Marketers take advantage of out-of-home as people get back outdoors

Brands have been waiting, and the tools are now in place for full-funnel OOH execution.

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OOH Times Square

You’d have to figure that a marketing channel called out-of-home would be forced to transform when the pandemic forced consumers to, well, stay home. The quarantine period, in fact, led to a nearly 30% drop in OOH spending in 2020, according to one survey. But with 2021 almost at its midpoint, the OOH industry has made significant changes to connect with homebound customers through digital channels.

“We’ve been able this past year to connect all the pipes, the DSPs and SSPs, the connected programmatic out-of-home pipes,” said Barry Frey, President and CEO of global digital out-of-home marketing association DPAA.

More nimble with programmatic

More inventory is accessible through programmatic buying, and advances in location- and identity-based attribution have made OOH more attractive to marketers who insist on data-backed strategies.

While traditional billboards and signage is still a hallmark of the channel, newer digital screens are giving marketers a platform to showcase content in video form in addition to ads, matching the varied demands of consumers to be entertained, informed and engaged, said Frey.

“In the old days, out-of-home was an ad on the side of the road,” he said. “Because of the addition of programmatic, ads can be changed according to the temperature, the weather or to fit a specific audience.”

This nimbleness puts OOH on par with other digitized channels when brands and media agencies are selecting the right mix to reach their intended audience. By connecting mobile signals with users located near an out-of-home screen, the out-of-home component can drive traffic to a store.

“It’s enabled our members to generate the opportunity that would have gone to video or mobile, because we are offering engagement up and down the marketing funnel,” said Frey.

Ecommerce capabilities

Digitally savvy marketers have out-of-home in their sights. For example, Sharma Brands, a brand consultancy focused on ecommerce and D2C strategies, often includes OOH as part of their recommended mix.

“Just from the sample size of my clients, from startups to Fortune 500 companies, there’s an increased demand in figuring out out-of-home and experiential activations,” said CEO Nik Sharma. “How do we get back out on the street, get to trial with indoor sampling and strategically take over with out-of-home, where people are looking to be outside versus inside?”

One of the ways OOH promotes consumer engagement is through a tool that’s been around for awhile, the QR code. Newer apps like Batch have arrived on the scene and made QR codes more dynamic and useful for cross-screen interaction, according to Sharma. Instead of just finding out more about Cheerios from a QR code on a cereal box, Batch provides a full customer experience for multiple brands in a single app, allowing one-click purchases and direct responses triggered by an OOH ad, or other objects with a QR code out in the world.

OOH has also been a staple for D2C brands in big cities through subway ads, which commuters look up and see when their phones are out of service, Sharma said.

“One thing about D2C sales is that the revenue event is trackable,” he explained. “The first-party data shows what’s working, what messaging is selling, who’s coming from where, because of the channel’s tracking capabilities.”

New guidelines and methodology

Because of the one-to-many nature of OOH advertising, agreeing on precise standardized measurement is a challenge. New guidelines were shared at this week’s OOH Media Conference, hosted by the Out of Home Advertising Association of America (OAAA) and the not-for-profit organization Geopath. Participants in the OOH ad supply chain can follow common measurement techniques for specific kinds of digital-enabled OOH (DOOH) inventory, including outdoor and indoor displays, from bus shelters to sports venues.

“Even before the pandemic, out-of-home was going through a digital transformation and becoming more tech-savvy,” said Anna Bager, President and CEO of the OAAA. “We’re able to attract very senior marketers who are planning on how they will work with out-of-home in the future. Being out there with bombastic, bold messaging on many different screens is not necessarily recognized by everybody.”

OOH professionals believe that their screens influence consumers more than they’re given credit for.

“Out-of-home proves itself from attribution, throughout the buying cycle and journey,” said Christina Radigan, OAAA’s chief marketing officer. “For instance, McDonald’s ads generate conversion to buy, and they’re really pleased to capture that data through mobile device IDs and matching them to the ads. We’re standardizing how we capture device IDs through a single channel, and also cross-channels.”

Radigan added that because of the proliferation of tech solutions in the space, printed outdoor boards can be transactable in a similar way to connected OOH that’s bought programmatically. “The pandemic has unleashed martech by integrating out-of-home into platforms for planning and buying.”

The OAAA also released an update to its OpenDirect platform, which offers a single shared view of premium OOH inventory that can be negotiated between buyers and publishers transparently.

Roadside creativity

For a global chain like McDonald’s, the pandemic has broken up the typical seasonality of campaigning, and the nimbleness of OOH helps them keep up with customer expectations.

“We’d gotten into the cadence of the calender,” said Morgan Flatley during a fireside at the OOH Media Conference. She’s the US Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing and Digital Customer Experience Officer for McDonald’s US.

In early 2020, the company spearheaded an effort to deliver 12 million meals to frontline workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They had our full support in the heart of the pandemic, and we wanted to acknowledge how much we care,” she said. “The pandemic broke us out of the cycle and unlocked creativity in ways we hadn’t expected.”

OOH was a critical component in the launch of the fast food company’s new Crispy Chicken sandwich in late winter.

“OOH can help deliver a personalized message because of the digital connection at the point of purchase,” Flatley said. “The way we talk about mobile now, how can out-of-home shorten the purchase cycle and drive people into restaurants?”

The scarcity of third-party data with Apple’s iOS update and Google’s phasing out of the third-party cookie also has brands looking to OOH because of its cookieless and contextual targeting. Plus, brands are aware that consumers are more sensitive about privacy issues in digital marketing.

“Everything is changing,” Flatley said. “Our mix is going to change dramatically because of customer habits that changed in the last year. How they’re interacting with brands, and willing to interact with brands, where they’re watching content, all that has changed. Out-of-home is super interesting because as people come out of their homes, there are only a handful of places where they’re engaged as a captive audience.”

One of those places is in a car, driving by a road sign. In the coming months, marketers anticipate a new appreciation for streets and locations where people haven’t been able to gather en masse for over a year. Brands will be closely woven into this experience with new OOH technology and standards.

About the author

Chris Wood
Chris Wood draws on over 15 years of reporting experience as a B2B editor and journalist. At DMN, he served as associate editor, offering original analysis on the evolving marketing tech landscape. He has interviewed leaders in tech and policy, from Canva CEO Melanie Perkins, to former Cisco CEO John Chambers, and Vivek Kundra, appointed by Barack Obama as the country's first federal CIO. He is especially interested in how new technologies, including voice and blockchain, are disrupting the marketing world as we know it. In 2019, he moderated a panel on "innovation theater" at Fintech Inn, in Vilnius. In addition to his marketing-focused reporting in industry trades like Robotics Trends, Modern Brewery Age and AdNation News, Wood has also written for KIRKUS, and contributes fiction, criticism and poetry to several leading book blogs. He studied English at Fairfield University, and was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He lives in New York.

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