Digital signage helping Jersey mega-mall become tourist destination

American Dream, New Jersey’s 3-million-square-foot mega mall that houses a ski slope, waterpark, aquarium, several stores and a theme park, is building a large digital signage network to bring even more people through its doors.

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American Dream, New Jersey’s 3-million-square-foot mega mall that houses a ski slope, waterpark, aquarium, stores and a theme park, is building a large digital signage network to bring even more people through its doors.

Although COVID-19 shut down the mall in East Rutherford for several months last year, it reopened in October 2020, greeting visitors with vivid, colorful outdoor digital signage deployed by SNA Displays, a digital display manufacturer based in New York City.

Several Empire Exterior LED screens outside the mall now promote such attractions as Sea Life Aquarium, Lego Land Discovery Center and Big Snow indoor skiing and snowboarding park, said Bob Johns, founder and president of Boldsite Media, a New York City-based destination media company working on the project with SNA, along with Infuse Digital, also based in New York, which is managing the project’s design and development, support and maintenance, along with other aspects.

“When we’ve been bringing clients there as we’ve been launching this through the past year and a half — through a pandemic — and trying to do it through visuals and narratives, what we’ve been trying to do now as people start leaving their homes and leaving (New York City), we’re trying to get clients to take a half a day and come visit the property,” Johns said in an interview with Digital Signage Today. “Those who have gone with me are just overwhelmed by it, not just from the project itself, but from what Infuse has brought to the project. Not just from a media standpoint, but what it delivers from a consumer-engagement opportunity and an immersive experience.”

Since Triple Five Worldwide, which owns Mall of America, purchased the mall in 2011, it’s expanded several attractions and offerings, opening the updated facility in two phases beginning in October and December of 2019. The remaining stages started opening Oct. 1, 2020.

Brian Williamson, director of business development of Infuse Digital, which has led the mall’s digital signage transformation since 2016, said 200 displays are keeping customers engaged inside as well as outside.

“It’s really hard to gauge the scale and the massiveness of this digital signage project on paper and even photos don’t really do it justice,” said Williamson, who wouldn’t disclose the total cost of the signage project, saying it was ongoing.

Some of the outdoor LED displays feature a ground-level 6.67 mm pixel pitch screen and a 12 mm corner wrap sign facing heavy traffic near the intersection of Route 3 and Route 120.

“How the physical position is in certain angles to face consumer traffic, to face pedestrian flow and it’s not only the pedestrian level, kiosks and wall-mounted LCDs, but we also have large bulkhead signage that sits between the concourse levels as well,” Johns said. “The network we have right now, the Universe Network, is a collection of 138 digital faces. That’s more than some networks across five or six different malls. It’s 120 LCD faces layered on top of large format LED bulkheads.”

Creating a destination
Similar to Mall of America, American Dream aims to become a tourist destination for travelers across the U.S., but has targeted consumers in the Tri-State region in recent years. New York City residents can leave the hustle-and-bustle of the Big Apple and escape for a weekend getaway that’s only about 45 minutes from the heart of the city.

“When I was approached by Infuse to work on this, we didn’t want to approach it like a traditional mall, because it’s not,” Johns said. “We don’t even use the word ‘mall’ when we describe American Dream, it’s a destination.”

The mall’s strategic location, just off the New Jersey Turnpike and across the street from Metlife Stadium, the 82,500-seat home to two NFL franchises, provides excellent exposure for the outdoor displays, according to Johns, who said about 60% of American Dream’s five floors contain entertainment attractions.

“When tourism picks up, it will be a destination where international tourists will come and say, ‘OK, we’re going to spend a day, two days at American Dream,” he said. “‘Yes, we can do Broadway and see the Empire State Building or go to a Yankees game,’ but part of their stop is going to be this massive experience known as American Dream.”

American Dream organizers have coined the term “daycation,” when describing the shopping/entertainment experience.

“You can go skiing in the morning, and you can go to the waterpark in the afternoon, and you’ve never left the property,” Johns said.

The mall’s size inspired the need for wayfinding kiosks to help customers navigate through the massive venue.

Going behind the screens
The ground-level screen, known as the Grand Staircase because of the steps that cut through its two sections, sits between parking decks B/C and D. Combined, the two sections are approximately 12 feet tall by 107 feet long, comparable to the size of two and a half highway billboards end to end, and include 2.7 million pixels.

The 90-degree corner wrap display is near the mall’s Court A entrance leading to attractions like Big Snow, SEA LIFE Aquarium, and the Lego Land Discovery Center. The west-facing side of the display on Route 120 faces MetLife Stadium, while the south face of the display faces Route 3.

The display is about 24 feet high by 165 feet wide for a total of 4,200 square feet and 2.5 million pixels.

Williamson said point-to-point fiber controls all digital content, allowing content changes to occur within seconds on one or all of the displays either inside or outside the complex.

“We invested into miles and miles of fiber optic cable connecting these digital signs to one another,” Williamson said. “What it also allows us to do is seamlessly integrate touchscreen features without any resistance of lag time. All the digital kiosks inside are touchscreen enabled. They were off for a while during COVID, but we’re getting them back in use now.”