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CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.

EDU 34
Ambient Communication:
HOW TO ENGAGE CONSUMERS
IN URBAN TOUCH-POINTS
Rossella C. Gambetti
A
mbient communication is a complex form of corporate commu-
nication that uses elements of the environment, including nearly
every available physical surface, to convey messages that elicit
customer engagement. Ambient communication, in its many
shapes and forms, employs the urban environment in a way that is generally
less expensive and more cost-efcient than traditional advertising media. It has
become an increasingly important marketing-support medium, especially during
this period of worldwide economic crisis.
Recent data shows that the U.S. alternative out-of-home advertising mar-
ket has been one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. media industry
over the last decade, expanding at double-digit rates every year from 2001 to
2007 and posting compound annual growth of 22.6%. Alternative out-of-home
media spending surged 27.0% to $1.69 billion in 2006 and grew at an acceler-
ated 27.7% rate in 2007. The growth of alternative out-of-home media far out-
paced that of the overall advertising industry as well as the total out-of-home
media sector, which was one of the fastest-growing advertising sectors in the
2001-2007 period.
1
Among the key trends driving the rapid expansion of alternative out-of-
home media are:
the perception among advertisers that these media provide high engage-
ment, targeting options, proximity to point-of-sale, measurable impact,
and cost effectiveness;
exposure to and recall of these media is growing as individuals spend
more time commuting to work, walking in urban areas, waiting in transit
hubs, and shopping at retail outlets;
Ambient Communication: How to Engage Consumers in Urban Touch-Points
CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 35
the vast majority of consumers view alternative out-of-home media as
favorable and educational; and
new technology enables companies to launch digital advertising plat-
forms that generate higher revenues than the conventional formats they
replace.
2
Moreover, despite severe economic headwinds, ambient advertising
grew 6.8% in 2008, in comparison with the low single-digit growth or outright
declines in traditional advertising media spending (including newspapers, radio,
broadcast TV, and magazines). In particular, the U.S. digital out-of-home media
industry grew 11.2% to $2.43 billion, tripling in size from 2002 to 2008 and rep-
resenting 29.1% of overall out-of-home ad spending, whereas the global digital
out-of-home media industry grew 12.8% to $6.11 billion in Europe, Asia, and
the Americas. Digital out-of-home spending in the U.S. is expected to grow at a
compound annual rate of 12.9% from 2007 to 2012.
3
While there is no doubt that the advertising industry is now facing a criti-
cal state of transition, the ability of ambient communication to help brands reach
target audiences will likely make it a critical part of the future marketing land-
scape. This is owing to the emergence of venue-based media solutions combin-
ing multiple ambient initiatives and tools with other marketing strategies (such
as event marketing and sampling, branded entertainment, demographics, and
psychographics)
4
aimed at building brand afnity.
Ambient communication is of special interest to marketers who need
to make decisions about the most effective communication mix. It derives con-
ceptually from outdoor advertising, the
oldest form of advertising, but it is still
under-researched by academics (except
for billboards
5
and some non-traditional
out-of-home media
6
). Moreover, outdoor
advertising, along with Internet advertis-
ing, is the medium that has undergone the
most signicant changes in recent years. These changes have enhanced ambi-
ent communications ability to elicit consumer brand engagement,
7
focusing the
attention on engagement as the new effectiveness parameter for innovative
brand communication.
8
It is necessary to approach ambient communication with a holistic per-
spective in order to recognize and emphasize common elements (e.g., experien-
tial nature, engagement capacity, and emotional appeal). This helps marketers to
better integrate and coordinate their branding efforts by:
increasing effective and efcient allocation of the advertising budget, rec-
ognizing the potential of the environmental urban context as a powerful
advertising medium beyond traditional (and expensive) mass media;
enhancing brand identity and widening the brand scope using all possible
environmental touch-points with consumers; and
Rossella C. Gambetti is an Assistant Professor of
Management Sciences and Lecturer of Corporate
and Marketing Communications at the Universit
Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy. <rossella.
gambetti@unicatt.it>
Ambient Communication: How to Engage Consumers in Urban Touch-Points
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 36
exploiting all possible synergies among the different forms of ambient
communication, while avoiding the trap of using trendy terms (e.g.,
street marketing, guerrilla marketing, and proximity marketing).
Ambient Communication:
Concept, Categories, and Evolution
In the current ambient communication environment, three media types
can be identied in terms of the spatial dimension they involve:
2-D Traditional and Innovative Print and Pictorial MediaThese include a
wide variety of media, such as:
classic billboards (small- and large-format, banners, and easels);
new high-tech billboards (audiovisual panels and screens creating the
so-called media buildings, digital billboards and displays, luminous
panels, and showcases);
classic street furniture (bus shelters, bus-stop sign poles, phone booths,
and columns);
new street furniture (station and airport domination, ad cards, stick-
ering, multisensory bus shelters, and decoration on unusual surfaces
such as stairs, escalators, travelators, shopping carts, gas pumps, ower
vases, road signs, building faades, and scaffolding):
classic transit advertising (sides, backs and interiors of buses, trams,
trains, subway trains, taxis, and boats);
new transit advertising (dcor dynamics, brand buses, and brand
trucks);
promotional street art (unconventional graphic-pictorial advertising
such as grafti and chalk stencils); and
naming rights advertising surfaces.
9
3-D Artifact-Based MediaThese refer to objects positioned in unusual,
out-of-place contexts and used as advertising tools, such as shopping bags,
plastic cups, shoulder and hand bags, furnishings, footwear, bottles, baby
buggies, pens, magnets, key rings, bicycles, cars, balloons, drinking straws,
cans, garments, and tailors dummies. Many different kinds of artifacts
may be used, including everyday or occasional, normal- or over-sized.
