McDonald's Powers Interactive Digital Billboard Campaign Using PubNub

McDonald’s used PubNub to stream data from an interactive smart phone app to a digital billboard in realtime, creating an engaging and tangible advertising experience.

digital billboardA new digital billboard was installed in the busy intersection in the heart of Bukit Bintang, a popular shopping district in Kuala Lumpur, where temperatures can rise to above 100°F. The area has a high level of foot traffic, but is saturated with competing display advertising. However, the billboard is the first in the area that offers always-on Internet connection to advertisers, which presented an opportunity for Arc Worldwide, a digital agency for McDonald’s, to experiment with a connected and interactive experience.

McDonald’s Save the Sundae Cone campaign had a McDonald’s Sundae Cone on the digital billboard, which was slowly melting in the heat of the city. To “save” the sundae cone, the audience needed to spin a giant fan that would ‘cool’ the sundae cone and ‘un-melt’ it. They did this by spinning a mini-fan, which was accessed through their mobile device’s web browser. At the end, participants were given a voucher on their smartphone to be redeemed at a McDonald’s across the street for a free sundae cone.

digital billboard

Interactive Content Needs Realtime Data Streams

To build an interactive application that enables users to engage with the digital billboard in realtime, McDonald’s needed a fast, reliable, and scalable realtime network to stream data between the user’s application and the digital billboard. Their goal was to get users in the public shopping center to look up and spend at least a minute engaging with the campaign. The realtime network needed to be able to handle hundreds of users simultaneously, and with such a large audience, 100% uptime was vital for the campaign.

The immediate and responsive experience created by realtime interactivity had the potential to create an impression that there was a tangible connection between the audience’s personal devices with with the billboard, and enhance the urgency and drama of the campaign we had in mind,” said Reza Rosli, technologist at Arc Worldwide Malaysia.

Picking PubNub for Speed, Reliability, and Ease of Implementation

Arc Worldwide implemented PubNub from the beginning of their project, and didn’t experiment with any open source options like WebSockets, long-polling, or SPDY. The development team picked PubNub based on a number of reasons:

“PubNub’s comprehensive feature set, ease of implementation, SDK support for Flash, Javascript and PHP, proven reliability and low latency were the main reasons why we chose PubNub over others. Also, since we only needed the solution for a short term, PubNub’s on-demand service model was perfect for our needs.”

Streaming Data to the Digital Billboard in Realtime

McDonald’s used PubNub Data Streams to stream the data generated by the spinning action on the browser endpoints to the primary Flash application, which streamed the content to display on the digital billboard. Data from multiple simultaneous participants were integrated at the primary endpoint so that the fan appeared to be more easily spun when there were more users involved and vice versa.

digital billboard

In the other direction, Arc Worldwide broadcast the application state (i.e. the temperature information) from the primary to the user’s browsers and displayed it on the user interface. They then broadcast the command to trigger a surprise reward voucher to everyone who participated to save the sundae cone.

Accurate Analytics of Usage in Realtime

Administratively, the Arc used PubNub to transmit usage information to a web-based management console, which they used to track statistics like the number of participants and active vouchers. Because they didn’t have direct access to the computer running the billboard application, once it was installed, they also implemented a number of remote control commands using PubNub so that they could manage the application settings during run-time.

“Although we had an AJAX fallback mechanism, it would not have been possible to achieve the fluid responses required to let the users believe they are truly spinning the giant fan without the use of a synchronous, realtime messaging system like PubNub. And the broadcast capability allowed us to maintain a synchronized state across devices, which was essential to the shared experience.”

The Value of PubNub Data Streams

PubNub was a key infrastructure component in the Save the Sundae campaign and was used in a variety of different use cases. The reliable and low latency realtime data streaming that PubNub offers was essential for the project as a whole. With a tight realtime loop, participants, the app, and the digital billboard were all updated in realtime to mimic real life interaction.

digital billboard

“The instant feedback loop created by realtime interactivity, for example, the blades of the fan on the billboard turning synchronously with the fan on their browsers, the synchronized temperature indicator on the board and browser, and even the sundae itself un-melting, made the connection to the fan on the billboard feel tangible to the participants, and enhanced the urgency and drama of the situation. Finally, the broadcasted voucher caused groups to flock to McDonald’s at the same time, emphasizing the shared experience of the campaign.”

Overall, PubNub brought value to four key areas of the campaign:

  • Broad API and SDK Support: The common API and SDK support for PHP, Flash and Javascript made it seamless for Arc to choose the right platform for each project. In the event that they needed to use another platform, they were confident it would integrate easily with PubNub.
  • Ease of Implementation: PubNub’s ease of implementation, clear documentation and tutorials and debugging tool made it easy for the development team to implement PubNub, and since all the features needed were available, Arc was able to create both projects simultaneously within two weeks.
  • Short Development Time: The short development time and limited airtime they had (48 hours per campaign, over 2 weeks) also meant that it wasn’t worth the effort to build out their own realtime infrastructure.
  • Low Latency: The low latency communications, and the capability to send one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-one messages were the key functionality made the campaigns successful and ensured a tight realtime interactive loop between users and the digital billboard.

“With such a high-visibility and on-ground activation to get audiences to participate with the campaigns, a communications failure during the campaign would have been disastrous, but PubNub proved to be reliable and we had the confidence and peace-of-mind we needed from our infrastructure to focus on making the best possible campaign for our clients,” said Rosli.

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