If you’ve read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, the “singularity” describes a theoretical moment in the collapse of a giant star, somewhere between the event horizon and spaghettification where matter becomes infinitely dense. According to futurists like Ray Kurzweil, the technological singularity will be realized the moment artificial intelligence evolves so quickly and so massively that the world will begin to evade human understanding. But for our purposes, the singularity could be a moment where two phenomena collide in such a way as to create a new category with infinite possibilities. The impending moment when out of home media merges with the online world will signify an “out of home singularity,” and a new category of the internet may be born.
The indicators have been here for some time: the growing proliferation of IP-enabled digital displays in public space, the increasing focus on utility and content from OOH media owners and the inevitable entrance of programmatic into the medium, to name a few. As has been well-documented, digitally-native brands like Spotify, Facebook and Google are increasingly looking to the OOH medium to promote their services. Spotify, for example, executed artist takeovers of out-of-home assets, helping spread word of new releases at the street level.
Consumers are participating, too. They crave deeper physical connections with what were previously exclusively digital experiences. For example, according to a study by JWT, more than a quarter of voice-assistant users have sexually fantasized about their voice assistant.
On the one hand, mediums that you can hear or physically touch are on the rise. Book sales have rebounded and are now larger than they were before the release of Kindle. Vinyl record sales are the highest they have been in years, as are podcasts, the reboots of radio. Meanwhile, digital experiences are becoming more transportable, and people are responding. More than half of all video consumption in 2018 has occurred on mobile devices. These two developments indicate a merging of worlds: the digital and the physical.
OOH is well-situated as a staging post for this coming together of two worlds. The Advertising Association/Warc Expenditure Report predicts a 40 percent growth in digital OOH inventory before 2020, which suggests that users will grow increasingly accustomed to this change. The proliferation of digital displays on city streets will also allow for dramatic advertising moments, where homepage takeovers will become hometown takeovers. As a complement to this, mobile integration will grow to capitalize on convertibility. According to IAB, consumers are 48 percent more likely to click on a mobile ad after being exposed to the same ad via OOH first. Add in the fact that higher-resolution displays are appearing in city centers, and it is clear that OOH media will only get more immersive and ubiquitous.
Brands should take full advantage of the un-thumbable, un-battery-drainable nature of the physical world paired with the dynamic, interactive nature of digital media. In the OOH singularity, streaming services can offer early access to unreleased music through digital displays near concert venues. Travel brands can highlight beach vacations when local weather turns sour. Autonomous vehicles will communicate with already-connected urban landscapes to manage traffic control and mass transit systems with new forms of advertising. Content sponsorships can leave the landing page and enter the public plaza, creating a bond between brand and city and evading the all-too-quick skip. Finally, advertisers can reach the right audiences at the right moments, regardless of screen or format, to create true omnichannel experiences.
Like its cosmic and AI namesakes, the OOH singularity is still theoretical but feels nearer each day. Of course, we won’t know what exactly is going to happen until it happens. But one thing’s for sure: The ability for advertisers to integrate themselves into physical experiences will explode with new opportunities.