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In December, Captive Media director Mark Melford was invited to author an opinion piece in Propel, the leisure industry’s leading trade newsletter, read by over 7000 senior leaders of the bar and hospitality industry in the UK.

His article explores the evolving role of media in leisure venues, key dos and don’ts, and the philosophy behind Captive Media’s unique system. This is what he said:




Engaging Customers in an Engaging Way

We make and supply a somewhat odd product, which Forbes has described as the “best of British ingenuity”.

Strangely (to some), this product, which can be found in washrooms across assorted on-trade venues in 12 different countries, is helping brand owners and operators to drive, in many cases, dramatic uplifts in the rate of sale of promoted brands, in-venue. We make HD media screens with a twist. The screens are located above urinals where they command a man’s undivided attention while he answers nature’s call. The twist is that they are interactive: they respond to a user’s approach, and allow him to control a game on the screen with his stream.

The reality of our product tends to provoke a strong reaction (either way) and without the benefit of having used our device, it may have you thinking “really?”. Hopefully, many of you will have road tested it by now, especially if you attended December’s end-of-term ALMR celebration at Old Billingsgate Market.

Of course, what we really do is harness digital media in an engaging way to give venue and brands an opportunity to engage consumers – and influence their buying decisions. And it seems to work: venue owners enthuse about the buzz created and sales of (subtly) promoted products have grown by up to 180%. Why?

Message overload

First – some context. Today’s consumer is saturated with ads. By some estimates we are all exposed to over 5,000 a day! So-called ‘location based media’ – screens in novel places like bus stops, taxis and elevators – are growing at 20% per annum.
Old Billingsgate Install

Unsurprisingly, consumers have learnt to screen out this stuff (who doesn’t fast forward through the ad breaks on TV nowadays?). Younger consumers in particular filter all broadcast messages in a way that you and I don’t. This ‘wallpapering’ means that anyone who tries to win in this space without a precise understanding of how people receive messages is destined to fail. Various early attempts to throw screens into bars, clubs and supermarkets have done just that.

At the same time, brand owners we talk to, from Coca Cola to Diageo, express frustration at the limited opportunities available to them in on-trade venues (via screens or otherwise), versus the off-trade. The reasons for this are obvious – on-trade venues are not supermarkets. By their very nature they need to offer enticing and welcoming environments: authentic, aspirational, and often free from clutter. Many landlords, rightly in our view, don’t want TV ads all over their bar.

Make ‘em smile

That is not to say there is no role for media, nor for brand presence. The question is how and what: The quest for a very long time has been how to do this in a way that is attractive to venue owners (building perception or ‘equity’ with customers) and delivers value for brands.

Aside from backbar and table tops, the washroom is surprisingly interesting. It’s an environment in its own right: connected yet distinct from the main bar area. From a consumer point of view it’s an almost uniquely ‘clutter-free’ moment in their visit, thus an opportunity – we believe a hugely underrated one. The trick is not to squander it.

Our approach is, before all else, to deliver fun: novelty, games, entertaining clips, informative news. Consumers genuinely appreciate this, and because they appreciate it, they reward the venue (or the brand) with permission to engage them – just for a moment. Studies by JCDecaux last year found consumers were four times more likely to remember a message if they were happy at the time they received it. And if there’s something in it for the consumer too: maybe a 500ml bottle of beer instead of a 330ml bottle of beer at no extra charge, you’ve hit the sweet spot. The beer brand in this example saw sales rise 19%.

DrinkAware Case Study

Drinkaware saw awareness rates rise 41% after they engaged us to develop a humorous quiz game testing users’ knowledge of alcohol facts.

Yo! Sushi have promoted new product launches, hotels their forthcoming events, and bars their house shots, all making shrewd use of this oft-overlooked window to their customers.

In my previous career as a marketing consultant I didn’t ever envisage writing an article like this (I advised media firms like the BBC, Channel 4 and Guardian Media Group on engaging their audiences better, and boosting ad revenues). Nor at Captive Media do we have an over-riding obsession with washrooms or pee-controlled games. What we’re passionate about is smart use of technology coupled with consumer insight to change behaviour. We believe there is a huge opportunity for both venue and brand owners to unlock the value from their
customers, in venue in a way that pleases consumer, publican and brand alike.
Mark Melford is co-founder and director of Captive Media.
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