As Other Traditional Mediums Lag, OOH Keeps Clicking Along

Digital, social and creative provide a strong tailwind

These bus shelters scored 15 million earned impressions.
Netflix

While it may be predictable that someone in the out-of-home (OOH) industry would speak glowingly about the medium, Rick Robinson can back it up with experience. The partner and chief strategy officer for Billups has been working in the space since the mid-90s and has had a front-row seat to OOH’s substantial change.

Speaking at the Worldwide Partners Inc. global meeting in Los Angeles, his enthusiasm on the topic is evident, yet he makes a compelling case. He pondered why Netflix invested heavily in the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles to promote its films and shows. He talked about how an angry New Orleans Saints fan turned on a dime to buy boards after a botched call in the NFC championship game. He also shared how much buzz OOH is getting now … and how it’s unlikely to stop any time soon.

The numbers also tell a compelling story. Robinson pointed out that OOH inventory will increase dramatically in the next couple of years in large part due to traditional vinyl boards converting to digital.

“You take one billboard location, and it suddenly becomes eight, or 10 or 12 [boards],” said Robinson. “If we convert just 12% of our inventory, we will double our supply.”

Growth in the space is also enticing. At the moment, according to a report by Magna Intelligence, OOH is the only “traditional” medium experiencing growth. Over the past nine years, OOH revenues grew by just over 4%. By comparison, in 2018 other mediums lagged with TV declining 2.5%, radio 4.2%, magazine 15.5% and newspaper a whopping 19.8%. Pair that fact with more sophisticated ways of buying, especially programmatic, better creative, and connecting mobile technology, and it’s clear that OOH is having more than just a “moment.”

The sheer scale of exposure tells part of the story. Denise Wong, president of Los Angeles agency Midnight Oil, which specializes in entertainment, gaming and technology, pointed out that the Sunset Strip sees 200,000 impressions a week, while Time Square, with its vehicle and foot traffic, sits at about 500,000.

“If you want to reach people on a grand scale … and create something compelling, you start there,” she said. “There are a lot of things that are skipped, and people can block out messaging. But that other piece, contextual placement, targeting and working with third-party apps, for example, is when it gets really interesting.”

But Robinson also pointed out another element that signals a positive direction forward: agencies.

“We work with over 300 brands and agencies, and I have never heard anybody say ‘I don’t like out-of-home,’” he said. “They all love it. And I don’t know an art director who doesn’t love out-of-home and doesn’t want to see their work up on the streets.”

Indeed, a look at last year’s Cannes Lions outdoor winners shows a growing level of sophistication in the medium, beyond just billboards. And MullenLowe’s Mediahub activation for Netflix’s Altered Carbon, with bodies encased in plastic at bus stops, shows an increasing level of ambition as well.

To Paul DePatie, Midnight Oil’s evp, brand asset management and production operations, that development is welcomed, not only by the agency but by out-of-home vendors as well. He points out a complex project, in the form of a 3D billboard, that the agency did with Warner Bros. for Fantastic Beasts. At first, the partner said that they had never done anything like that before, DePatie said. Yet it wasn’t a roadblock but an opportunity to try something new.

“Something like that seems to stop people for a couple more seconds (to look at it),” he said. “So it’s important to push the realm of possibility and work together to make it physically possible.”

Pushing the creative limits of OOH may, however, have some boundaries. Last month, a Russian company made headlines by indicating that they would put a billboard into space and that Pepsi was exploring the possibility, though the company walked the one-time experiment back.

“Personally, I think it’s brilliant and stupid at the same time,” said Gino Sesto, CEO of Los Angeles-based Dash Two, a media buying agency that specializes in connecting traditional outdoor advertising and online campaigns. “Brilliant because it’s 7 billion people (seeing the ad), but stupid because you’re going to get all kinds of backlash.”

Though a bold execution like that could be fodder for substantial negativity, it could also create lots of social media buzz. And OOH and social media, in general, will always have a connection.

“They are a yin and yang,” he said, pointing out a Billie Ellish billboard that was among the most shared at Coachella. “They fit together. (And if the creative is good), you’re going to be on Instagram all over the place. Earned media like that is great.”

“I see a big blending in the crossover between channels,” added Wong. “There are a lot of pictures of out-of-home captured on social feeds, which is really interesting to us and gives us even more optimism about (the medium).”

While awareness is one thing, getting to the bottom of the sales funnel is on the minds of most marketers, according to Intersection chief revenue officer Michael Rosen.

“We’re now able to measure almost every kind of digital event,” he said, referencing a DraftKings OOH campaign that resulted in a 51% lift in registrations from people seeing the ads. “It’s not just about someone driving by a board, but it’s about the behavior.”

Additionally, being able to accurately measure foot traffic and actions (i.e., whether someone went into a physical location) further validates the impact that OOH can have for brands.

These elements also point out the attraction to the medium as it relates to fraud and viewability. While digital advertising continues to grapple with these issues, Rosen noted that OOH doesn’t necessarily have to contend with these problems.

“Marketers are constantly looking for fraud-free and brand-safe environments that are 100% viewable,” he said. “(OOH) is a pristine environment where customers or potential customers can be driven to action. I truly believe that we are the only medium out there that can stand by those words and put our money where our mouth is.”

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