Directional Audio - Frontline Display


Novelty or game changer?  – This was the question posed at the recent POPAI spring seminar, where many attendees were impressed by the demonstration of the directional audio (flowing water sounds) when shown against the sound array of a standard speaker.

Evidence was presented from research undertaken in trialling units in grocery, measuring the effect to target an individual audience with promotional information.

With standard speakers, the sound waves are emitted in all directions, but with the directional versions they are focused along a narrow beam using ultrasound waves which create minimal dispersion. With one step a listener can enter or exit a zone of fully lucid sound.

But ultimately this technology is not new and directional sound was being developed for advertising use at the end of the 1990’s. Naturally, the technology has gradually become more refined where traditional speaker equipment

hasn’t properly addressed the audio bleed.

Frontline introduced good examples of this precise targeting media to their customers some 10 years ago and would agree that the sound shower solutions we’ve developed in recent years have become far more sophisticated. The effects can be stunning, especially when the sound is combined with touch screens to present a cohesive visual and audio experience.

Possibly due to its TV advertising, one of the most memorable examples is the BBC’s 2009 campaign to promote Radio 3, featuring members of the public being targeted by beams of classical music when they stepped into branded “sound spots” positioned at various locations in the UK. The campaign, was designed to get people aged 35-plus listening to a wider range of classical music as Radio 3 celebrated the anniversaries of composers Purcell, Handel, Mendelssohn and Haydn.

But it has many more applications, from digital signage, targeted sound in bars & restaurants, to exhibitions and museums.

The seminar demonstration spoke of the impersonal use of audio in museums and how everyone around the speaker hears the same content. While the analogy has its place in the sense of the need to restrict content to specific exhibits, especially worthwhile in art galleries, museums have a high level of information to impart to a wide and [hopefully] engaged audience, whilst needing foot traffic to move at a constant flow to avoid bottle necks. The use of portable audio players with headphones

allows the visitors to continue browsing a section whilst they listen to the often vast amount of information.

POPAI’s findings in Grocery highlighted there was still the need to balance the sound volume, the store staffs needs (they don’t want to constantly hear the same message when working at the shelves or serving at the tills) and of course the siting for optimum impact. They investigated using the directional sound in various locations

around the supermarket, including overhead at till areas to target shoppers who are so diverted by their mobile devices they no longer pick up till positioned impulse items. However, results indicate that perhaps this location is too late to add any weight to the basket. If placed on shelf it does provide an opportunity to bring promotional offers to the browsers attention.

The jury’s still out on the long term success of such technologies (gimmick or benefit) and whether we really want a voice from the ether interrupting our thoughts as we travel around the store. Undoubtedly the POPAI seminar attendees were impressed, but then they were a captive audience. Personally, if I’m browsing for a

washing machine and targeted speakers demonstrate how quiet a particular model is, there might be an advantage, but when I’m getting my weekly shop I’m not so sure. If I was nipping in [to the supermarket] for a few last minute purchases I wouldn’t even stop to listen, and when doing the family shop I might look like I’m

unaware of my surroundings and shopping in an unengaged dream state staring at my list, but that’s actually the way I like it, because I’m in my own head space, away from all the other noises in my daily life!

By Andrea Griffiths