Eye-catching ... the MediaWall is a new interactive style of display advertising.

Eye-catching ... the MediaWall is a new interactive style of display advertising. Photo: Supplied

Attracting the attention of a passer-by has always been a challenge for advertisers as consumers, bombarded by ads in everyday life, consciously or subconsciously ignore the messages.

Now interactive signs are promising to reach out to tech-hungry audiences and deliver cut-through, but media experts are not convinced.

Interactive signage varies from motion-controlled billboards to more basic technologies such as QR codes – those black-and-white square pictures for scanning with a smartphone – and give consumers a chance to experience the advertisement on their own terms.

Music festivals are frequently the site of interactive displays for energy drinks. The displays take photos of those who interact and share them on social network sites.

Anthony Collins, the product leader of interactive surfaces at Smart Services CRC, struggled with ad "blindness" while developing a new interactive medium, the MediaWall.

"Display blindness is a real problem for advertisers. People will walk past a billboard and not take notice of it. We found what was needed was something a bit unexpected, to attract focus and draw in attention," he says.

Using technology that includes an Xbox Kinect and projector, the MediaWall projects an interactive display on the side of a building. The user is represented by a skeleton avatar on the surface. The product and information is explored through gestures.

"In terms of pricing, I think this is a really affordable way to go," says Mr Collins. "With advertising technology there's been a focus on making it flashy, and not much on depth. The MediaWall is going to enable stores to put images on their shop fronts when it used to be expensive."

Earlier attempts to use shopfronts in an interactive way involved pictures of products accompanied by barcodes and QR codes to promote online shopping via smartphones.

Woolworths trialled a virtual supermarket at Flinders Street Station in Melbourne this year, while fashion retail chain Sportsgirl has used the technology in empty shopfronts Melbourne and Sydney.

While still in the early days, the MediaWall has had enquiries from companies interested in using the system in reception areas, as well as in the shopfronts of real-estate businesses.

"We've conducted a few user studies where we've observed pedestrians and the system. People have stopped and interacted immediately," Mr Collins says. "The skeleton avatar enables immediate interaction as well an anonymity, so the unobtrusive method is a real drawcard."

The system is currently in trial, projected on the side of the school of IT at the University of Sydney, where it was developed in collaboration with the university's Computer Human Adapted Interaction (CHAI) group.

Despite these tech-driven innovation, advertising agencies are recommending caution to their clients when engaging with new technologies.

The chief executive of Fusion Strategy, Steve Allen, believes the only companies that can justify the cost of using interactive technology are those that have built their reputation on doing something different.

"These clients are prepared to spend a biased amount of money without there being a measurable outcome," Mr. Allen says. 'The investment is sometimes rationalised and justified simply just for exposure and prominence.'

"You've got to question the cost effectiveness. When engaging in technology, costs of a campaign can go up by 40 to 50 per cent. You need to show that it's going to garner that extra audience.'

Mr Allen says that while some companies can use technology effectively, he doesn't often recommend it.

Digital director of Starcom MediaVest Group, Laura Peck, believes there's a fine line in interactive advertising and that if it isn't done in a unique way, it can be seen as impinging on a consumer's personal space.

"Technology can have an effect and change behaviour. Novelties are good for a splash, but it needs to be functional, not disruptive," Ms Peck says. "Advertisers like technology, but for consumers, traditional methods like television and print are still comfortable."

"Ultimately it has to be approached carefully – it needs to be relevant and appropriate for the brand and audience."