As the weather warms and coronavirus infection rates decline in some places, out-of-home metrics firm Billups has found hard data that people are beginning to return to the streets.
The company tapped the analytics it otherwise uses to measure billboard viewership—a combination of anonymized mobile location coordinates, screen activity and other data—to show that driving traffic increased an average of 43% this month and walking increased 25% after bottoming out in early April.
All told, the pool being analyzed constituted about a tenth of the country’s population, according to Billups chief scientist Shawn Spooner.
“We were really intrigued to understand how people’s movement patterns are changing,” Spooner said. “From a scientific perspective, I was curious on, what’s the sociological changes that are taking place?”
Aside from the huge drop in outdoor activity of all kinds in April, the pandemic has also upended the value of OOH ad placements. What once was a pricy spot in a bustling commercial or business district lost value relative to local neighborhood ads, Spooner said.
“A lot of really high-end inventory stuff that’s kind of marquee isn’t really the best option—or wasn’t really the best options before the comeback,” Spooner said. “But a lot of stuff that was local—close to stores, markets, stuff like that—actually became higher value than it’s perhaps ever been before.”
Even through the lowest point, Spooner said, people were still making roughly the same number of trips they would have in normal times. The trips were just shorter and of a different nature—more walks, bike rides and grocery runs than commutes or public transit trips.
The OOH industry as a whole has been cratered by the pandemic, with 40% of placements losing their usual audiences, according to one trade group. But industry figures think the roadside billboard could see a boon as more people travel by car.
Spooner said the hardest-hit brand advertisers are only beginning to adapt to the new economics of the industry.
“A lot of restaurant brands or service brands are starting to come around now that people are starting to emerge from their homes, and they are using this kind of information to figure out what’s the most impactful placement they can have as people get back to their normal routine,” Spooner said.