They are positioned in a single location or in a limited number of squares
or busy thoroughfares or near shopping malls and stores where the brand
can be found.
4-D Motion-Based/Interactive MediaThese refer to all motion-based inter-
active promotional initiatives stimulating consumers active participation
in the message. They typically end up in cyberspace as social sharing viral
content (e.g., videos, photos, and news) on web social networks such as
YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or Flickr. They involve people in a
single location or in a limited number of squares and busy thoroughfares.
Ambient Communication: How to Engage Consumers in Urban Touch-Points
CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 37
They include: event-products that can be unique, spectacular, or maxi-for-
mat interactive posters (e.g., Bluetooth posters, touchscreen panels, or
take-away posters); people-animated panels (e.g., the Ikea panel recently
located in a central square in Stockholm, representing a slice of daily life
of a real family inside an Ikea-furnished apartment); and event-actions
that are unconventional promotional initiatives that involve people and
employ urban guerrilla techniques (e.g., happenings and ash mob
events).
A signicant example of a an interactive event-product is a recent ambi-
ent advertising campaign made in Vancouver by the public utility company BC
Hydro to demonstrate the energy-saving features of its LED bulbs. The campaign
consisted of an interactive billboard reproducing the shape of a reindeer made
of 1,500 LED bulbs connected to a bike that, through the pedal movement,
produced the energy that was necessary to activate the lights. The ambient
installation involved both employees of BC Hydro and several volunteers and
passers-by.
An example of a ash mob event is one recently promoted by T-Mobile
company in Trafalgar Square in London that included 13,000 people. People
congregated at 6:00 P.M. and participated in mass karaoke singing renditions
of The Beatles Hey Jude and Britney Spears Hit Me Baby One More Time.
They were then surprised by an appearance from pop star Pink as she sang kara-
oke with the crowd to the song Piece of My Heart and her hit So What for
a T-Mobile commercial. This ambient campaign followed the mobile phone com-
panys earlier ash mob dance ad that took place at Londons Liverpool Street
Station some months before, which has been viewed on YouTube more than
18,000,000 times.
The evolution that ambient communication has undergone over the years
has been of three types: conceptual, formal, and content.
Conceptual Evolution
Ambient communication dates back to the earliest forms of outdoor
advertising in Europe: royal and government decrees announced by town-
criers (second half of 12th century), promotional handbills (second half of 15th
century), and advertising posters (late 17th century).
10
The concept of outdoor
advertising, which survives to this day, stresses the en plein air aspect of advertis-
ingthe public, architecturally open spaces it occupies, and its essentially urban
nature.
In recent years, however, there has been a growing preference for the
broader concept of out-of-home advertising that underplays the public dimension
of advertising in favor of the non-domestic, non-family aspect of communica-
tionthe fact that a whole range of other places can be used for advertising
purposes.
11
These can also be indoor places (e.g., airports, train and subway
stations, shopping malls, and stores) well suited to brand advertising that dif-
fers from the classic forms people encounter in their own homes. Out-of-home
Ambient Communication: How to Engage Consumers in Urban Touch-Points
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 38
advertising is distinctive in contrast to advertising in the home, where television
reigns supreme.
12
However, the outdoor and out-of-home concepts imply that customers
are merely passers-by, essentially passive creatures whose curiosity has to be
aroused by spectacular messages that must be eye-catching. As the concept
of spectacle itself suggests, consumers relate to brands in a detached and fun-
damentally non-participatory waythe roles of spectator and performer are
rigidly adhered to. The brand plans and manages the advertising spectacle while
the audience looks passively on, curious and amused.
13
More recently, the outdoor/out-of-home concept has evolved into ambi-
ent communication, which now seems the broadest and most inclusive term
for all forms of communication that use all types of indoor or outdoor space to
transmit brand messages. This is an attempt to do away with external/internal,
outdoor/indoor, and in-home/out-of-home dichotomies when identifying and
distinguishing between different forms of communication. The focus is now the
unique features of ambient communication itself. Basically, ambient communi-
cation uses context cluesenvironmental features that help create the atmosphere
that determines peoples individual and collective experience of their daily
livesto involve consumers emotionally and give meaning and symbolic value
to their experiences. So ambient communication stresses the experiential compo-
nent of advertising in order to relate to consumers.
Formal Evolution
Ambient communication employs a vast array of media types, expressive
techniques, and formats for achieving maximum visual and/or multisensory
impact on audiences. Todays surfeit of outdoor advertising has persuaded com-
panies to try unconventional forms of ambient communication in an attempt to
boost promotional effectiveness by creatively reinterpreting them in ways that
activate customers directly in building their own environments and experiential
spaces.
One especially popular form is guerrilla advertising, whose appeal lies in its
ability to intrigue, amuse, and activate consumers by artistically decontextualizing
space. Techniques include putting any chosen feature of the urban environment
to original and creative use, positioning out-of-place artifacts in carefully chosen
sites, and promoting products using promoters who behave in out-of-the-ordi-
nary ways.
Benets of guerrilla actions are that they reach consumers in places and
at times when their advertising consciousness is deactivated.
14
Since guerrilla
advertising is closely linked to specic territorial contexts (e.g., city streets and
squares, shopping malls, and transit/meeting points such as train stations, air-
ports, and entertainment venues), it targets not a general and passive mass audi-
ence as does traditional media (such as television and print), but groups of more
active individuals that can be more easily engaged, individuals who aggregate
spontaneously in specic places according to their interests and needs.
