Why digital tv screen advertising in waiting rooms is a waste of money

There are companies offering exposure to thousands of people via digital tv screens, learn why it is a waste of money

Why digital tv screen advertising in waiting rooms is a waste of money

There are a number of marketing agencies that sell advertising space on digital TV screens that are placed in waiting rooms of hospitals, doctor surgeries, medical centres & other healthcare practitioner locations. They offer business owners a low-cost solution to achieve broad marketing & advertising customer reach, but are they really worth it?

In this article I will explain how this form of local marketing tactic can be a waste of money when it comes to promoting products or services as well as how business owners can evaluate this type of advertising display medium.

What is digital TV screen advertising?

Advertising is syndicated across hundreds of screens at the push of a button

In the most simplest form a digital screen that displays advertisements is quite literally a TV that is mounted on a wall that has a looping video, slide show or content streamed from a computer nearby playing information. They will be placed in waiting rooms or in high traffic areas hoping to catch someone’s attention. Sometimes this might be a video wall while in most cases it is a wall mounted lcd display. In the past this may have been a VCR playing a tape on loop or a DVD player reading from a memory card, slide show on a disc or. portable media player. 

How is does this form of advertising benefit anyone?

  • Business owners;  they can use the available wall space to promote their own services while their customers are waiting to be served. It may be an effective way to communicate other promotions or services the business offers. Alternatively these can be rented to media agencies to on-sell the space. The owner gets a rental fee & probably an ad that gets run in circulation with the others.
  • Building owners or landlords; depending on the tenant arrangements in place the building owner or landlord might have exclusive use of tv screens placed in common areas. These can be used as an additional revenue stream by using the ‘free’ wall space on the premises.

Over the years the implementation of digital signage has become a lot more sophisticated & these days there are numerous agencies offering decentralised systems that can distribute content across hundreds of sites at the push of a button. Using internet connected devices they can upload new content to the screens through their distribution network of sites rather than manually needing to visit each location or hope that someone manually does it after sending them the new content.

Medical Media defines their digital screen service as a “Network of 2,500 screens in medical waiting & staff rooms. They are large, digital high resolution screens that blend engaging content including, news, health, entertainment, weather and advertising. They can reach communities at the point of care while being health, well-being and lifestyle relevant.”

Sounds good so far right? 

On the surface it seems like a sensible thing to consider doing, but let’s dig a little deeper.

How many advertising messages do consumers get today?

I will come back to digital screens in a second. Let’s consider whether it is easy to reach consumers with advertising these days. 

Of course, the world has evolved well beyond newspapers, TV ads & radio. There are so many channels now either offline or online, lots of social media platforms, video streaming platforms, mobile device advertising through to the quickly growing area of influencer content. The myriad of messages, information and content getting thrown at consumers every single minute of the day, on any device or location, has never been greater in volume or broader in location.

  • Red Crow Marketing estimated they had received around 487 ad exposures before they had finished breakfast.
  • Whoofey estimated that in 2021 an average human might be bombarded with as many as 10,000 ads a day which is double that of 2007.
  • Small Biz Genius reported that up to 80% of website users ignored sponsored ads when searching online.
  • Ryan Holmes, the founder of Hootsuite, wrote a LinkedIn article talking about during the 1970’s the average consumer in the U.S. saw around 500 ads per day. and how that has increased by a factor of 10 to be over 5,000 per day leading to many people reaching breaking point.
  • Meanwhile, Forbes estimates the number is more likely to be between 4,000 & 10,000 ads per day.
What is clear is that nobody really has any clue how many ads people see in a day – our lives have become so fragmented, so busy & we live them on so many devices that it is practically impossible to even measure accurately. The only thing that is clear is we are bombarded with more messages than ever & in practically ever part of our waking life.

So yes, it is easy to reach people, but how effective is it?

What is the difference between effective advertising and branding?

