Strange Things are Afoot at the Circle K.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Coke sign goes interactive
Huge new London billboard reacts to the weather and onlookers on the ground. Text messaging is next.

September 30, 2003: 9:50 AM EDT

LONDON Reuters) - Coca-Cola unveiled one of the world's biggest and most sophisticated billboards Tuesday -- a 99-foot-wide neon colossus that can respond to the weather and interact with people looking at it from the ground.

The billboard was switched on in Piccadilly Circus in the heart of London at dawn Tuesday, lighting up with the message "Hello London" in the company's trademark red and white.

It's the biggest billboard in Britain and the widest in the world, beating even the monster Coca-Cola sign that reigns over Tokyo's Ginza shopping district, and is three times bigger than the previous Coke sign on the same site.

"This is an intelligent sign, with state-of-the-art computer technology, built-in cameras and an on-board heat sensitive weather station," Coca-Cola Co. said.

The sign can respond to weather and movement.

"When it's raining, big drops will appear on the screen and when it's breezy, the Coke sign can ripple as if it's being blown by the wind," a Coke spokeswoman said.

It also will be able to recognize if people are waving at it from the ground below and, eventually, will be able to respond to text messages from mobile phones, she said.

Coca-Cola has had a billboard at Piccadilly Circus, the advertising heart of London, since 1954.

The lights in the circus have been switched off only five times since then, including in 1974 when a miners' strike triggered electricity shortages and in 1997 for the funeral of Princess Diana.