Feeding the Beast: Leveraging Generative Content to Create Immersive Retail Destinations


Today’s retailers continue to seek ways of attracting shoppers, and many are opting for more digital signage. In fact, according to 2018 research by AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association, 47% of retailers surveyed said they planned to increase the amount of digital signage in their stores. 

The challenge, then, is creating enough engaging content to keep all that digital signage fresh. Increasingly, leading retailers are turning to what’s known as generative content.

Generative content takes many forms, but at its heart are software and computing devices that automatically combine pre-designed content and data to create original visuals in real-time. Add to that modern sensor technology and generative content can change based on different factors in a retail space, such as foot traffic, types of shoppers, time of day and more.

“We want to create a magic moment and disrupt the standard retail experience,” said Antoine Saint Maur, multimedia director for Float4, which works with retailers on digital installations. “Generative content is a good example — a mechanism for ever-changing visuals.”

See also: Inside Vitamin Shoppe’s Reinvention and Store Transformation

Float4 was behind the content at Bloomingdale’s Carousel pop-up store on the first floor of its New York flagship. On opposite sides of the store are giant video walls measuring 10 feet high and 35 feet wide. The content reflects whatever theme Bloomingdale’s determines, combining pre-shot footage with graphics that move and change based on computer algorithms. The result is an immersive experience that feels fresh each time a shopper enters.

To experience generative content at the 900 North Michigan Shops in Chicago, shoppers need only look up. Across a series of LED canvasses built into the mall’s ceiling, ESI Design created an ever-changing “sky” that generates ambience and allows the property’s operator, JMB Realty, to ensure the visuals automatically change and morph to promote retailers, products and the city outside.

“Even though it's 190 feet long and 10 high-resolution screens, we treat it as one cohesive canvas,” explained Andrew Lazarow, designer and AV technologist for ESI Design. Sometimes, the LED ceiling appears as the sky, with computer-generated birds flying above shoppers’ heads. “And we all know, birds never flock the same way twice,” he said.

At other times, the digital ceiling at 900 North Michigan Shops might feature products on sale throughout the mall, rendered and presented in dynamic, graphical ways. ESI Design provided a custom content management system so mall operators could upload existing images and include them in generative scenes.

Moreover, “in order for content to resonate with passersby, it should also be responsive,” said David Bianciardi, founder of experience design studio AV&C. Meaning the displays in retail spaces aren’t just playing media — generative or pre-created — they’re also “sensitive to context, people, what they’re doing there, and they respond with relevant content.”

Bianciardi referred to this as “deep media,” combining generative content with artificial intelligence to make a retail video installation reactive to what’s going on around it. “Deep media is about creating something beautiful and exciting while being responsible to stakeholder strategy,” he said. “It’s a platform that can renew itself.” It’s a living platform that transforms a physical space through intelligent, expressive digital layers that can keep the relevant storytelling going years into the future.

Leading experiential designers Float4, ESI Design and AV&C are proving that generative, responsive content is the key to allowing retailers to keep their digital signage fresh. It engages audiences and retains attention for longer periods of time. And if it’s truly engaging, it ends up on social media. Bonus.

Joe’ Lloyd is senior director of communications at AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association. AVIXA and its members aim to help retailers create a more successful future through the integration of compelling audiovisual experiences. AVIXA represents the $247 billion global commercial AV industry and produces InfoComm trade shows around the world.

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