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CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 39
Unconventional forms of ambient communication like guerrilla advertis-
ing seek to elicit customer engagement through surprise, bewilderment, and
novelty. However, ambient communication also does the opposite, by trying to
make even unknown or little known towns and cities seem more welcoming
and familiar by seeding urban spaces with brand messages. In such cases, the
brand reassures individuals because its messages are come from the environment
itself. Such advertising is an offshoot of the traditional orientation function of
brands as prompters and guides of consumer purchasing decisions.
15
Content Evolution
The evolutionary shift from outdoor advertising to ambient communica-
tion has brought about profound changes in message content. Static content
and one-way messages have given way to dynamic, interactive, and consumer-
involving content. This new audience consists not of passive spectators but of
co-creators of a brand experience based on consumer activation.
The specic aim of a brand strategy based on ambient communication is
to build an experiential and relational environment around the consumer. To
do this, marketers need to use ambient communication tools to tailor message
content to the values and lifestyles of consumers and to encourage them to par-
ticipate in the construction of brand message and meaning. Ambient initiatives
encourage consumers to interact with the product and spread the brand-message
on their online and ofine social networks, triggering a word-of-mouth process
based on shared narrative and video images.
16
Ambient communication invokes
the principles of experiential marketing elaborated by Schmitt
17
that are based on
two major concepts: strategic experiential modules and experience providers.
Strategic experiential modules involve ve complementary components
of consumer experience:
Sensory experiences (sense), in which the consumers senses of sight,
hearing, taste, touch and smell are stimulated separately or in combina-
tion with each other. Sensory stimulation is now widely used in inno-
vative forms of ambient communication (e.g., perfumed, musical, or
walkie-talkie bus shelters, take-away posters, self-destroying billboards,
and touchscreen posters) that seek to attract and involve consumers.
Affective experiences (feel), which elicit emotions and feelings in con-
sumers. Product- and action-events especially have a powerful emotional
effect on consumers because of their spectacular nature. Examples
include the Adidas wallscape in Tokyo animated by real footballers in
climbers slings playing a game on the poster wall.
Creative Cognitive experiences (think), which involve consumers in cre-
ative problem-solving tasks. Bluetooth posters often used by mobile tele-
phone companies are a prime example.
Physical experiences (act), which offer consumers alternative behavior
and lifestyle models in a potent mix of commercial logic and artistic/cul-
tural expression. The mix enables individuals to unleash their creativity
and convey the essence of their everyday lifestyles in unconventional
Ambient Communication: How to Engage Consumers in Urban Touch-Points
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 40
ways. Also, the powerful consumer activation component in ambient
communication campaigns encourages interactivity and direct involve-
ment in the content and production of brand messages. Examples include
photography competitions and other art performances conceived as
street-events as well as the personal involvement of consumers in ambi-
ent initiatives such as collective guerrilla actions and interactive bill-
boards.
Social-Identity experiences (relate), in which the other components of
consumer experience are enhanced by a social dimension based on shar-
ing and comparing experiences. Here, consumer activation is a trigger for
dialogue and exchanges of brand-related ideas and content (e.g., photos,
videos, comments, and thoughts) through ofine or online social net-
working or the brand web site.
Finally, every feature of each type of ambient communication may be
seen as a potential experience provider. Examples include such physical context
features as the architecture of surrounding buildings, the morphology of the
streets and squares that frame them, the trafc situation, the features of people
mobility, the spatial organization, the road signage, the street lighting, the col-
ors, the sounds, the smells, the weather, the street crowding, and the behavior
of the people performing the ambient action. Coordinated management of these
experience providers enables companies to generate one or more experiential
modules ranging from single-module through hybrid (several modules together)
to holistic (all the modules together).
The Determinants of the Use of
Ambient Communication in Brand Strategies
Brands need constant input from innovative branding strategies and
techniques if they are to elicit positive consumer responses and renew their
condence and trust. Ambient communication, in all its conventional and
unconventional forms, has become an important way of renewing and revital-
izing customer-brand relationships. It is generally used in conjunction with the
other components of the communication mix as a tactical branding tool aimed
at reaching short-term commercial and communication goals. However, it can
also play a key role in a new long-term consumer-oriented marketing approach
designed to understand the individual and social dynamics of consumer
behavior.
Three types of factors make ambient communication an integral part of
a companys brand communication mix: customer-related factors, media-related fac-
tors, and company-related factors.
Customer-Related Factors
Customer-related factors are those concerned with current trends in
individual behavior that highlight not only the importance of consumption as a
value-creation process in postmodern society,
18
but also the hedonistic aspect of
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CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 41
consumptionespecially as it relates to the experiential content and the enter-
tainment, creative, emotional, and multi-sensory components of consumption.
19
Todays customers are looking to satisfy needs that have both cognitive and emo-
tional dimensions. These needs are often unconnected with the strictly material,
performance-related aspects of products, focusing instead on the symbolic value
of products
20
and their ability to elicit pleasure and fun, engage with emotions
and fantasies, and help customers identify with products when they use them.
21
Moreover, recent factorssuch as the expansion of the youth market (an
expression of young peoples increased purchasing power, greater decision-mak-
ing freedom, and greater critical and personal awareness) and the reappraisal of
the leisure concept and its related needshave emphasized the importance of
the concept of entertainment in both consumer behavior and branding strate-
gies. Leisure time and, in a broader sense, any time spent outside home in the
open air, whether for recreation or simply getting from one place to another,
constitute a dimension of human life to which people attribute value, according
it equal status with working time as well as a signicant complementary role in
the self-actualization process.