If you visit some of the media agency websites that sell digital screen advertising packages they will have reviews or testimonials from company’s that have apparently used their services with great success. They all seem quite positive, but take a moment to read between the lines. Below are some examples, notice how none of them really quantify a specific sales increase, volume change or accurate outcome?

Even the last one talking about the increase in people asking for the testing, it doesn’t disclose whether other promotional tactics were being executed at the same time – so how would you know if the screens were actually effective or not? It might have been the receptionist mentioning it to customers that was more effective.

“…I’m glad we decided to work with you. It’s great how easy the whole process has been and I love how out advertisement reaches out local community…”

“…a wonderful job in promoting our brand. The design team were very obliging and attentive to our needs as a small business, going out of their way to make sure this was a worthwhile experience for us…”

“…We felt this would be a great opportunity for our business as it was not only cost effective but it was different then just your local ad in the paper which most people throw out or flick through without much notice…”

“…In relation to the  testing message that has been running, both doctors have said that there has been a marked increase in patients asking for information…”

So what defines ‘effective’ when it relates to advertising? Well it depends, what were your objectives, were they (or could they) be accurately measured & were different mediums used so that you could measure relative performance? What I am getting at is that marketing will be considered effective depending on what outcomes the business was after & if you can really measure how you got there.

Even if you consider this type of advertising as ‘brand building’ you still have to consider whether anyone will really see the ads – if they don’t, then how is that really brand building?

So how can you determine the potential effectiveness of digital tv advertising vs other forms of promotion? Let’s dissect a typical proposal.

THE advertising agency PITCH

Most of the companies will use an email template that gets sent out to any local business they can find. It will promise access to 000’s of people via their screens.

The timing & availability seems appealing, but that assumes someone is standing in front of the screen to see them – they won’t be.

Once every 10 minutes means your ad will be missed by most people passing by & considering people’s attention spans these days are very short, how likely will someone watch a screen for that long & see your ad? If you think about it, the chances of those 000’s of people seeing an ad are quite small, so how much exposure will you really be getting?

The costs of waiting room advertising

The cost is relatively low at around $70 per week, but there is nothing to indicate what level of rotation that is, a guarantee of number of exposures or whether the cost of creating the actual ad/s are included. So it seems relatively cheap to reach thousands of people, but the question becomes whether people even see the screens or notice the ads.

So their value proposition is high volume, low cost advertising – but it is questionable how many people will even see them. So no matter how low the cost is, it may just be money that is better spent elsewhere.

What practical way can you evaluate waiting room advertising costs?

The simplest, most practical way to evaluate any type of advertising is to try and put yourself in the customer’s shoes. So in the case of digital tv screens go and visit some of the locations they are offering. Just spend five or ten minutes observing people’s behaviour in the spaces. You can put aside any of the agency promises and see first hand whether anyone is paying attention to the screens.

This will at least give you some insight, although it won’t be able to show you if people had noticed an advertisement, then did something later on. Although it is better than guessing completely.

Take a look below at some of these examples


The proposals will typically include some samples of what the screens or your ads could look like. What is interesting is when you look closer you can see a typical visitor’s behaviour.

In this example a reception screen may seem logical, but think about the state of a person visiting a busy location. They will be sorting out where they have to go, getting in a line, remembering what to ask for, speaking to the people at reception, sorting paperwork out etc.

Is that really an ideal time to consumer advertising messages?

Especially if they are mixed amongst other signage, information, promotional information etc. Most likely the person is going to turn & scan the room for somewhere to wait, not necessarily stand and watch a screen.

Is digital screen advertising at a recepton desk worth it photo


Here is another example where screens are installed in and around seating and a corridor. People in their natural state, waiting patiently.

Look at the sight lines – can you see anyone who may have any chance of seeing an ad?

Even if the screen was frozen on a single image, you would have to wonder how many people would take notice. These days most people have their heads buried in their smartphone.

Even if someone was going to a meeting room or leaving one, typically you are trying to get in or out as quickly as possible. You aren’t wandering around looking at advertising screens.

