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SUNSPEKER: How advertising totems can screen climate change

We live in a society where we’re constantly bombarded by advertisements. Facebook, Youtube and the sorts are flooding our phones with pop-ups.

This is not only stressful but also unsustainable!

Based on a 2020 report, the “badvertising” industry is indirectly promoting climate change.


  • Encouraging materialism, just like fast fashion

  • Shifting our attention from experiences to overconsumption

  • Pushing the sales of high-carbon goods like beef, flights, etc.

But could publicity also be good for us and for the environment?

I’ve interviewed the founder of an Italian start-up—SUNSPEKER—who ideated an ad-mirable invention: An out-of-home (OOH) advertising totem that freeze global warming.

Before delving into the details of how SUNSPEKER can drive down our environmental impact, let me give you a quick intro to the OOH advertising world and clarify some of the ads jargon.

What is OOH advertising? And why using it?

OOH advertising, a.k.a. outdoor advertising or OOH media, comprises all those promo tools you bump into when you get out of your house.

There are four types of OOH media advertising:

  1. Billboards

  2. Street furniture (e.g. bus shelters or benches)

  3. Transit (e.g. the ones you see on a bus itself or at the airport)

  4. Placed-based (e.g. cinema, stadium, etc.)

As for the last type, one of the most spectacular (yet not so eco-friendly) examples of OOH advertising is Piccadilly Circus in London, with its massive and luminous digital advertising screens. Technically speaking, in this case we would talk about digital OOH (DOOH), a new trend which will be going viral soon.

But why high-tech brands like Google or Netflix still use OOH advertising rather than focusing only on online ads?

Well, if you think about it, outdoor ads are more difficult to avoid. When you walk down a high street you haven’t got a magic remote that lets you hit on our beloved “skip ad” button.

digital advertising screens in Piccadilly Circus

What about advertising totems?

I bet the first thing coming to mind was one of those hand-carved wooden poles made by Native Americans, right?

Not quite that…

But advertising totems are much more than promotional media.

In this context, a totem is a sophisticated, smart and sustainable structure that incorporates multiple features, including an advertising screen.

The secret behind it?

A solar panel!

And not only that…

This eco-friendly smart device is provided with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors as well.

Thanks to its intelligent design, an OOH totem is:

  • An electric bike charging point

  • A data acquisition hub

  • A wi-fi hot-spot

Right. Now that you’ve got a bit of background, you’re ready to welcome my guest star…

digital totem used as electric bike charging point


Meet Fabrizio, the OOH advertising disrupter

Ciao Fabrizio, nice to e-meet you. Thanks for taking the time for this interview. I know start-up founders are always super busy!

Ciao Antonio, no problems. My pleasure.

So, first of all, what does SUNSPEKER mean? How did you come up with this name?

It’s a long story. To begin with, I wanted the solar panel to speak. I mean, to display a message. But then for copyright reasons, I couldn’t call it SUNSPEAKER. That’s why I went for SUNSPEKER in the end.

A talking solar panel… makes total sense!

Anyway, let’s go straight to it. What makes your advertising totem better than other similar systems providing clean energy for electric vehicles (EVs)?

Our design stands out because it obscures the solar panel. Though, the sticker lets the sunlight go through. This way, our solution is not only efficient and environmentally friendly, but also more aesthetic, as people don’t have the visual impact of seeing the solar panel. And there’s another advantage. As you may know, when hitting on a surface, sunlight will heat it. What usually happens is that some of the heat gets reflected by the surface. Instead, our panel will totally absorb the heat, which means it will reduce the temperature in the air.

That’s what I call a “cool” panel! No, seriously, this last point is so important to counter the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect as well.

Moving on, when exactly did the renewable light bulb went off in your head? And what inspired you?

Well, I began designing some aesthetic power banks for fashion brands. But then I figured out people don’t recharge them, which made them useless. So, I switched to a solar cell. The key challenge was how to make it look nice. I solved that problem when I bumped into a sort of drawing machine for cakes. I tested it on my photovoltaic (PV) cell and realised I could print high-definition images on it. The icing on the cake, or on the cell if you like, was that the ink was permeable to light. Starting from there, I developed what it’s become my patent.

A link between cake and totems. I didn’t see that coming!

Next. I've read your “See Beyond” graphic cover is recyclable, which is awesome for circular economy. Is that correct? If yes, what is it made of? How long does it last and how do you recycle it?

The sticker is essentially a plastic film. To be precise, it’s a mix of PVC and other fully recyclable materials. Anyway, in this case I would say reusable rather than recyclable. For instance, you run an ad campaign in Rome in January. Then, in February you remove the sticker and apply it to another totem in Milan. Doing so, we reduce waste and money as we don’t print a sticker for each city where we run the promotion. And I’ll tell you more. SUNSPEKER technology can be retrofitted to existing totems as well.

SUNSPEKER's founders

Credit to SUNSPEKER. In the picture (from right to left): Fabrizio Chiara, Alessandro Zerbetto, Franco Fenoglio.

That’s great to hear. Sounds like you’re saving us a lot of rubbish!

So, my understanding is that the IoT sensors embedded in your totem can monitor air pollutants. Are we talking about only CO2 or even other contaminants like PM and NOX?

As of today, the totem has got sensors for CO2, PM10 and PM2.5. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a certified NOX sensor compatible with our technology yet. There are also other sensors for collecting humidity, temperature, and solar radiation.

That’s a lot of data!

Another technical question for you. I know your OOH totem is ready, but you also got a DOOH device in the pipeline. Could you tell us the difference between your static and digital totem technologies?

Sure. Basically, as for the static model, you have an advertising sticker on top of a PV panel. The sticker is permeable to sunlight, so you don’t lose more efficiency when you apply it onto the solar panel. I called this first setup “See beyond”. Whereas, with the “Invisible light” totem, you create the first “all-in-one“ digital solar screen, with an innovative solar technology integrated into the digital screen.

Got it.

Final question. It’s clear that digital totems are the future of OOH advertising. When will you launch yours?

I think it will go online between 2022 to 2023.

“In bocca al lupo!” For non-Italian (SUN)SPEKERS, it just means good luck.

Crepi, grazie!

Coming soon on your city screens

By providing green energy while reducing waste and CO2 emissions, SUNSPEKER totems are displaying a green side of advertising that was never shown by our society wasteful marketing model.

With this revolutionary type of OOH advertising, Fabrizio’s start-up will obscure the ad-verse effect of climate change.

That’s why his totems’ ads are the only ones we should never skip!


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