Let Pop Culture Inspire Your Digital Signage Designs

Your organization is made up of people, and so is your audience. When trying to engage them with digital signage messages, it’s crucial to keep this in mind at all times. People are seldom hanging around digital signs for the express purpose of watching them go through playlists. They are either waiting somewhere for a reason, having a bit of down time, or moving past the screens on their way someplace else. You need to attract their attention quickly, get them to shift their focus to your messages, and take in the information you’re trying to convey. One way to make your screens instantly attractive is to tap into the power of popular culture when crafting your digital signage designs.

Pop culture covers a wide spectrum of categories, but the most popular ones are:

  • Entertainment
  • Sports
  • Fashion
  • News
  • Politics
  • Technology
  • Slang

Each of these is rich territory to be mined for elements with which to frame your content. It makes what you’re trying to say feel fresh and current, and thus relevant. People are probably already talking about these things, and sharing/posting/commenting about them on social networks and other web portals, so you already have built-in interest from the start.

Tap into the Zeitgeist

There are some pretty safe bets out there when it comes to pop culture things that have widespread appeal – things that are part of the zeitgeist, like Game of Thrones. You can be pretty sure that, even if a particular person in your target audience doesn’t watch the show, they know it exists and are seeing references to it all the time in their online life. There are jokes and memes they are exposed to on a daily basis, so any reference to Game of Thrones is instantly recognizable and familiar. And if the person in question is a fan, they’ll almost certainly slow down and spend a moment or more looking at your message, simply because there’s some sort of reference to an aspect of pop culture they’re already actively engaged with.

Of course, this means that your content creation team has to keep on top of what’s hot and trending, but chances are they are already doing just that in their free time. If Woody is a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, he’ll happily spend a bit of time creating messages that reference those films and characters. It won’t even feel like work.

Feed the Fads

At the macro level, entertainment means films, TV series, music, video games and books. Take the previously mentioned MCU series, which finishes what is known as Phase Three of their planned films with Avengers: Endgame this month, and then begins Phase Four with Spider-Man: Far from Home in July. There is a tremendous amount of buzz around the latest movie release, which can be leveraged in your communications efforts. Some taglines and quotes from trailers and posters that have already been used and even converted into memes include:

  • Avenge the fallen. (This has already sparked a series of internet memes with this phrase over a picture of someone who has “fallen” – Ned Stark from Game of Thrones, Bambi’s mother, Bing Bong from “Inside Out”, T-Rex from “Jurassic Park 3”, John Wick’s puppy, etc.)
  • This is the fight of our lives.
  • Today we have a chance to take it all back.
  • It’s not about how much we lost. It’s about how much we have left.
  • Tony Stark: You trust me? Steve Rogers: I do.
  • Thanos: You could not live with your own failure. Where did that bring you? Back to me.

Any of these could be used in digital signage messages. For example:

  • Avenge the Fallen. This could be used for anything that is now gone or has been replaced. A funny way to announce a staff member’s retirement, for example. Or to announce that the old cafeteria is being upgraded. Or that some equipment has finally been replaced.
  • This is the fight of our lives. You could use this for anything that’s competitive. An in-company or university sports team has an important game coming up. Or, various departments are engaging in a bit of friendly gamified competition, and this saying is used to spur people to put in more effort.
  • It’s not about how much we lost. It’s about how much we have left. – This lends itself to any environmental campaign, recycling awareness, charitable causes, etc.

You can probably think of dozens of ways these trending memes and phrases could be used in messages. You still communicate what you need to, but do it in a way that feels “with it” and current. This is especially useful if you have a certain message that you want up on your screens all the time – it’s in every playlist every day because it’s important. The message can remain the same, but the pop culture elements you use to frame it and attract attention can change as new films come out, new TV shows become popular, new albums or books are released, etc.

Pick the Winners

Following awards ceremonies can also yield useful references. “Green Book” recently won the Oscar for Best Picture, so it’s on many people’s minds. Olivia Coleman’s acceptance speech at the Oscars had some memorable lines, as did other winners. The Grammys almost always yield some choice quotes and moments to use, and people are often re-using, re-mixing and referencing them for weeks after the actual ceremony.

Obviously, TV shows like Game of Thrones and whatever’s the latest hot streaming offering are on people’s minds. When it comes to music or books, that might be a bit more up to personal taste. You can conduct periodic short surveys to see what your audience actually listens to or reads (most people will be happy to fill these out – they like answering questions about themselves). You might be surprised to find out that 30% of your employees are fans of a particular musical group, or a sizeable portion listen to a particular podcast with regularity. What hosts or authors are in vogue with your audience? If it turns out your have a lot of Charles Dickens fans, wording a few messages in a way that references his work or include quotes will certainly get their attention.

Get in the Game

Video games are now the number one form of entertainment in the US, in terms of sales, eclipsing even movies. In 2018, gaming made $116 billion, streaming TV made $105 billion, films in the cinema made $41 billion and digital music made $17 billion. Again, ask your audience what games they play with a short survey online or face-to-face, or even using paper surveys placed near digital signs.

Sports is a type of entertainment, and team loyalties sometimes run very, very deep. This can be used to gain interest in your digital signage messages – acknowledging recent wins, displaying current standings, etc. If you have a large core of fans for a particular team, you’ll get them excited simply by mentioning that team, or a player, or a recent win.

Stay in the Know

News items are natural attractors. Because politics can be tricky, the safest thing to do is simply have news snippets as part of your layout, which will draw attention to the screens. Choose headline news from a fairly neutral source and you’ll reach the widest possible audience. And there are subscription services that have already curated and crafted news content to be neutral and widely appealing, so much of the work’s been done for you.

Keeping up on tech releases, slang, trending hashtags and internet jokes is also pretty straightforward. If someone on your team doesn’t already do this for themselves, a few quick internet searches will yield lots and lots of source material for you to use.

The point is that people now spend a lot of time online, being exposed to all sorts of things, and you can leverage pop culture to create content and engage viewers. In the US, Americans spend an average of 24 hours per week online, and if you include other types of screen interactions (like watching the latest Netflix series), they spend 10 hours a day in front of a screen. And that’s outside of work. That’s a lot of content they’re exposed to. And they’re choosing to see it, actively engage and interact with it. Why not tap into that potential?

Activating your audience’s interests can be incredibly effective for getting your content noticed. Using pop culture on your digital signs almost guarantees people will look at your screens more often and for longer. They’re also more likely to talk about what they see there with others, further expanding the effectiveness of your messages.

Disclaimer: We are NOT telling you to use copyrighted imagery. Make sure you have the right to use any content you put up on your screens.