An overlooked marketing channel becomes more interactive and accessible. Brands are learning to programme their OOH ads to achieve a variety of goals.
Just ask anyone — consumers worldwide are experiencing digital fatigue from so much screen time during the pandemic. That opens up a new opportunity for out-of-home (OOH) advertising, particularly as lockdowns draw to a close.
Out-of-home advertising includes any visual advertising media found outside of the home. It’s a fragmented landscape, with many campaigns lacking creativity, say experts. But a meaningful adoption of technology, digital improvements and standardised metrics might give the format new momentum. Nearly half (45 per cent) of 1,000 US adults surveyed in January 2021 by the Out of Home Advertising Association of America (OAAA) and The Harris Poll say they are noticing OOH advertising more than before the pandemic began. This heightened awareness is particularly prevalent among those aged 18 to 54 as well as consumers in large cities: 55 per cent of adults in cities with populations greater than one million say they notice OOH messaging, compared to 41 per cent of the general population.
Fashion brands big and small are responding. Priya Ahluwalia, designer of a London-based menswear brand that won a Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design in February, started advertising via billboards and posters around London this week. The designer has teamed up with creative street advertising specialist BuildHollywood, which has clients including Alexander McQueen, Givenchy and Diesel, for an OOH campaign featured in 17 locations across the UK, from London to Manchester. Other emerging designers like Nicholas Daley and Martine Rose have also taken to the streets to advertise during the pandemic.
OOH advertising plummeted during the early stages of the pandemic. OOH ad businesses in the US saw a decrease of 25 to 30 per cent, with spending from fashion specifically down 45 per cent, according to Kantar Media. Now, a rebound is predicted. In the US, Magna expects OOH ad spend to increase by 11.3 per cent in 2021, after a decline of 24.2 per cent in 2020. Similarly, Zenith forecasts that global OOH ad spend will reach $9.1 billion in 2021, a year-over-year increase of 11.1 per cent.
“We’re seeing a 573 per cent increase in commitments from fashion brands and retailers this January and February 2021 compared to the same time last year,” says Chris Gadek, vice president of growth at AdQuick, which sources OOH ad options for Drake’s OVO fashion brand, M.M.LaFleur and The Kooples. He cites three leading apparel retailers in the US gearing up for “massive” OOH campaigns in May (the names remain confidential).
Not your grandparents’ billboards
Marketers have had to adapt to consumers’ altered schedules, says Anna Bager, chief executive and president of the OAAA. “Eyeballs have shifted from very metropolitan places like Piccadilly Circus in London or Times Square in New York, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not outside; they’re just now somewhere else.”
OOH ad locations in cinemas, shopping malls and in airports were hardest hit during the pandemic. Roadside OOH ads have been steady, as have street-level OOH ads at bus stops and kiosks, Bager says.
Many Americans have migrated in recent months to smaller cities or the suburbs, says Gadek. “We started seeing apparel companies go into US locations that aren’t New York, LA or San Francisco and take advantage of these low CPMs.” Now is a good time to jump in: the average price of OOH ad spaces across the US is down 23 per cent compared to pre-pandemic, he says.
OOH advertising still has clout: the channel informed more than 25 per cent of US adults of a new brand this past year, while in larger metropolitan areas, 34 per cent said it influenced their purchasing decisions, according to the OAAA and The Harris Poll. “OOH is one of the oldest yet most trusted media channels because there’s this feeling that you can’t tell lies in public. There’s something about being outside and making a statement,” says Rajvi Kantaria, director of marketing at JCDecaux UK, which has clients such as Prada, Valentino and The North Face.
Historically, OOH ads would prompt consumers to visit a brand’s shop, but that mentality has changed, says Khaly Nguyen, head of marketing at Jack Agency, the division of BuildHollywood that works with fashion brands. During the pandemic, Carhartt used OOH ads to promote online channels. Other brands put an emphasis on their values, such as Coach’s “Dear London” campaign with its messages of positivity and encouragement. “It wasn’t product focused and it was positively received by our audiences and theirs,” says Nguyen. The campaign was later recreated in New York.
New types of partnerships are making OOH more accessible to a wider spectrum of brands. JCDecaux has offered more flexible conditions, shorter leases and easier cancellation policies. BuildHollywood launched a new fashion-focused programme, called Your Space Or Mine, sponsoring spaces for emerging brands (in London, Daley and Ahluwalia were the first two recipients of this project). “I was really fortunate because it can be hard to get real estate,” says Ahluwalia. “It’s not something I would have been able to do.”
Dynamic, digital campaigns
Out-of-home ads have come a long way from the days when rock bands would plaster fly posters ahead of a gig. Today’s outdoor campaigns come in a variety of forms, including posters, billboards and murals. Digital innovation and a wider adoption of contactless technology have made the format more agile.
QR codes are popular, enabling a more interactive conversation and driving viewers to e-commerce, says Bager. Since the pandemic began, 31 per cent of US adults have used QR codes more and 19 per cent used augmented reality more. More than four in 10 people are also interested in deals available through contactless tech, with 45 per cent willing to use tap-to-pay transactions and 41 per cent willing to scan QR codes, the OAAA and The Harris Poll found.
OOH ads offer a significant upside for marketers as small screens grow even more cluttered: 75 per cent of respondents said they were paying less attention to online ads due to digital device burnout. The interlinkage between OOH and online ads is also being explored. AdQuick’s large retail clients are adopting programmatic ads, which allow them to buy real-time prices of inventory that can be turned on or off at any time. “Brands can now effectively measure when someone gets exposed to a billboard and then subsequently downloads an app or performs an action within a mobile application. You can see downstream conversions after someone has been exposed to the ad,” says Gadek. A study conducted by JCDecaux with Facebook found that brands that combine OOH marketing with their Facebook ads saw a 13 per cent uplift in their digital campaigns.
The digital connection can happen organically, points out Nguyen. “Sometimes you don’t even need that many billboards but if the artwork is striking or the space is used in the right way, people will take photos or videos and share it on social media and that can really amplify your campaign.”
Creative execution is paramount, says Bager. “Think about the freedom you have and how to make the most of it, especially as the ad is unlikely to be surrounded by other media. Maybe you have one really expensive location but if you execute it well, it can get many shares on social media and you could go viral very quickly, which will get you a lot of bang for your buck.”
Clarity of message is crucial, says Nguyen. OOH ads are often just a single image, video or strapline, requiring a direct approach that instantly engages. “You need to think about the area that you’re in and how the local community is going to receive this message,” she adds. Designer Nicholas Daley says billboard campaigns are an opportunity to showcase his work “in a different light rather than just the fashion format... [and] to highlight the three areas of my work which I really stand by, which is community, craftsmanship and culture”.
“Out is ‘in’ this year,” concludes John Gerzema, chief executive of The Harris Poll. “People are eager to make up for lost time. They’re looking to get back out into the world with a vengeance [and] this makes out-of-home advertising an especially smart buy right now. Brands should meet consumers where they are, which will be anywhere but at home on Zoom.”
Source: Vogue Business