Taking GAPs Brand Impact to New Heights

Friday, November 20, 2015

PRI Journal Article

November, 2015 By Bob Magnus, Vice President of Partner Programs & Sarah White, Creative Director, D3 LED.

Digital in-store retail graphics put a retailer’s message up close and personal. Designing images to engage, entertain, and inform has long been a mainstay within retail. Ultimately, this imagery becomes part of a retailer’s messaging, expanding its brand identity to increase and solidify customer loyalty. For example, because of consistency in art direction, just about anyone viewing Gap Inc.’s iconic photos will immediately make the brand association. Today’s retailers reach media savvy customers by bringing their brand imagery via video directly into the shopper’s experience.

Constantly raising the bar, retailers strive to outdo one another with innovations in material use, design creativity, and by expanding their mixed media budgets. Digital technology feeds a brand’s appetite by increasing product options to create flexible media platforms. Now, virtually any surface in a retail store has the potential to display video imagery. From the expected to the unexpected, digital signage is being applied to walls, ceilings, columns, fixtures, and more. As a result, retailers and graphic designers, now stocked with a pantry full of visual ingredients, are constantly looking for the best recipes to make their stores visually appealing.

Shoppers gravitate toward retailers with which they can identify. They seek retailers with a common sense of style relating to their own self image. Brands that create an environmental experience connected to a target audience’s image, strengthen brand loyalty. This customer relationship is what Gap Inc. was looking for when it installed a new high-resolution LED display filling nearly the entire three-story wall in the atrium at the front of its North Michigan Avenue store in Chicago. The architecture and store designers defined the space. LED display technology from D3 LED, LLC and ComQi, delivered the canvas with larger-than-life brand impact.

Entering the store on the Southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Ohio Street, surrounded by what is arguably some of the most aesthetically appealing urban retail real estate in the world, customers are warmly greeted by Gap Inc.’s fashionable and familiar ad images on their new 30’ high x 17’ wide, 6mm high resolution display. Neither overwhelming nor overbearing (as one might fear, considering its size), this indoor LED display, designed for outdoor brightness to offset the plentiful sunlight that floods the atrium in the summer months, fits comfortably with both the building and the neighborhood.

In fact, thanks to three stories of windows facing both Michigan Avenue and Ohio Street, the display can be seen several blocks away on Michigan Avenue -- which was intentional. Avoiding potential permitting issues by installing the display indoors, Gap Inc. considered various display options for the atrium wall. The original digital display design included an array of LCD screens. Very quickly, the design team determined that the sunlight streaming into the atrium dictated that an LCD’s brightness limitations were too much to overcome. A direct view LED display would provide seamless image clarity with the brightness needed and an increased display life. Installed on a north-facing wall, the display is subject to copious amounts of ambient natural light through 10 oversized windows that face west onto Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile.” Ensuring that the images on the indoor display were clear enough to be seen by the masses on Michigan Avenue was paramount. According to the well-known travel guide, Frommer’s, “In terms of density, the area's first-rate shopping is, quite simply, unmatched.” Standing out in the crowd of high-end retailers required some clever technology, including the ability to match luminous output to time-of-day and weather conditions.

Operating on a typical fall Chicago day at only 40 percent brightness during daylight hours, and 15 percent brightness at night, the monumental display is the area’s most visible lighted display and is easily seen by shoppers, pedestrians, and street traffic. By comparison, an array of LCD screens would be challenged running at full brightness to avoid the “washout” effect on their images, given significant ambient light. The new LED display delivers Gap Inc.’s casual, cool content with ease, without concern for glare or transference of sunlight off the display’s face (as can occur with LCD screens), even on the sunniest of days.

With D3’s module management technology, the brightness of every module of the display can be individually controlled from the display’s control room, from 400 feet away or from virtually anywhere in the country. Along with image data, the power draw, module temperatures and remote management features ensure that the image is operating at its ideal brightness, without blowing out the neighbors with glare or exceeding predetermined environmentally friendly power consumption standards. Gap Inc.’s operators can be automatically notified of performance abnormalities, ensuring ideal 24/7/365 performance. All of these control systems are designed with continuous operation and display longevity in mind.

By selecting a 6mm pitch with 1,327,104 surface mounted pixels, Gap Inc. has also invested in and planned for what is commonly referred to in the dynamic digital display industry as “sign envy.” After all, what is the point of creating all of those iconic photographic images if a brand is not going to display them at a resolution that does them justice? A more economically friendly investment would have called for 8mm or even 10mm pitch for a display with these diverse viewing requirements, but the 6mm choice helps make the store at 555 North Michigan Avenue in Chicago an iconic location for the company.

As a focal point in one of the world’s busiest and highest profile retail settings, with viewing angles inviting in passersby as well as enticing customers already inside the store, the LCD/LED conundrum loomed large. With higher resolution capabilities on each single screen, LCD comes out of the gate quickly. While the aforementioned brightness issues at this location helped LED take stride, decision makers were more impressed and allured by the concept of a single, continuous image, without seams. That, as well as superior viewing angles (minimal “blackout” as you walk by), are only possible with the seamless visual delivered by an LED display. While the rectangular shape and size were, in this case, defined by the architecture, there is always next time to capitalize on the virtually unlimited size and shape possibilities that the form factor of LED displays offers.

Lastly, helping LED technology further their lead down the homestretch, conventional wisdom concedes to consistent color and image quality on an LED display of this scale. Managed as a single canvas, an LED display will quite simply outperform a matrix of individual LCD screens, each of which has its own unique performance characteristics. With the scales tipped decidedly to LED technology, the only thing left to do was build and install their new video wall. No small order.

Without room for typical move-and-lift equipment, Gap’s display was built in sections. Knowing that each section was to be lifted and placed only with the strong and capable hands of some of Chicago’s most skilled union sign installers, D3 and ComQi were challenged to engineer a solution that could be hoisted and installed by hand, with relative ease. The three-man job took just three days, by hand.

Some industry experts have stated that video walls will soon be part of every retail store design discussion. For Gap, Inc. and the Michigan Avenue store design team, this discussion is well on its way. How this translates to its overall design philosophy is not yet known, but you can bet that the brand impressions made with its new display in the premiere Chicago store will be the benchmark against which future projects will be measured.

D3LED Company Profile

PRI welcomes D3LED as a member firm and is pleased to provide this profile to Journal readers.

D3 is a global technology company that designs, engineers, and manufactures turnkey LED display and lighting solutions that enhance destination-based digital media experiences. As a total solutions provider, the company’s expertise is recognized through worldwide installations within Retail, Advertising, Architecture, Entertainment, Gaming, Sports and Transportation markets.

This year, D3 has reached its 10th anniversary in the Digital Signage Industry. Within this time, the company has significantly influenced the use of LED displays in retail, bringing creative visions to life with world-renowned brands such as: Gap Inc., Forever 21, Gucci, Victoria’s Secret, Aeropostale, Guess, Sephora, and Quicksilver.

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