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Out-of-Home (OOH) Media is Going Digital: What That Means for Consumers and Advertisers

17 Min Read

Have you ever seen digital content on a mini TV screen at a gas station? What about on a digital directory at a mall, or a digital billboard on the side of a bus? These are all examples of digital out-of-home (DOOH) media, and they’re taking over the advertising industry with new innovations seemingly every day.

We spoke with several industry experts for their takes on where digital out-of-home is moving, and what that will mean for consumers and advertisers who interact with the concept in the coming years. Let’s get started!

What is OOH media?

First, we’ll take a step back—what is out-of-home (OOH) media in the first place? OOH media, sometimes also referred to as outdoor media, is any advertising that reaches consumers when they’re outside of their homes. It’s designed to grab the attention of people who are on the go or waiting in high dwell-time locations (think waiting rooms, airport terminals, or subway platforms).  

OOH media used to be relatively limited to concepts like billboards and other print ads, but the footprint of outdoor advertising is growing every day with new inventory for advertisers to occupy. Today, it includes dynamic content on digital screens in typical billboard locations, bus stops, gas stations, airports, mall kiosks, subway platforms, and even the sides of buses or cars. Essentially, anywhere consumers can interact with branded content in public, OOH media opportunities exist.  

What is DOOH media, and how is it different from traditional OOH?

So, how is DOOH different? The “digital” element of digital out-of-home is critical. As video content is gaining traction in the marketing strategies of brands across the globe (and for good reason), DOOH makes it possible to pair the ever-present nature of OOH media with the dynamic, potentially interactive nature of video. 

For advertisers, it’s a match made in heaven. Consumers who are spending time in outdoor spaces often have no choice but to view the content that’s presented to them. There’s no fast-forward button or “close ad” option on billboards, so OOH media is fully viewable. Then, add to that the attention-grabbing capabilities of content that isn’t static, and you have a recipe for success in the form of ultra-high engagement. 

Statista forecasts that DOOH spend will jump from $6.7 billion in 2019 to $15.9 billion in 2027, so being aware of industry growth and innovations will be increasingly important. 

How does OOH media work for advertisers?

Digitally-enabled OOH media uses location-based data to understand the audiences that are within view of the ad. Anytime consumers download an app that asks for location data, for example, those who opt-in are agreeing to share their location information with data providers. Then, advertisers can use that data to understand the traffic patterns of those consumers and where they’re spending time. 

This is also how viewership for OOH ads is measured, although there’s no guarantee that someone within a certain location actually viewed the ad in question. This location data can then be used to assess the effectiveness of the ad, especially if your end goal is to drive traffic to a certain location like a storefront. 

Ad-tech companies also have the capability to correlate this location data with online audiences using mobile IDs that can be converted into IP addresses. Retargeting consumers is also an option, as geofencing allows advertisers to target people within a specific radius and serve them additional ad content. 

Where is the OOH industry moving?

Several companies are at the forefront of OOH innovation, especially when it comes to taking advantage of newer DOOH features. 

Barry Frey, President and CEO of DPAA, sheds some light on the ways digital is taking over OOH:

“There will be a time and place for all advertising, yet as digital advertising has supercharged the whole ad industry, it will do the same for OOH. Consumers and advertisers have always and will always lean towards video when available. That is why our annual conference is entitled ‘The DPAA Video Everywhere Summit.’ Video is now everywhere, including outside the home.”

Industry sources, however, are careful to point out that the LA and NY markets are vastly different than the rest of the country in terms of what’s taking place with DOOH advertising. The sheer number of consumers and the congestion in outdoor spaces make these two locales the poster children for what DOOH media is capable of. 

As such, many of the examples of innovation that we share in this article reflect the LA and NY markets. It’s unlikely that the same level of innovation will be immediately executed in mass elsewhere, simply because the potential payoff is less extreme in places with lower populations and less emphasis on digital creative. 

However, DOOH isn’t restricted to the large-scale, highly-populated outdoor areas that might come to mind in places like LA and NY. It still operates and thrives in markets across the country on screens like those found in gyms, rideshare vehicles, restaurants, or other day-to-day locations.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the newer features that DOOH makes possible.

Rotating Ads in the Same Space

One key feature of DOOH as compared to OOH is that the same physical space can now house more than one ad at a time because the screens can rotate through multiple options. The implication here is that the supply for advertisers increases without requiring additional investment in infrastructure, so revenue increases. 

This is also important as many locales have regulations on the creation of new assets. For example, some cities require that traditional billboards be taken down before new digital billboards can be put up. The benefit of this exchange is that the new digital billboard can accommodate multiple advertisers as opposed to just one, so the net result is positive. 

Programmatic DOOH

Programmatic DOOH is the concept that enables media buyers to develop a set of criteria for the intended audience of a given ad, such as time of day or weather conditions, for example. When those criteria are met, the purchase transaction is executed automatically and the ad is displayed on screen. 