Is digital screen advertising in waiting areas worth it


Here is another example where there aren’t any digital screens in the room that can be seen, but look at the behaviour of the people waiting.

Person on the phone, person reading a book, another one looking at their device, person reading in the background.

Where or when will someone absorb an advertising message of any kind in this scenario?

Many people wait in the busy day surgery waiting room.


Let’s look at another example in a bigger waiting room. Everyone is so engrossed in what they are doing & their personal space that there isn’t any wandering eyes looking around the walls ready to absorb ads on a tv screen.

So again, it begs the question how effective is this form of advertising?

Do people look at digital tv screens in waiting rooms


Finally I could find an example of an image where there is a person looking up. While I don’t have images from the rest of the room lets assume for the sake of the argument this person was watching digital advertising – the other three people are not.

Another example of people reading something or on their smartphone.

This is very typical waiting room behaviour & no different to bus stops, train stations or other ares where external advertising is being placed.

People attention in a waiting room who don't look at tv advertising

Ideas you can implement to make digital tv screen local advertising increase sales

So, consumers are bombarded with advertising messages every minute of the day & I have demonstrated that the chances of someone seeing an ad on a digital screen in a waiting area could be fairly slim. Therefore the million dollar question becomes “Is it possible to make digital tv screen advertising worthwhile to spend your marketing budget on & grow sales?

well it depends…. no I am not sitting on the fence, but it depends how you approach the execution.

The simple, short answer, is there are probably more measurable ways to spend your marketing budget to advertise your brand. The key term in that sentence being measurability i.e. the ability to know that your ad achieved something. So for example a Google Search Ad would enable you to see how many people clicked, what keyword was triggered, what ad/s worked, what pages on your website they visited & ultimately what actions a person took. You can even pinpoint those ads to a suburb, specific demographic, time of day together with other variables – you can’t really do that with digital screen placements.

So it is a lot harder to measure the effectiveness of this form of digital advertising because it is a ‘shot gun’ approach meaning it is spraying something out into the world, hoping to hit a few people.

If you wanted to test the effectiveness of digital tv screen advertising here are some ideas to consider;

  • Isolate the marketing activity so that you don’t have multiple executions trying to drive a result at the same time. This will make it easier to measure if the tv screen advertising is having any impact.

  • Go and stand in some of the locations they are promising will give you amazing exposure. Observe the behaviour patterns of the people and see if anyone is looking up at the screens or walls. The screens might be there, but nobody is looking at them or even switched on.

  • Run an exclusive offer on the screens that require a specific code or use of a dedicated URL so that you can track behaviour from the ads in terms of actual engagement from consumers. Your $70 a week cost can be converted into a $xx per lead cost & if those people purchase something then a cost per transaction value. It could be the case that you just get 1 x person, meaning it is costing you $70 per lead compared to $2-$3 per lead for Facebook or Google Ads.

  • Negotiate a trial week where an ad is placed on the screens with an exclusive offer going to a specific URL so you can measure/test the effectiveness before committing to a long term program.

  • Use tools like Google Analytics or door counters to measure your visitor traffic before/during/after implementing digital ads. At least you can see if there was any external behaviour change.

  • Negotiate a cheaper rate from whatever is sent to you via email. Sounds crazy, but think about it – they have fixed pieces of equipment inside existing locations. Most likely this has all been paid for, so essentially each advertiser is almost pure profit for the advertising agency so there will be room to haggle & get he costs down even further. Do this together with the ideas above to then really test the effectiveness of the medium.

  • Negotiate an advertising package that includes a story / article or content piece that is written on some of the websites of the companies that feature the TV screen advertising. This could relate to the advertisement so all of the activity is complimentary. Although the longer term benefit is information about your business on someone else’s website with a link to yours. In some situations this can have positive SEO benefits.

I hope this helps provide some clarity around choosing whether or not to use this form of advertising. You can contract me as your marketing consultant to review your marketing activities & make sure you are getting bang for buck for your budget.
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Paul D'Ambra - marketing consultant

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