Aut-Air featured on Reuters Sign in Times Square
When an associate informed me that Aut-Air was featured on the Reuters sign in Times Square I think I replied “Oh…”. After doing a bit of reading, I was more suitably impressed. I thought I’d share how I got from “Oh..” to “Wow!”
Times Square, New York is undeniably the most energized place in the most energized city on the planet. The place has inspired many catchy descriptions : “The Crossroads of the World”, “The Great White Way” and the ever-so-humble “The Center of the Universe”. But as I stood on 45th and Broadway, one word occurred to me: ‘Electrifying’. At first it had nothing to do with the insane level of illumination. But as I took in the Disney Store Spectacular, the Fox screen by SONY and the Times Square2 (which combines the Reuters Sign and the NASDAQ Tower), and, and, and….. I did start to wonder: “How on earth did it get to this state of lighting madness?“
Looking at the history of Times Square, the path seems pretty obvious in hindsight, even expected. At the turn of the century, the New York Times newspaper operations were housed in a new skyscraper on 42nd Street at what was then known as Longacre Square. In a brilliant move, the publisher Adolf Ochs persuaded New York’s Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr. to build a subway station there, and in 1904 the station and surrounding area was thus renamed “Times Square”. A popular anecdote tells that within a few weeks, a bank at the corner of 46th Street and Broadway featured the first electrified advertisement. There are few to no details as to what the sign actually was but it makes a good tale. In any event historical photos certainly document the rapid appearance of electrified advertisements in the area. One that stands out in my mind was a sophisticated advertisement for Trimble Whiskey in 1904. This huge and elaborate sign was placed on the north side of 47th Street, between Broadway and 7th Avenue. This may have been the very first in a long line of electric and electronic advertisements to be placed at this prominent intersection; now the location of the SONY HiDef LED display.
As New York continued to grow, Times Square with its concentration of theaters, restaurants, music halls and hotels was the hub of culture and entertainment. However, the most popular attractions of Times Square were in fact the dazzling electrical signs that kept popping up. The evolution over the ensuing hundred years to reach the current state of electrified advertisement happened at a dizzying pace and kept up even through the depression and post war era. Today, the area has its own (“Special Midtown District”) zoning code (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/zone/art08c01.pdf) which not only requires building owners to display illuminated signs but delineates exactly how much illumination is required and how it shall be measured.
The displays today are truly amazing not just for their sheer size but for their bold technology and creativity. It does seem as though Times Square was destined from its beginning in 1904 to become what it is today; an outdoor laboratory for innovative ways to communicate and advertise.
The Reuters sign at 43rd and Broadway is certainly one of the most visible in all of Times Square. The building was started in 1999, completed in 2001 and the sign itself stretches 23 stories into the sky above Times Square with over 7000sq ft of digital signage. A steady stream throughout the day of PR Newswire customer photos and accompanying headlines is the result of an agreement with PR Newswire, Reuters, and managers of the digital display system. To kick-off the photo stream service, the TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) Conference used the service to announce its 2007 TED Prize winners’ “wishes to change the world”. A little less than a year before that, NASDAQ and Reuters announced an alliance named Times Square2 which would combine the Reuters Sign and the NASDAQ Tower to offer 19,200 square feet of interactive advertising space (http://www.timessquare2.com/). When marketers advertise on the Reuters Sign and the Nasdaq Tower in combination, Times Square2 effectively creates “roadblock” advertising on the entire south side of Times Square.
The Reuters sign itself is a collection of screens; 13 of which wrap around the Reuters building and the 23-story antenna-shaped sign which soars up corner of the building. As for the signs advertisement capabilities, shelve your ideas of simplistic streaming banners or timed slideshows. Most ads on the Reuters sign are designed specifically for the screen and involve programming to interact with what’s going on in the streets below.
The nerve center of the sign is a control room filled with computers and simulation screens to create, test, and perfect the outside display. A staff of digital designers creates images and messages that once viewed from the street, enable pedestrians to interact with the imagery via smart phones, digital cameras, and more. In fact, the staff who are always on call, have wireless handheld devices to link up to control room computers to address any urgent issues that may arise.
Reuters sign content can be sent or pulled from virtually any mobile device. The display can call for consumer attention through a range of applications and once engaged, enable brands to stage events that directly involve consumers (e.g. live action, multi-player games, real-time polling and tabulation). Nike, Honda, Lexus, IBM, Yahoo!, AOL, and scores of other brands have run Reuters sign marketing campaigns to engage pedestrians (passers-by turned consumers) with promotions, cross media interactivity and even live performances.
What would someone from 1904 think of this now? I reconciled that one’s initial reaction could be bewilderment. But before long, I’m sure they’d ‘get it’. To capture and delight. The theater goers at the turn of the century leaving one of the new stages on 42nd Street would stop momentarily to gaze at the display of lights. Today the 23 story high-tech colossus on the Reuters building uses technology of its day and innovation to capture and keep its sophisticated 21st century audience.
Yes, it makes sense now, Reuters, Nasdaq, and all the other digital screens, electronic billboards and supersigns fit perfectly in the evolutionary order of Times Square. What will the next 100 years look like?