22
Thus, postmodern consumers give priority to emotions and pleasure
rather than rational reasoning when deciding what to buy. Behaviors and
choices are more eclectic, so it is less easy than before to divide consumers into
coherent, homogeneous groups.
23
Brand interaction with todays consumers
needs then to be consistently innovative, stimulating, and involving; and prod-
ucts must offer both symbolic (e.g., style, personality, sociability, and emotion)
and pragmatic (monetary) value if the re-enchantment of consumption is to be
achieved.
24
In addition to these personal and psychological factors, consumers are
inuenced by social factors that make ambient communication a signicant
component of corporate branding strategies. They include the steadily increas-
ing urban mobility of individuals, the amount of outdoor time spent on travel,
and the creeping urbanization (caused when expanding cities engulf outlying
towns and villages) that generates commuter ows between city centers and
hinterlands.
25
In such a situation, ambient communications ability to blend har-
moniously and unobtrusively with the surrounding environment is especially
important. Signs, billboards, and other forms of ambient communication (e.g.,
street furniture, dcor dynamics, and guerrilla advertising) help to create and
shape the urban scene both as landmark features in their own right and as active
components of the space they occupy.
Moreover, commuter travel between outlying areas and city centers is
reconguring urban space. Areas once regarded as unimportant, irrelevant, or
simply places on the way to somewhere else, are now being reassessed in terms
of advertising potential.
The scheduling and pace of people movements in city centers is also
changing. More specically, changes in peoples habits and logistical routines
are having a noticeable effect on public transport systems, which are being
increasingly stretched in their efforts to provide acceptable levels of efciency
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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 42
and geographical coverage. Deciding to leave the car at home and use trains and
inner-city transport instead is turning stopping and transit points such as railroad
stations, bus stops, and subway stations into ever more attractive advertising
and retail locations. At the same time, public transport users have more time
to notice and be discerning about their surroundings. This is a major visibility
opportunity for brands that have the resources to generate creative, high-tech
forms of ambient communication. Thus, ambient communication is no longer
seen as a form of advertising that distracts people from what they are doing; it
enables brands to participate in what consumers do and accompany them on
their travels. As medium, message, and contextual cue,
26
urban space provides
the creative input for the advertising campaign itself.
Media-Related Factors
Media-related factors are concerned with ongoing changes to the media
that are forcing companies to rethink not only how they plan their media-
mix, but also the relative economic weighting of the various media in terms
of the innovation and advertising investment they require. In particular, rapid
advances in media technology are encouraging the spread of digital technology
and boosting cross-sector convergence, resulting in meta-markets generated by
the convergence of entertainment and other sectors. What this actually means is
that companies are increasingly willing to pool their strategies, merge their sepa-
rate strengths in joint initiatives and products to meet a whole range of customer
needs, and generate more value than any single company would be capable of
doing alone.
Another media tendency is the gradual fragmentation of audience that is
making it increasingly difcult to reach large consumer groups using a narrow
range of typically old media. The causes of this fragmentation are the prolifera-
tion of media products and changes in consumer media use that have altered
the relative importance of the various media. Todays consumers devote less
time to traditional TV and newspapers, and more to satellite radio, cable TV, and
the Internet.
27
An additional factor is that media preferences are also changing.
Consumers are now more likely to choose media they pay for directly (such as
DVDs, pay-TV, and videogames), which may not carry advertising.
Companies are responding to these changes with a more complex media-
mix whose integration of old and new media highlights ambient communication
as a powerful market opportunity that can reach a mass audience as well as a
segmented audience. By analyzing and monitoring peoples movements (e.g.,
walking, private car, and underground transport) ambient communication can
create well-timed, crisply targeted advertising based on tried-and-tested spatial
marketing principles.
28
Company-Related Factors
Company-related factors are concerned with changes in corporate
behavior brought about by evolving consumer proles and attitudes to con-
sumption, as well as changes in the media scenario itself. As the old media
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CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 43
become increasingly less effective, differentiated competitive strategies now
center on the companys ability to build strong, distinctive brands based on an
integrated mix of old and new media. In the last few years, the new media have
proved more effective in generating customer engagement through their ability
to attract attention, elicit cognitive and emotional involvement, and encourage
decisions and behaviors that benet the company.
Dening a clear brand identity that reects the companys vision, cul-
ture, and values leads to the development of programs and advertising strategies
that can provide optimal brand support and reinforcement. These programs and
strategies should aim to create a coordinated media mix composed of traditional
and innovative media that can convey brand features with maximum clarity and
impact, eliciting customer brand engagement that enhances both communica-
tion and commercial brand performance. Achieving these aims also increases
brand value, which in turn supports and strengthens brand identity, fuelling a
virtuous circle of brand development (Figure 1).
29
Such a brand strategy combines the principles of market proximity and
customer experience management. Unlike rigid, highly structured traditional
marketing, this new marketing approach is based on empirical observation of
competitive context, the understanding and anticipation of customers needs
and desires, the proposal of exible solutions that place consumers at the heart
of the marketing process, and the use of new interactive marketing tools and
techniques.
30
The ultimate aim is to foster conversational relationships with
consumers.
Again, unlike traditional marketing based on physical and performance
benets of products, experiential marketing focuses on consumption experiences
FIGURE 1. The Virtuous Circle of Brand Value in the Postmodern Era
Corporate
Vision
Corporate
Culture
Brand
Identity
Traditional and
Innovative Comm.
