Blog | June 6, 2019

What is interactive digital signage?

The advantages of digital signage displays go well beyond allowing movement and brighter colour. Introduce a touchscreen, wireless connectivity, or other technologies that enable interaction and suddenly your screen becomes something more. They allow onlookers to become participants, opening new possibilities for advertising and for delivering services.

Why make digital signage interactive?

The average city-dweller today probably passes by a good number of digital displays on any given day, and most aren’t interactive. With interactive capability generally requiring additional technology and setup, it tends to come at an additional cost. This is both for the media owners who need to outfit the signage and the buyers looking to purchase more intricate campaigns. Is the added expense of investing in interactive signage justified?

The answer largely comes down to memorability in a crowded advertising landscape. In a 2016 poll, 81% of marketers agreed that interactive content was more effective than passive media at reaching target audiences. More high-end buyers are seeking ways to make their campaigns stand out, and only those DOOH networks that are capable of the interactivity they desire will be in contention to run their campaigns.

Example: This campaign for Women’s Aid changed the onscreen image as more and more people looked at it. It’s a powerful campaign and a good example of the potential offered by interactivity.

What you need for interactive digital signage

Good interactive content takes a bit of work to bring to life. Network owners will need to secure hardware capable of powering the interactive content, and also drive that hardware with software that can connect all the right pieces together for the content to run flawlessly.

Extensible software offering an open API will generally be the best choice for interactive signage projects, though it is important too to ensure the solution is secure and reliable. Interactive displays within arm’s reach could become targets for tampering by troublemakers, so it’s particularly important that they are secured.

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Finally, the signage needs content to be interacted with. This content takes various forms, dependent on the nature of the display. Interactive billboards, for instance, are likely going to display interactive content provided by a media buyer looking to place a particular promotional campaign. For an indoor display, such as a wayfinding terminal in a mall, the interactive content is likely a concern to be handled by the network owners themselves. This isn’t to say that the content must be created in-house. A number of digital signage content providers specialize in providing interactive content that can be tailored to the specific needs of a given network.

Ways of enabling interaction with digital signage

“Interactive digital signage” is a broad category, uniting many very different kinds of projects. Here is an overview of some of the most common types of interactivity that are used.


One of the most common ways digital signage is made interactive is by deploying a touchscreen. The ubiquity of touchscreens today makes this a safe bet for interaction, as there are unlikely to be many barriers to most individuals simply walking up and engaging with the installation. Touch is commonly employed to let audiences browse information on a screen or manipulate onscreen elements.

Common uses: Wayfinding, self-serve kiosks, special ad campaigns

Example: The LinkNYC network of touch-enabled kiosks gives people in New York City access to phone calls, WiFi, directions, and more, all paid for by advertising on the kiosk.

Gesture/motion tracking

Gesture control is a lot like touch with a lot more style and a bit less precision. People can walk up and move their hands in the air in front of the sign, with cameras connected to the installation registering the types and speed of the movements being made and triggering corresponding reactions onscreen. This isn’t a particularly common form of interactivity in the digital signage space, though advances in gesture control could see it become more prominent someday.

Common uses: In-store virtual browsing or shopping, interactive advertising

Example: This campaign by Swarovski uses motion and gesture tracking to turn onlookers into participants in an interactive game.

Social media

Social media has been a mainstay of interactive digital signage campaigns for years now, thanks largely to social being such a great tool both for driving engagement and generating onscreen content. The specific implementation of social interactivity varies depending on the campaign. A typical example involves users posting to their own social accounts using a specific hashtag and having their post appear onscreen, sometimes after a moderation process is completed.

Common uses: Advertising

Example: To celebrate the Carnival in Düsseldorf, Stadtwerke Düsseldorf launched an interactive DOOH campaign on displays across the city. People could share photos tagged with #ilovehelaul and, after their content was reviewed by moderators, see their photos appear onscreen.


Increasingly, campaigns are making use of the capabilities of mobile phones to deliver some really interesting interactive content. Special applications or mobile websites are created to grant audiences the ability to manipulate onscreen elements or objects, with audiences prompted to visit or download by visiting a site displayed on the billboard. This can be a fun way to put games up on the screen and encourage mass participation in a campaign delivered to a nearby digital billboard.

Common uses: Ad-supported games, interactive advertising, augmented reality


RFID (radio frequency identification) and NFC (near field communication) are often spoken about interchangeably, as they achieve similar things with only minor differences. They involve the use of passive chips that interact with a frequency emitted by a powered device, like a smartphone, to deliver information or trigger a reaction. The technology is becoming more common thanks to contactless payment apps promoted by major cellphone companies but might be a bit of a risky choice for an interactive advertising campaign. Most phones today still do not support these technologies.

Common uses: Directions, information and website sharing

Example: At Mobile World Congress in 2014, NFC-enabled kiosks were deployed on the floor to assist visitors in downloading useful information.

Augmented reality & visual recognition

Some of the best interactive DOOH campaigns are also some of the simplest. Installing cameras near a digital display and hooking them up to a suitable PC can allow for some really neat augmented reality campaigns. This can be a fun way to bring onlookers and the world around them right into a fun new experience. Other uses include using cameras to do basic visual identification and have campaigns deliver messaging tailored to whoever they see standing by. Different content, for instance, could be delivered depending on whether the onlooker is an adult or a child.

Common uses: AR, dynamic campaigns

Example: This AR campaign by JCDecaux and BBC Earth brought a touch of wilderness to the streets of Oslo, Norway, and people didn’t hesitate to interact with the images they saw.

QR Codes

QR codes are a fairly passive form of interactivity, offering passers-by the ability to use their phone to receive information or navigate to a website by scanning a code with a capable app. It is generally used to accomplish similar things to NFC campaigns, but is more accessible. Where phones need to include specific hardware to access NFC content, they just need a QR reader application on their smartphone to access codes.

Common uses: Directions, information and website sharing

Example: This campaign by Google Play and oOh! Media offered users the choice of both NFC and QR codes to access media promoted by the campaign.

As interactive technology gets cheaper and more widespread, it’s likely that interactivity will increasingly be seen as a must-have for many networks operating in the digital space. Investing in the right tech today will put network owners and their businesses on the most productive path in the years to come.

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