Frey gives his take on the significance of this capability, stating:

“Out-of-home growth is definitely changing and accelerating. With its digital transformation and advertiser expenditures increasing, we are experiencing a paradigm shift forward. Where consumers and advertisers were once interacting with an out-of-home ad that stayed on a billboard or building for a month or longer, now digital ads are changing by the time, temperature, audience, relevance, and other factors.”

PwC found that the most significant challenge in this area is education, so organizations that take time to understand the programmatic environment and how it affects their business models will have a leg up over the competition in the near future. 

Light Installations Surrounding Billboards

WOW Media is leading the way in outdoor advertising technology with light installations to supplement four of its digital billboards. The company released the new tech in December of 2019 along the 405 freeway in Los Angeles. The press release announcing the project shares the following information about the strategy behind the decision:

“The four bulletins can be synced to the creative on the boards themselves, creating an outdoor visual experience previously unseen in the outdoor advertising industry. The lights can work in conjunction with each individual ad, displaying primary colors to compliment the art direction of the ads themselves.”

This sync can be seen in the photo below, illustrating how the lighting features can amplify the existing creative. 

ooh media

Beyond just the visual appeal of the coordination, there are regulatory benefits to the lighted frames. By law, billboards visible from the freeway have limitations on size (1200 square feet), but the light installations aren’t included in the size of the billboard itself. The result is an ad that appears much bigger than the billboard actually is, drawing even more attention.

Full-Motion Digital Billboards

Another innovation in place by WOW Media is full-motion digital billboards, with the company owning ten 14’ x 48’ full-motion equipped bulletins located on busy transit routes on the way to LAX airport and the Forum (an LA entertainment venue). These, too, are changing the possibilities that exist for digital content creation in outdoor spaces, as you can see in the video below.

Source: WOW Media

The film industry is the most obvious benefactor from the full-motion concept, as studios already have tailored, dynamic content at the ready for these types of environments. However, there are really no limitations as to who can take advantage of the full-motion shift. Brands and agencies are embracing the concept and creating campaigns specifically for full-motion DOOH, so the film industry is not the only type of business with an opportunity here.

Scott Krantz, Founder and CEO of WOW Media, Inc., has the following to say about the full-motion development: 

“We believe full-motion DOOH is the future.  Network television is declining, web advertising impressions are questionable, newspapers are dinosaurs and more and more advertisers are shifting dollars to DOOH, especially full motion. The world is not static so it only makes sense that full motion is the next frontier.”

Synchronizing Across Spaces

The presence of multiple digital screens in a given environment also makes it possible to synchronize the creative for an amplified effect. The video below shows an example of that concept from JCDecaux for the DePaul University basketball program. The campaign uses four consecutive screens along a sidewalk, and the basketball seems to smash through each of the screens in succession before being caught by a hand on the final slot. The combined impact is attention-grabbing, immersive, and tells a cohesive story, all because the creative is in sync across the various screens. 

Source: JCDecaux

This concept is almost certainly going to dominate the future of DOOH advertising, especially as the coordination between the different screens can be fully customized for the exact location and audience experience that’s taking place. 

What does this mean for advertisers?

Advertisers, for their part, are “students of the new environment,” as Rick Robinson, Chief Strategy Officer for outdoor advertising agency Billups, puts it. They’re having to take notice of what opportunities exist, what’s working and what isn’t working for their brands and others, and what that might mean for the next iteration of creative.

One thing they’re surely learning is that they can’t just take creative that was meant for mobile or online or TV and put it in the DOOH landscape. The tailoring of creative to the unique space and the consumers that will interact with it is critical, as is understanding the specs and best practices of digital billboards compared to other channels. Companies that attempt to take a one-size-fits-all approach with their DOOH media are likely to find that their efforts don’t pay off in the end. 

What does this mean for consumers?

Consumers are benefitting tremendously from the fact that OOH messaging isn’t exclusively commercial anymore. The digital screens can be used for utility purposes, such as sharing weather alerts on outdoor billboards or the arrival times of the next trains on a transit platform. 

“We’re teaching people the possibilities of these screens,” says Robinson. “The emergence of the digital footprint is fundamentally changing the relationship between the public and out-of-home media and what it means to inhabit that space.” 

This point is central to the cultural impact of OOH media. Digital interactions that become possible with DOOH are changing the entire context of the relationship between communities and OOH spaces. The medium is becoming essential for reasons other than advertising, and people are learning to expect the non-commercial, utility-based information that the screens can provide in addition to advertising. 

Frey agrees, stating, “Municipalities all will certainly benefit as will consumers who are receiving more relevant and useful messaging, as digital screens enable the dissemination of video and other content that is useful, informative and entertaining.”

Conclusion

DOOH is shifting the advertising landscape, and many feel that it’s changing for the better. In the coming months and years, we’ll continue to see brands really experiment to understand what they’re capable of in this new space. Consumers will also reap the rewards, interacting with their surroundings in ways that are designed to inform and entertain simultaneously. Time will tell where exactly the industry will take us, but one thing is for sure: DOOH isn’t going anywhere. 

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