Brand
Value
Brand
Engagement
Brand
Performance
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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 44
that are based not on objective, tangible product values, but on a complex set of
sensory, cognitive, affective, behavioral, and relational responses.
31
These experi-
ences solicit the active participation of individual consumers who help to con-
struct their own unique brand experiences. In other words, consumers co-create
product content and values with the company in a process of self-determining
product denition and communication.
To co-create a total experience with customers that can boost their brand
attachment and brand loyalty, companies need to channel their management
efforts into orienting the context clues present in the environment or built into
products
32
towards customer activation,
33
in order to foster the relationship
with the customer. In todays society, it is context clues (e.g., presence, mood and
behaviors of other people, geographical location, lighting, noise and other sen-
sory stimuli, and brand-environment t) rather than performance clues (related
to product features and performance) that determine both product differentia-
tion and the customer satisfaction generated by a unique, positive experience of
a product and brand.
Experiential marketing methods and techniques are both qualitative and
quantitative,
34
and they enable target markets to be identied more exibly. An
example of this might be a system based on bottom-up segmentation, targeting
and positioning,
35
and market proximity, which channels management and com-
munication efforts into identifying and enhancing customer touch-points
36
such as city streets and squares. A system like this feeds on informal intelligence
gathering based on the companys networking and cool-hunting skills and its
ability to exploit consumers social networking, the aim being to build this intel-
ligence input into new products that can satisfy market needs and desires. New
products and solutions then have to be communicated to customers at touch-
points using interactive communication channels that can trigger consumer
participation and encourage them to spread brand messages through their own
social networks.
This use of customer touch-points demonstrates just how relevant ambi-
ent communication is to brand strategy. It reaches customers outside their
homes in the streets they traverse, the squares they gather in, the places where
they go to buy or consume at precisely those times when they are most receptive
to brand messages, most laid-back, most open to new ideas, and most prepared
to listen and interact. As a result, ambient communication messages penetrate
the selective perception barrier more efciently than mass media messages.
37
To sum up, ambient communication can provide support to a marketer
who wants to develop a customer-centric approach aimed at building and main-
taining strong consumer-brand relationships. Hence, ambient communication
can play an important role for an innovative and forward-looking kind of mar-
keting. Figure 2 illustrates these changes in consumer behavior, the media, and
marketing strategy as drivers for the development of ambient communication as
a useful tool to formulating effective brand strategies.
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CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 45
Effective and Non-Effective Use of Ambient Communication:
Evidence and Implications
Ambient communication can be successfully used by both large and small
companies.
38
Large companies can use it as a powerful differentiation tool for
their brand, to build brand salience and afnity with their target consumers in
hypercompetitive markets. Small companies can use it as a cost-effective tool
to build brand awareness within their target audience. Sectors that have seen
a wider experimentation of ambient communication techniques are: food and
beverage, media and entertainment, consumer electronics, retail, automotive,
FIGURE 2. The Determinants of the Use of Ambient Communication in Brand Strategies
Customer-Related Factors
Hedonism and emotions as drivers of
consumer choices
Emphasis on leisure and out-of-home time
Active role of consumers in determining
offer attributes and building brand value
Increasing citizen mobility and new ways
of relating to city centers (new spaces,
scheduling and rhythms of citizen ows)
Media-Related Factors
Technological innovation and cross-sector
convergence
Audience fragmentation, proliferation of
new media, changes in consumer media use
Signicant increase in out-of-home
advertising expenditures and forms
Company-Related Factors
Marketing approach oriented towards
co-creation of brand experience with
customers
Customer engagement and activation
using innovative and unconventional
communication tools
Identication and exploitation of customer
touch-points
Development of
Ambient
Communication
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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 46
sporting gear and fast fashion, and non-prot.
39
Following are some case stud-
ies illustrating effective use of ambient communication in the food and beverage
and media sectors.
Bacardi Martini, the leading Italian group in the international alcoholic
drink market, launched the premium rum brand Seven Tiki in 2008 in a
crowded market where competitors recognition had been built through years of
market credibility. Bacardi Martinis communication approach had to reect the
positioning where premium is achieved through authenticity, time, and qual-
ity. The main objective of the communication campaign was to create interest
and value for consumers, a target group dened as explorers. The company
developed an ambient strategy that reached the target successfully and inu-
enced its perception. The media strategy was divided into a concept teaser and a
product reveal phase. The rst phase, through guerrilla activities, re-created the
storys mystery and allowed the brand Seven Tiki to develop a consumer-brand
connection. The second phase revealed the product through a promotional tour
with a Fijian brand ambassador in the best northern Italy bars.
The campaign began at the end of August with the landing of a three-
meter-tall Tiki totem at a beach in the Cinque Terre in Liguria (on Italys west
coast) and the overnight appearance of a gigantic sand sculpture of the same
statue on the east coast. Continuing on the same creative tone, a Fijian canoe
with a Fijian brand ambassador sailed on Milan, Turin, and Venice; meanwhile
the Tiki totem was taken on tour throughout Italy to promote the web site URL.
To extend the visibility of the communication activities, all of them were lmed
and loaded onto YouTube and other user-generated content web sites. Finally,
Martini developed ad hoc public relations activities to be shown on national
news channels and newspapers.
The campaign was a success. The Tiki totem landing on the beach gener-
ated such a big interest that the teaser video uploaded on YouTube became the
most viewed of the month in the category Travels and Events. News about the
landing appeared on the homepages of the most inuent Italian online news-
papers for two days, generating about four million daily contacts each day.
Even if there was no budget for a traditional advertising campaign, the product
appeared on national TV channel Italia 1 and on national radio station RDS.
