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Captivating an Audience

Large motion-triggered advertisements like those in this video could be coming to Washington's Metro system.Video courtesy Monster Media Inc.

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By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 6, 2008

In 1704, the Boston News-Letter published the first American newspaper ad. In 1941, the first TV spots were broadcast -- for a ticking Bulova watch. In 1999, Internet advertising broke the $2 billion mark.

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And in 2008, motion-triggered ads will come to the Washington area's Metro system. Maybe.

If approved by Metro engineers, a large, interactive advertisement could be installed this spring in the Farragut West Station downtown, officials said. The wall advertisements go into action when people walk by or wave their hands. It would be the first such interactive ad in the area, according to the company that provides the patented technology, Orlando-based Monster Media.

Metro, which prides itself on a stark and distinctive look, has been reluctant to embrace the ubiquitous advertising found in other large transit systems around the world. But as the cash-strapped agency struggles to find revenue to meet its increasing needs, officials have relented. In addition to the moving ads, the agency wants to test flat-screen monitors that broadcast real-time information. It is allowing giant floor ads that resemble works of art and, for the first time, ads that run the length of rail-car ceilings called "Michelangelos."

"What we're trying to demonstrate is that we can do these things and still have integrity and aesthetics, and it can be fascinating and entertaining," said Dan Langdon, Washington regional manager for CBS Outdoor, which has the advertising contract for the Washington and New York subway systems.

The New York system has had interactive ads for more than a year. In a Cottonelle toilet paper spot that ran last month at Grand Central Terminal, a puppy rolled over when people walked by, and the words "Cottonelle . . . a nice roll" flashed up. (The video can be seen at http://monstermedia.net/video.php?cottonelle_GCS).

In the past three years, motion-triggered ads have been installed at JFK, Houston and Miami airports and professional sports venues in Dallas, Denver and Philadelphia, said John Payne, president of Monster Media. The technology was also used to market dog food, whipped cream and air freshener at 10 stores in a Florida grocery chain last year, Payne said.

A consumer research firm found that among those 25 and younger, 74 percent were able to remember the products, compared with the typical 10 to 15 percent recall rate for print and radio ads and less than 5 percent for Internet ads, Payne said.

"The buzz for this has been phenomenal," said Jodi Senese, executive vice president for marketing at CBS Outdoor.

In buttoned-down Washington, the plan is to install one 7-by-15-foot screen at Farragut West this spring, Metro and advertising officials said. (No word yet on the advertisers.) The project is part of an expanded ad campaign approved by the Metro board last summer to boost operating revenue.

Metro receives about $35 million a year from advertising, the largest source of revenue that does not come from fares, fees or local governments. By expanding advertising, Metro hopes to earn an additional $3 million in ad revenue this year, officials said.

Based on preliminary projections, Metro could receive $110,000 from a single motion-activated ad at Farragut West for one month, CBS Outdoor and Metro officials said. The interactive ads are more expensive to install but more appealing, because they allow advertisers to frequently change them. They also bring in more dollars than the station-blanketing ads that are also part of Metro's push for a new look.

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