Out Of Home is Finally Seeing Green Shoots Emerge Post-Lockdown

Out of home (OOH) advertising has, somewhat inevitably, been one of the channels hit hardest by lockdown. Recently released stats from the Advertising Association and WARC finds that OOH ad spend was down 70.4 percent year-on-year in Q2, by far the biggest fall for any media channel except for cinema (which saw a 100 percent fall in ad spend due to the closure of cinemas). For comparison, the next worst hit channel was online classifieds, which was down by 52.7 percent.

But the AA/WARC’s expenditure report also forecasts that OOH will fare relatively well as lockdown measures are relaxed. OOH is predicted to return to growth in Q1 next year, while every other category except cinema and online display are expected to still be down compared to the previous year.

With shops, gyms and cinemas reopening in much of the Western world, those working in OOH say they’re already seeing green shoots starting to emerge.

“Across the globe, and more specifically here in the UK, we are certainly seeing a dramatic uplift in bookings and briefs as people start getting out and about more, using public transport, shopping, socialising, using the airport and so on,” said Gavin Wilson, chief revenue officer at VIOOH, a programmatic marketplace for OOH campaigns.

Some brand categories appear to be returning to OOH quicker than others. Richard Bon, joint MD of Clear Channel UK, an OOH media owner, says that the automotive sector has seen a particular resurgence, as audiences are becoming more conscious of how they travel. George Hintzen, CEO of OOH booking platform TOAD.ai, says education and real estate sectors have show particularly interest for Q3 and Q4, as they have new online courses and inventory releasing in those periods.

But Nick Mawditt, managing partner of Talon Outdoor, a specialist OOH agency, said he’s seen brands across the board return. Major high street brands like McDonalds and Starbucks are resuming spend as they themselves are reopening. And Mawditt said he’s also seen small brands spending, seeing an opportunity to reach consumers as lockdown measures are relaxed.

Understanding the new normal

All those VAN spoke with agreed that while audiences are returning outside, their behaviour is still significantly different compared to pre-lockdown. So OOH media buying strategies must be adapted accordingly.

“While the OOH audiences are returning, they are behaving very differently now,” said Clear Channel’s Richard Bon. “This ranges from how people navigate the high street to taking summer staycations.” Bon said that Clear Channel recently launched a ‘Return Audience Hub‘, which uses mobile data to map out where audiences are returning fastest.

Talon Outdoor has also been monitoring live audiences using device data, to understand consumers’ behaviour. “We’ve certainly seen roadside inventory return to normal in recent weeks,” said Talon’s Mawditt. “And city centres are getting back to normal, a bit more slowly. But there’s still a shortfall on commuter inventory, so that’s screens in underground and rail environments. Those haven’t returned to normal, or anything near it yet.”

TOAD.ai’s George Hintzen said he’s already seeing examples of brands using this information to inform their buying strategy. “People are also more reluctant to commute into the city centre than before, and as a result, suburbs are seeing a resurgence, and we’re seeing more independent businesses looking at smaller, localised campaigns as they reopen and attract local residents,” he said.

And VIOOH’s Gavin Wilson said he believes programmatic buying can help brands navigate audiences’ changing behaviours. “The beauty of programmatic in OOH is that it’s possible to run ads only if certain criteria are met,” he said. “And now, by utilising mobile data (via demand-side platform partners), planners can determine actual audiences at screens for their campaigns, based around consumers’ new daily behaviour.”

OOH poised to capitalise

But while booking OOH campaigns might require brands to understand and adapt to current circumstances, those working in the space believe it is well poised to capitalise on the return of audiences.

Much like the TV world, OOH companies have been coming up with ways to attract spend back into the space.

“Media owners are being more lenient these days, and are offering full refunds within a certain minimum cancellation period,” said TOAD.ai’s Hintzen. “Discounted pricing and more lenient cancellation policies in OOH have been productive in increasing brands’ commitment, and an overwhelming percentage of September and October inventory has already been reserved!”

Richard Bon said Clear Channel has implemented a number of its own new initiatives to accommodate brands’ current needs. “In the UK, for example, we’ve made OOH simpler for brands to use with a four-pillar framework,” he said. “This involves offering greater digital flexibility, improved cancellation terms, audience indexed pricing and free artwork adaptation.” Meanwhile in France, Clear Channel has launched a bi-monthly mobility barometer to show advertisers how audiences are travelling differently in French urban areas, to inform their OOH planning strategies.

And globally, OOH companies are collaborating on a campaign called #OurSecondChance, the biggest ever digital out of home campaign according to industry trade group the World Out of Home Organization. Bon says this campaign will showcase the power of OOH to reach mass audiences.

Bon also believes OOH will benefit from other channels’ struggles, like the ongoing Facebook boycott. “Brands are choosing OOH as a trusted medium at a time when other media channels have been seeing greater scrutiny from advertisers,” he said.

Talon’s Mawditt meanwhile believes that OOH’s absence for the past few months gives it a unique opportunity as audiences return.

“I think as a sector, we’ve emerged with renewed confidence,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of revenue as an industry, but we’ve retained our relevance to communicate the right things at the right times, show by how governments have used OOH to convey crucial messaging.”

“And I think right now we can challenge other media channels a bit more,” he added. “Rather than being a support medium for social media or TV, brands can use OOH to reach people in a better frame of mind while they’re out of their homes, rather than being sat inside in front of a screen where they’ve been stuck for months.”

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