Everyclick.com, a UK fundraising web site and charity search engine,
ran an ambient campaign in London in 2007 using digital billboards. The objec-
tives of the digital ambient campaign were to drive trafc to the Everyclick.
com web site and encourage new registrations. Eight digital 48-sheet screens
situated in Londons busiest and highest prole locations were used, allowing
Everyclick to showcase its brand in front of 12.5 million Londoners for a period
of seven weeks. The London-only digital campaign successfully drove additional
trafc and registrations consistently every week of the campaign. National reg-
istrations on Everyclick.com increased every week during the campaign and
were 63% higher after eight weeks. Everyclick total registered fundraisers were
81,444 after the campaign, with 30,000 new registered users since its begin-
ning. Everyclick calculated that the campaign generated revenues of 4,500,000.
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CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 47
Considering a total campaign investment of 122,500, it produced a ROI of
36.73 per each pound spent.
Red Gold, an American food company located in Indiana that specializes
in the production and distribution of premium quality tomato products, carried
out an ambient campaign in 2009 in order to increase visibility of its products
and drive sales. In developing a strategy, Red Gold realized that its target audi-
ence had not changed, women still make the vast majority of food purchasing
decisions. Yet, the women doing the buying are changing. They shop for grocer-
ies more often (3-5 times a week) and they look for value. In fact, 21% access
the Internet ve times a day, spending an average of two hours a day online
searching for recipes and coupons. Red Gold also knew that women today place
a huge value on brands, therefore the company had to add value to its brand.
Accordingly, Red Gold planned an ambient campaign based on a giant
outdoor spectacular that helped create immediate brand awareness while it also
reminded shoppers of Red Golds high quality. The campaign kicked off with a
teaser and featured a giant Jack and the Beanstalk-type tomato vine growing
up the pole of a billboard in Columbus, Ohio, and engulng the large outdoor
sign. Growing on the 140 feet of vines were ve tomatoes, each ve feet tall and
thirteen feet in diameter, with leaves eight feet tall and four feet wide, along
with two giant Red Gold cans. This spectacular creation also framed the cam-
paigns message in the center of the sign: The best tomatoes come from tomato
country, where Red Gold tomatoes are grown. The bigger-than-life teaser aspect
of the board caught people. The local 10 oclock news covered it, and radio sta-
tions and local bloggers were all talking about it. It turned one billboard into a
market-wide news event.
This ambient campaigncombined with a highly targeted digital cam-
paign including banner ads; e-blasts with valuable offers of coupons, gifts, reci-
pes, and cooking advice from Red Golds home economist; and newly designed
sections of the corporate web siteadded value to the brand. The integrated
ambient and digital campaign elevated brand awareness by 30% in less than
sixteen weeks, increased in-store sales, and nearly tripled Red Golds in-house
e-mail database. Moreover, the unconventional spectacular board created buzz
on the Internet and on local media and the use of online tools added value to
the brand and drove return visits to the corporate web site.
These brief case studies highlight some basic conditions for an effective
use of ambient communication. They are:
an original and catchy creative idea consistent with the brand concept and
the target consumers desires and expectations, an idea capable of activat-
ing them to spread the brand message in their social networks;
a campaign execution congruent with the marketing objectives and with the
target consumers characteristics; and
an integrated media mix based on the use of ambient communication com-
bined with other traditional and non-traditional media, in order to foster
the brand message, to reach a wider target audience using all the different
touch-points, to exploit all possible synergistic effects among the various
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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 48
media, and to maximize the impact of the campaign on consumers, espe-
cially in terms of their engagement with the brand.
The non-effective use of ambient communication may happen for the fol-
lowing reasons:
when an inadequate marketing plan is used without integrating it with
other marketing communication initiatives
40
or when ambient communi-
cation is trivialized and used without any specic objective (e.g., it is used
to imitate competitors or because it is a trendy communication tool);
when there is an inadequate creative concept and/or execution, either when
the ambient initiative is not able to break through the clutter, grab con-
sumers attention, and generate word-of-mouth, or when there is an
exaggerated use of creativity that cannibalizes the brand and that is not
congruent with the marketing objectives
41
(e.g., when the ambient initia-
tive is used for its own sake and does not add value to the brand); and
when there is a lack of environmental/contextual integration, which may
occur either when there is an improper relationship with the local
authorities or when ambient communication is improperly used to spread
messages to sensitive audiences on delicate social topics where the initia-
tive runs the risk of being misunderstood and obtaining a counterproduc-
tive impact on the audience.
Management Implications and Future Research Agenda
Ambient communication management needs to be part of a new mar-
keting approach that seeks to enhance the consumption experience based on
brand-consumer interaction and collaboration. Marketers achieve this by cool-
hunting, aimed at reaching consumers in urban touch-points where they gather
or are in transit. Applying the experiential approach to ambient communication
management is appropriate when the aim is to foster a long-lasting emotional
relationship between brand and consumer using products and initiatives capable
of eliciting engagement. That means:
arousing unique, memorable emotions, in order to foster positive brand asso-
ciations in the mind of consumers;
stimulating consumer learning, creativity, and experimentation in relation to the
brand product and its messages; and
driving consumer action, such as active participation in the construction of
the brand experience and social sharing of brand content.
Within an experiential approach, optimal use of ambient communica-
tion in the promotional mix depends on successfully integrating conventional
and unconventional media. Finally, ambient communication is a development
of outdoor advertising which, in its more innovative forms, becomes an event.
