Seeking an eyecatcher
In a very insightful essay back in 199 sociologist and communications researcher Stefan Hirschauer analyzed human behavior in elevators. He confirmed that elevator passengers, in particular in the presence of fellow passengers, try to reduce their presence to a minimum, to mete presence. There is a kind of social contract to mutually ignore one another in a lift.
The key question for elevator passengers is, so Hirschauer suggests: Where to look? “Nothing needs as much space in an elevator as does the eye”, he confirms in his essay and describes all the different postures and positions to which we resort in an effort to avoid as far as possible coming into eye contact with fellow elevators users who we do not know. “Eye discipline”, is what Hirschauer calls this. However, because people can only to a very limited extent enter stand-by mode, and their eyes have to rest on something, they tend to look at the floor indicator as a way out of the dilemma. Usually the indicator is the only item in the cabin that can be gazed at steadily fully in line with all conventions, even if you have actually grasped the information in a fraction of a second.
Now, in the years since Stefan Hirschauer wrote his essay, a minor communications revolution has of course taken place: The Smartphone is now our omnipresent companion and, or so one might think, solves the problem of the elevator passenger. Now, by gazing at their phones, passengers can withdraw into a cocoon of privacy while at the same time exhibiting a socially completely acceptable form of behavior. However, things aren’t that simple for a variety of reasons: First and foremost, usually there’s no mobile reception in lifts. Checking emails, text messages, and social media channels is thus often not possible. Meaning the passenger simply simulates communication while in the elevator or has to work offline – for example penning a text message ready to be sent on stepping out of the cabin. Moreover, the elevator trip tends to take less than a minute – hardly much time to extricate the phone from your pocket, start an App and finish inputting. Not to forget, you can’t be sure how long the trip will take as it depends on your fellow passengers and thus the number of stops in-between.
Even since the advent of Smartphones there’s still a need in elevator cabins for an “eye-catcher” that offers something more and more interesting than the floor indicator. In light of this fact, it is quite amazing that for decades elevator cabins have not become media projection screens. Evidently, that cabins were for many years and in general felt to be unsuitable for this. Although there is the occasional waft of horrible background music in elevators. Not that such entertainment is unanimously welcomed: Hardly anywhere else, or so Hirschauer’s study clearly shows, do people so strongly desire an image or screen that they can clamp their eyes on. And more or less the same applies incidentally to the person waiting for the elevator.
Swiss elevator manufacturer Schindler has now developed a technology that makes it possible to play customized media programs inside and in front of the elevator – and adapt these at will at any time. The “Ahead DoorShow” allows you, for example, thanks to a beamer placed above the door lintel to transform the outside doors of the elevator into a projection screen. Inside the cabin, content can be played on a large wall screen, called the “Ahead AdScreen”. With the elegant “Ahead SmartMirror” version, the monitor is concealed in a wall mirror. The respective operator can choose the program for the output using a modern content management system that enables him to play or change texts, images and videos without any difficulty whatsoever.
The opportunities such systems afford range from providing specific information or guidance to advertising. What is for sure: You’ll likely grab the elevator passengers’ attention. And such information services using outside elevator doors are highly efficient, reports Jan Steeger, Head of Communication at Schindler. For example, a major hotel in Cologne succeeded in boosting sales in its restaurant by 30 percent in the space of only a month – simply by advertising the great meals using the “DoorShow”. The new technology positively cries out to be used playfully, as Steeger makes clear with another example. Liquor makers Jägermeister had product ads run on the outside doors of elevators in a hotel during the Gamescom in Cologne. “When the doors then opened, those waiting discovered inside the cabin a Jägermeister Bar where shots were being served.” Incidentally, Schindler has lots of ideas for its system over and above advertising: For example, a screen in front of the elevator doors will function as a noticeboard – telling you not only when the lift next needs maintenance but also announcing a party next door, or the number to call if you need a plumber in an emergency.
Quite new opportunities will in future arise with the connectivity afforded by intelligent elevator controls that are able to anticipate at any time what passenger volume there is and what the preferred destination floors are, for example in high-rises. Then, info will be screened inside the elevator cabin that will at that point in time be of great interest to most of the passengers. Examples could be the schedule of the congress just taking place, or the lunch specials at the restaurant next door, and, in an emergency, the fastest escape route. By connecting two existing technologies it will in future be possible to offer suitable content for a target group that can be predicted with great accuracy.
So will elevator users welcome these new offerings? In his article, Stefan Hirschauer came to the conclusion that positive "interruptions" (e.g., in the form of kids or dogs) are expressly desired because they prompt communication among strangers, too. Everyone then has the chance to break out of what Hirschauer calls “treating one another mutually as not being there”. And anyone who prefers being left to themselves in elevators will surely appreciate a more exciting program than watching the floor indicator change.