The fast picture show

Giant plasma screens are to be used in pubs and bars to lure in the highly prized 18-24 age group
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The Independent Online

A group of media-savvy, media-cynical 18- to 24-year-olds sit in a bar, sipping expensive drinks. They're not reading magazines, they don't watch much mass-market television, they rarely listen to the radio and nothing interferes with their social life. Meanwhile, above their heads, a giant plasma screen is broadcasting a series of silent funky images and advertising content.

A group of media-savvy, media-cynical 18- to 24-year-olds sit in a bar, sipping expensive drinks. They're not reading magazines, they don't watch much mass-market television, they rarely listen to the radio and nothing interferes with their social life. Meanwhile, above their heads, a giant plasma screen is broadcasting a series of silent funky images and advertising content.

Based on the premise that most advertisers, and especially drinks advertisers, would sell their souls to reach the 18- to 24-year-old target group, Translucis, a Diageo spin off, is selling plasma screens and a technology infrastructure into trendy bars on to which it projects its own digital video content alongside advertising.

Then it all starts getting rather clever. All of the ads are tagged and coded and the screen is connected to the tills. This enables Translucis to cross-reference the time of the advertising against the till sales. It can then track how the advertising and the content affect consumption. It is planning to launch a research centre to sell this valuable data back to the marketplace.

Since its launch in January, Translucis has clocked up an impressive number of different advertisers, including Reebok, Sony, Channel 4, Peperami, Budweiser, Bacardi Breezer and Sol. So it isn't just about Diageo drinks brands.

Lucy Banks, innovation director at Initiative Media, the planning and buying agency responsible for youth brands such as Reebok and Calvin Klein, explains why Translucis' entertainment medium is an attractive choice. "This is an expensive group to target through conventional mass media such as TV, as they tend to be relatively sporadic viewers. They watch lots of Channel 4 and satellite, but it's based around their social life rather than the other way around. They are also quite elusive due to the fact that they're 'out and about'."

By the end of the year, Andy Hart, the chief executive officer of Translucis, who was previously CEO at the search engine company Ask Jeeves, is planning to have sold the system to 500 to 600 bars. He estimates this will leave him with 1.8 million customers. That's an impressive figure when you consider that the cinema attracts just 1.4 million 18- to 24-year-olds a month in the UK. Similarly, Barb (Broadcaster Audience Research Board) figures show that on an average night 487,000 young adults (16- to 34-year-olds) watch Channel 5 between 7.30pm-11pm and 1.06 million young adults watch Channel 4.

The targeting capabilities of Translucis' technology enable both the content and the advertising to be adapted at a local level. The content is transmitted on digital video over IP (Internet Protocol) through satellite during the day and stored on local servers. The servers have intelligence built into them, enabling Translucis to run a unique selection of content for each outlet. This can be catered to fit around the profile of the bar and its customers.

Some of Translucis' clients have already tapped into the potential of involving the bar community in their advertising. At the beginning of the year, Sony ran a six-week campaign across Translucis screens to promote its CyberShot digital camera. It tied in with a promotional campaign with a team visiting fashionable bars and taking pictures of the customers. A montage of these digital pictures of local customers ran together on the screen alongside the ad campaign. All very clever, but does it work? There are no numbers yet, says Mr Hart, but there is some anecdotal information. For example, one bar in Gloucester ran a Sol beer advertising pilot. The consumption of Sol increased dramatically in the bar. Meanwhile, there was feedback from the distributors that other bars in the area had also been ordering an increased amount of Sol following the campaign. Hart believes another reason the new entertainment medium has been popular with advertisers is because it "enables them to get to their audience in the right frame of mind. They're having fun, they're out with their mates".

He recalls one bar where the Bacardi Breezer ad was being shown and the bar manager saw groups of people repeating the script from the TV ads from memory. It is the potential "talkability" of the medium that Lucy Banks is most excited about, "that it will generate word-of-mouth due to the nature of the environment. This means getting them to talk about our brands and ads with their peers as an essential part of the communication strategy". The downside of this is the cost of the kit for the bars themselves. It's expensive ­ about £15,000-£20,000 on average. As well as sharing advertising revenue with the bars, Translucis has created a number of B2B (business-to-business) sweeteners to persuade them to fork out the cash for the systems.

Translucis has developed a number of different online tools on an intranet/portal for the bars and pubs to use. It is designed to help bar managers run their businesses and the tools range from an online entertainment booking system, which enables a bar manager to sample video and audio clips of an act before booking them online, to video-driven training content for bar staff, to help combat the current high turnover rates. For this, Translucis has linked up with the British Institute of Innkeepers. The training programme covers such themes as how to make cocktails or pour the perfect pint of Guinness and customer relationship management. Translucis has joined up with an online recruitment site, Hotrecruit, as well as the National Union of Students, to enable bar managers to search databases or place advertising as they seek new staff.

The intranet can also help bar managers organise themed evenings. If a bar decided to run a Mexican night, for example, the manager could purchase extra shot glasses and tequila on the intranet. They could use the e-mail and SMS marketing tools to inform regular customers about the event and promote any special deals. They could sample and then book a Mexican band online. The bar staff could learn how to cook Mexican food and mix Mexican cocktails via programming on the plasma screens during the day. The bar manager could then print out a chosen menu using the template on the website.

"We're a business about making a bar company more profitable," says Mr Hart. Many bar managers and pub landlords will drink to that.

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