Thus, its effectiveness should not be evaluated using only traditional outdoor
advertising parameters (e.g., reach/frequency optimization, application of retail
gravitation theory, and recency planning)
42
that prove inadequate to catch the
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CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 49
complexity of active, eclectic, sensation-seeking consumers. Therefore, the
future research agenda should focus on the analysis of the consumer engagement
process in urban touch-points as a fundamental effectiveness parameter of ambient
communication initiatives. This seems the only way to assure the usefulness of
this communication tool and prevent it from becoming just another new mar-
keting trick of little relevance to companies and detached from their corporate
objectives.
Notes
1. PQ Media, Alternative Out-Of-Home Media Forecast 2007-2011, research report, Stamford, CT,
2007.
2. Ibid.
3. PQ Media, Global Digital Out-Of-Home Media Forecast 2008-2012, research report, Stamford, CT,
2008.
4. PQ Media, Alternative Media Forecast 2008-2012, research report, Stamford, CT, 2008.
5. W.C. Hewett, The Signicance of Human Curiosity in an Outdoor Advertising Experi-
ment, Journal of Business, 48/1 (January 1975): 108-110; R.L. Fitts and W.C. Hewett, Uti-
lizing the Before After with Control Group Experimental Design to Evaluate an Outdoor
Advertising Campaign, Journal of Advertising, 6/1 (Winter 1977): 26-28; A.G. Woodside,
Outdoor Advertising as Experiments, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 18/3 (Sum-
mer 1990): 229-237; K. King and S.F. Tinkham, The Learning and Retention of Outdoor
Advertising, Journal of Advertising Research, 29/6 (December 1989/January 1990): 47-51;
N. Donthu, J. Cherian, and M. Bhargava, Factors Inuencing Recall of Outdoor Advertis-
ing, Journal of Advertising Research, 33/3 (May/June 1993): 64-72; M. Bhargava, N. Donthu,
and R. Caron, Improving the Effectiveness of Outdoor Advertising, Journal of Advertising
Research, 34/2 (March/April 1994): 46-55; M. Bhargava and N. Donthu, Sales Response to
Outdoor Advertising, Journal of Advertising Research, 39/4 (July/August 1999): 7-18; C.R.
Taylor and G.R. Franke, Business Perceptions of the Role of Billboards in the U.S. Econ-
omy, Journal of Advertising Research, 43/2 (June 2003): 150-161; C.T. Taylor, G.R. Franke,
and H.K. Bang, Use and Effectiveness of Billboards, Journal of Advertising, 35/4 (Winter
2006): 21-34.
6. D.W. Baack, R.T. Wilson, and B.D. Till, Creativity and Memory Effects: Recall, Recognition,
and an Exploration of Nontraditional Media, Journal of Advertising, 37/4 (Winter 2008): 85-
94; M. Dahln and M. Edenius, When Is Advertising Advertising? Comparing Responses to
Non-Traditional and Traditional Advertising Media, Journal of Current Issues and Research in
Advertising, 29/1 (Spring 2007): 33-42; C. ODonnell and C. Veloutsou, Exploring the Effec-
tiveness of Taxis as an Advertising Medium, International Journal of Advertising, 24/2 (2005):
217-240.
7. Aegis Media, Closer: A Research on the Engagement of Out-of-Home Advertising, research report,
London, 2006.
8. Engagement is a new concept in marketing literature, presently emphasized as a funda-
mental driver of postmodern consumer behavior and decision-making processes. However,
currently there exists neither a clear nor a singular denition of this new concept, just ten-
tatively dened by organizational psychology scholars as a sort of persistent activation state
of an individual based on emotional, cognitive, and behavioral dimensions. See W.A. Kahn,
Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work, Academy of
Management Journal, 33/4 (December 1990): 692-724; W.B. Schaufeli, M. Salanova, V. Gon-
zales-Roma, A.B. Bakker, The Measurement of Engagement and Burnout: A Two Sample
Conrmatory Factor Analytical Approach, Journal of Happiness Studies, 3/1 (March 2002):
71-92; A.J. Wefald, R.G. Downey, Construct Dimensionality of Engagement and Its Rela-
tion with Satisfaction, Journal of Psychology, 143/1 (January 2009): 91-111. Just recently,
advertising scholars and professionals have dened it as the turning on of a prospect to a
brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context. See Advertising Research Foundation,
Engagement: Denitions and Anatomy, white paper, New York, 2006.
9. Naming rights is an institutionalized practice that regards the right to name a piece of
property, either tangible property or an event, usually granted in exchange for nancial
Ambient Communication: How to Engage Consumers in Urban Touch-Points
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 50
considerations. Securing the naming rights for stadiums, theaters, and other public gathering
places is considered by companies as a form of ambient advertising.
10. E.T. Brioschi, Elementi di Economia e Tecnica della Pubblicitvol. I, Dai Primordi alla Pubblicit
Moderna (Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 1984).
11. M. Foucault, Eterotopia: Luoghi e Non-Luoghi Metropolitani (Milan: Mimesis, 1994); M. Aug,
Nonluoghi: Introduzione ad una Antropologia della Surmodernit (Milan: Eleuthera, 1996).
12. M. Stefanelli, Pubblicit Fuori Casa, Ancoraggio del Consumo: Per unAnalisi della Comu-
nicazione Out-of-Home, fra Testo e Contesto, Comunicazioni Sociali, 3 (2006): 291-305.
13. S. Antonioni, Dall Outdoor all Ambient Advertising: Quando lo Straordinario Invade il
Quotidiano, Comunicazioni Sociali, 3 (2006): 276-290.
14. B. Cova, A. Giordano, and M. Pallera, Marketing Non-Convenzionale (Milan: Il Sole 24 Ore,
2007).
