24 June 2011
Out-of-home (OOH) is in danger of stagnation. Rigid packages, lack of accountability, over-saturation and a lack of format innovation are just a few of the ailments attributing to the demise of the platform and its going to take more than digital sites to bring it back to life.
Outdoor’s overall share of adspend has been constant over the past five years at 6.5%, according to ZenithOptimedia. To kick-start much needed growth in the platform, major OOH players now need to convince brands of the media’s longterm relevance.
“Clutter has been an issue, especially in urban areas,” says Mindshare head of client leadership Nick Ashley. “Some sites were shabby,” agrees Clear Channel International sales and marketing director Pru Parkinson. “Attention and budgets were diverted away from a media that clients thought they understood to focus on online. That loss of attention made OOH media get its act together.”
The response has been gradual. Outdoor companies such as JCDecaux have been taking a ‘less is more’ approach in developed markets. Between 1998 and 2010 the number of 48-sheets it managed in the UK decreased from 31,509 to 20,771 (with 3,376 96-sheets dropping to 2,715).
“Media owners have understood that money will not come to them if the product does not move with the times,” notes James Davies, director of Posterscope’s digital division Hyperspace. “An OOH site on a busy road remains a very powerful opportunity to communicate. Media owners are keen to improve the overall quality of their inventory with digital screens and premium quality backlit sites. These are refinements and not an indicator of massive oversupply.”
The reduction in traditional sites has paved the way for investment in modernised public spaces, notably railway and airport termini and shopping malls. “Media owners have not shirked investment,” says Kinetic global director of marketing & insight Nick Mawditt. “There’s been an increase in street furniture across Europe, while billboard quality is increasing. We’ve also seen digital and banner growth.”
However, the cost of digital transition remains an impediment. “You can’t pretend price is not an issue,” says Parkinson. “Prices are dropping but, equally, we have to renew sites on a constant basis.” Davies agrees:
“Clearly there is a significant cost to a media owner upgrading to digital sites and they need to be intelligent in determining their locations. But on the flip side they can generally sell it many different ways and make it a richer experience with real-time data feeds and branded content.”
However, OOH is yet to solve the issue of accountability and ‘banner blindness’. OOH media owners state a worldwide population on the move as an indicator of the growing power of OOH, but consumers are perhaps becoming desensitised to advertising.
Eva Ivers, managing director of opticians Allain Afflelou in Spain, believes that the utility of the medium is growing – as seen in the UK with Barclays’ sponsorship of the bike hire scheme. “Point-of-sale is the moment of truth for any brand. As a franchise operation, OOH is a tool that we look at. All activity needs to facilitate entry into a shop and OOH needs to prove it does that. We have engaged people outside of hospitals which have led them directly to outlets.”
BUILDING BRAND PRESENCE
Digital is offering OOH something it never had before – numbers to back up the talk. Kinetic references its own face-tracking studies, while Mindshare’s Ashley points to a study affirming outdoor’s effectiveness at building brand presence, which Mindshare conducted with trade body The Outdoor Media Centre.
The critical penetration of smartphones is being credited with reinvigorating DOOH by providing the link between personal media and once passive poster sites. “The explosion of mobile means people can now do a lot in the OOH space,” says Posterscope group insight director David Gordon. “Arguably, the most important channels going forward are social media by mobile, search by mobile and location-based applications.”
From providing new low-cost connectivity options and enabling interactive feedback and UGC campaigns, to location-based services, the mobile phone is fast becoming DOOH’s favourite accessory.
“Advertisers are increasingly using DOOH in ways more akin to online with live, tactical data driven campaigns and we are beginning to see creative executions linking with social media and integrating UGC,” says Neil Morris,
founder of the digital production company Grand Visual.
Posterscope points to its work for 20th Century Fox’s X-Men First Class as the first UK instance of a near field communication (NFC)-enabled campaign. With Nokia, O2, Proxama and JCDecaux, five London bus shelter sites have been programmed with NFC chips to play the film’s trailer to any NFC handset held up to it. “It’s instant and scaleable,” says Davies. “The second phase is to open up transactional possibilities by turning your phone into a mobile wallet through interaction with outdoor media.”
“Think how much further we can extend this with data capture and targeting,” Parkinson says. Touchscreens, augmented reality, or embedded facetracking software linking ads to different moods are however “creative tactics for creative teams to go wild with” and not the reason for using digital. “The challenge is to be relevant,” Parkinson argues. “Augment public spaces with pinpoint targeting and I don’t see how it can fail to become a core part of any plan.”
When agency and client attention was diverted online, out-of-home media owners failed to innovate.
The scrapping of sites and improvements of others – with digital elements – is seeing the medium start to make some justifiable noise again. But if it is ever going to steal significant share from competing media it must become even more accountable, integrated and relevant.