lives — the primary focus being on shopping malls.”

Spencer said the company also focuses on restaurants, fitness and sporting facilities, day spas, gas stations, and other sites consumers visit at least once a week.

“Think about broadcast television: You know where your patron is going to be when they’re watching that television — they’re going to be at home,” said Spencer, explaining the difference between broadcasting and narrowcasting.

“We can target a specific display — for example, the automotive industry can target gas stations. The health and wellness could target fitness and day spas, and the retail sector could focus on our shopping mall locations, hitting people while they’re in that buying state of mind.”

All screens are wirelessly controlled through cellular Internet from Great Lakes Narrowcast’s internal creation department. For larger or higher-end clients, Spencer said his company can outsource multiple creation departments.

The firm is also working on a partnership with another locally based company to do text messaging and landing page integration advertisement. Spencer explained this form of advertisement using the following AT&T Wireless example: A message is put up on a television screen in a strategic place in a mall, such as above an escalator. The message tells the consumer to text a certain number in order to enter a drawing for a free iPhone. The consumer then is sent a random entry code by text message, along with instructions to visit the AT&T Wireless store in the mall to find out if they won. Once there, the customer service representative enters the consumer’s code on a landing page, which is like a Web site that is provided by Great Lakes, to see if the consumer won the iPhone.

“AT&T would win because they’ve got people coming into their store to see if they’ve won a free iPhone. You also have an interested buyer because that person is looking for an iPhone to win. At the highest point of buying interest, when a person is at the shopping mall with their wallet in their back pocket, we’ve just created foot traffic for an AT&T Wireless store by creating this sweepstakes for people to win a free iPhone.”

The “digital signage industry” is the umbrella that narrowcasting falls under; it is expected to grow by 800 percent per year for the next three years. Great Lakes Narrowcast was established on Jan. 1 of this year and has tapped into some of that massive growth.

“We’ve grown throughout the Great Lakes region,” said Spencer. “A good growth tracker is how many locations my company adds on per month.”

At the time of this writing, the company had networks contracted for 2008 to 2009 in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Traverse City, Battle Creek and Jackson. It has more than 40 televisions in 17 locations throughout Michigan and Indiana, including RiverTown Crossings Mall in Grandville, Main Street Pub in Allendale and Monelli’s Restaurant in Grand Rapids.

Spencer started the company with business partner Cory Rowe, who has eight years of broadcasting experience. Spencer, who was a former commercial insurance salesman, attributes his career move to his constant traveling.

“I’ve got to give credit to just being out and about and seeing a similar concept in Whitehall, Michigan, and taking it to a different level.”

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