SOUTH PORTLAND – Andrea Colon of Scarborough likes to take a few minutes regularly to catch up on the latest in news and sports.

“I’m playing music in the car, so I’m kind of sheltered from the world (while driving),” Colon said while pumping gas Wednesday at the Irving station on Western Avenue. “I liked it when they had on football the other night.”

Colon wasn’t referring to watching television. She caught the preseason football highlights while filling up at the Irving station.

The oil company has installed video screens on pumps at three stations in Maine — in South Portland, Wells and Eliot – and three in New Hampshire.

It’s airing what it calls “IRVision,” a mix of pitches for the company’s Circle K convenience stores, weather forecasts, short snippets of news and sports, lists of community events, and ads for Irving, including one in which a marine biologist extols the company for not running over endangered right whales with its tankers.

Irving dipped its toes into the new marketing effort last fall, installing screens at a station in Portsmouth, N.H. The other two stations in New Hampshire and the three in Maine got video screens, quietly, this summer.

Irving is now “exploring options” for expanding the program — corporate-speak for waiting to see the response before going further.

Irving officials say it’s a way to keep customers happy.

“We know that people stand there and they feel captive,” said Cheryl Eveleigh, Irving’s manager of innovation and offer development. “They’re tethered to that pump for four or five minutes and … if we can make people walk away with a smile, feeling good about their day, that’s a good thing for Irving.”

Eveleigh said IRVision’s features run in a loop that’s only a little longer than the average fill-up time.

That should reassure Charlie McGee of Gorham, who didn’t pay attention to the video screen as he filled up. He has no problem with the expanded marketing — if it doesn’t affect him.

“Just as long as it doesn’t slow things down,” McGee said. “If someone stands there watching TV for 10 minutes, it’s going to slow things down.”

Irving will use the touch screens’ capabilities to survey customers next week on how they like, or don’t like, the video offerings, Eveleigh said.

Early returns from Portsmouth were encouraging, said Eveleigh, who wouldn’t say how much the touch screens cost.

She said the current offerings are a little stripped down, while Irving gears up for the survey. Even though IRVision is billed as “interactive,” the only feature that required using the touch screen on Wednesday was a mute button.

Melissa Walker of Buxton was quick to use that feature when she pulled up to the pump, drawn to the station not for the video offerings but for the $3.79-a-gallon price, a few cents below other stations around the Maine Mall.

“It’s kind of interesting, but it’s like, shut up,” Walker said of the videos. “If anybody has (attention deficit disorder), they’d shoot that thing.”

It’s not surprising that Irving is targeting people while they fill up, said Harold Daniel, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Maine.

“They’ve got a captive audience,” he said, noting that marketing professionals see virtually any space occupied by a consumer as an opportunity.

“What’s coming is going to be absolutely ubiquitous,” he said. “Imagine having a video screen in the men’s room.”

“It’s all about trying to capture people when they’re in some point-of-sale activity,” said Paul Myer, executive in residence in the UMaine business school’s marketing department. “If you’re there for two or three minutes, it’s a point of contact with the consumer.”

Just having a video screen where consumers don’t expect to see one is likely to capture attention, Myer said.

“You’ve got to hand it to them for creativity, and just curiosity alone can be an important factor for consumers,” he said. “The consumer will tell them whether or not this is worth doing.”

For Sue LaPierre of Freeport, the answer appears to be “not so much.”

She barely noticed the video screen, which was muted, when she got out of her car. She was more intent on getting gas than being informed and entertained.

“I probably won’t even look at it,” she said of Irving’s attempt to connect with her as a valued consumer. “I like to get my gas and get on the road and go. I think I can tune it out.”

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com