15. K.L. Keller, B. Busacca, and M.C. Ostillio, La Gestione del Brand: Strategie e Sviluppo (Milan:
Egea, 2005).
16. Innovative and unconventional ambient initiatives and tools elicit spontaneous word-of-
mouth among individuals. Word-of-mouth marketing is a marketing strategy supported
by research and technology, which encourages consumers to dialogue about products and
services through various online and ofine tactics, often facilitated by brand ambassadors.
Spending on word-of-mouth marketing initiatives rose 14.2% to $1.54 billion in 2008,
accentuated by secular and structural trends battering traditional advertising and marketing
media. Word-of-mouth spending grew 10.2% in 2009, placing it among the fastest-growing
advertising and marketing segments in this period of world economic recession. PQ Media-
WOMMA, Word-Of-Mouth Marketing Forecast 2009-2013, research report, Stamford, CT, 2009.
17. B.H. Schmitt, Experiential Marketing: How to Get Customers to Sense, Feel, Think, Act, and Relate to
Your Company and Brands (New York, NY: The Free Press, 1999).
18. A.F. Firat and A. Venkatesh, Liberatory Postmodernism and the Re-Enchantment of Con-
sumption, Journal of Consumer Research, 22/3 (December 1995): 239-266.
19. E.C. Hirschman and M.B. Holbrook, Hedonic Consumption: Emerging Concepts, Methods
and Propositions, Journal of Marketing, 46/3 (Summer 1982): 92-101.
20. R. Barthes, Soap-Powder and Detergents, in R. Barthes, Mythologies, translated by Annette
Lavers (New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 1972), pp. 36-38.
21. E. Klinger, Structure and Functions of Fantasy (New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1971); M.B.
Holbrook and E.C. Hirschman, The Experiential Aspects of Consumption: Consumer Fanta-
sies, Feelings and Fun, Journal of Consumer Research, 9/2 (September 1982): 132-140.
22. M. Caputo and R. Resciniti, Il Fattore Intrattenimento nelle Strategie di Marketing: Presupposti e
Applicazioni, in U. Collesei and J.C. Andreani, eds., Proceedings of the 3rd International Congress
Marketing Trends, Venice, 2003, pp. 1-18.
23. G. Fabris, Il Nuovo Consumatore: Verso il Postmoderno (Milan: FrancoAngeli, 2003); A.F. Firat
and C.J. Shultz, From Segmentation to Fragmentation: Markets and Marketing Strategy in
the Postmodern Era, European Journal of Marketing, 31/3-4 (1997): 183-207.
24. Firat and Venkatesh (1995), op. cit.
25. The creeping urbanization is especially evident in big European cities such as London, Paris,
Milan, Rome, Madrid, and Berlin. In such cities, even though fuel costs have increased, the
very high real estate market prices for both renting and buying houses/apartments, as well
as the general widespread and efcient public transportation system are leading a larger
number of people to move outside the city and urbanize suburban peripheral areas.
26. M. McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extension of Man, 1st edition (New York, NY: McGraw-
Hill, 1964); M. Dahln, The Medium as a Contextual Cue: Effects of Creative Media
Choice, Journal of Advertising, 34/3 (2005): 89-98.
27. P. Ceccarelli, Mass Media e New Media: Nuove Sde per Comunicare, Distribuire, Creare
Valore, Mercati e Competitivit, 4 (2006): 155-171.
28. G. Cliquet, ed., Geomarketing: Methods and Strategies in Spatial Marketing (London: Iste, 2006).
29. E. Joachimsthaler and D.A. Aaker, Building Brands Without Mass Media, Harvard Business
Review, 75/1 (January/February 1997): 39-50.
30. D. Stokes, Entrepreneurial Marketing: A Conceptualization from Qualitative Research,
Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 3/1 (2000): 47-54.
31. B.H. Schmitt, Experiential Marketing, Journal of Marketing Management, 15/1-3 (January-
April 1999): 53-67.
32. L.P. Carbone and S.H. Haeckel, Engineering Customer Experience, Marketing Management,
3/3 (Winter 1994): 9-19.
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CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW VOL. 52, NO. 3 SPRING 2010 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU 51
33. C.K. Prahalad and V. Ramaswamy, Co-Opting Customer Competence, Harvard Business
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34. Schmitt (1999), op. cit.
35. Stokes (2000), op. cit.
36. E.T. Brioschi, La Comunicazione Totale dAzienda nel Contesto Internazionale, Comunica-
zioni Sociali, 1 (2005): 9-52.
37. D. Dalli and S. Romani, Il Comportamento del Consumatore. Acquisti e Consumi in una Prospettiva
di Marketing, 2nd edition (Milan: FrancoAngeli, 2004).
38. J.C. Levinson and P.R.J. Hanley, The Guerrilla Marketing Revolution: Precision Persuasion of the
Unconscious Mind (London: Piatkus Books, 2005); A. Brioschi and A. Uslenghi, White Space:
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39. PQ Media (2007), op. cit.
40. D.E. Schultz and H. F. Schultz, IMC, The Next Generation: Five Steps For Delivering Value And
Measuring Financial Returns (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2003).
41. M. Dahln, F. Lange, H. Sjdin, and F. Trn, Effects of Ad-Brand Incongruency, Journal of
Current Issues and Research in Advertising, 27/2 (2005): 1-12.
42. Donthu, Cherian, and Bhargava (1993), op. cit.; E. Ephron, Recency Planning, Journal of
Advertising Research, 37/4 (July/August 1997): 61-65; W. Reichel and L. Wood, Recency in
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