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Can 'Digital out of Home' find the right customers at the right time?


According to a report published in February by Allied Market Research, the global market for Digital out of home Advertising (DooH) is set to be worth $54.83 billion by the end of the decade, compared with just $18.8 billion in 2020. Outdoor advertising is part of the fabric of life - particularly in urban areas - and as traditional billboards are superseded by their digital counterparts, brands are expected to allocate more budget to increasingly interactive out of home campaigns. But what does that mean in practice? How can advertisers make the best use of existing and emerging DooH technologies?

Despite the ubiquity of the billboards that we walk and drive past every day, you could argue that out of home is something of a forgotten corner within the wider advertising universe. Certainly that's the view of Peter Bordes, CEO of out of DooH technology platform, ALFI, "Digital out of home has been a siloed outlier," he says. But that is about to change." According to research carried out by ALFI, 96 percent of advertising executives believe data from DooH is fuelling greater ad campaign creativity and enabling brands to engage with ever more defined audiences. But what does that mean in practice?

Finding the Audience
Alys Donnelly is Head of Programmatic at Kinetic, a leading UK agency helping brands to plan and execute out-of-home campaigns across a global network of static and digital billboards. As she explains, data is enabling brands to find exactly the audience they are looking for at any given time. "We use third party data to analyze how billboards perform against certain audience profiles," she says."We can understand this on an hour-by-hour basis. It's all about finding the audience." In truth, the desired audience may not be difficult to find. For instance, as Donnelly points out, out of home advertising is particularly effective at addressing a young or relatively youthful audience. "Young people tend to be out and about a lot ," she says. "So outdoor advertising is particularly good at capturing that demographic."

Homing in on Customers
However, she stresses it is also possible to address some very specific customer groups."We can find a bespoke audience by using data to apply context," says Donnelly. "For instance, if we are targeting ads for ski holidays at high value travellers. In airports, we can find that audience by linking ads to flight departure times." And importantly, advertising carried on digital billboards can respond directly to the requirements of target customers at any given time. Andrew Phipps Newman is CEO of, a production company creating content for live digital billboards. He describes a campaign for Heathrow Express, the train service that runs from London's biggest airport to Paddington station in the centre of the UK capital. As he explains, enabled a series of live billboards that greeted travellers entering Heathrow's baggage reclaim area.

"The first billboard displayed an image of Big Ben, always showing the right time. The second screen, based on a map, highlighted the time and cost savings of using Heathrow Express rather thanthe rival TFL Rail or taxis. The final screen showed the departure time of the next train." The key to making a campaign of this kind work is data - in this case a total of nine different data feeds, including flight arrival and train departure times. Some of the information was "first-party" and supplied by the client but third-party data was also brought into play. DooH campaigns have become increasingly sophisticated in their use of data. For instance, live billboards in city centres will often flash up information aboutlocal shops - not only advertising their presence and distance from the customer at that point, but also highlighting stock availability. This can be a sales driver. "You can show the stock level of a particular item. Showing a fall in the stocks of an in-demand item can drive demand," says Elliot Ward, Out of Home Lead at full service agency One Day Agency.

Getting Creative
Data is, of course, just part of the story. Digital billboards allow advertisers to be much more creative with their content. In addition to still images, video, audio, social media feeds and content that is genuinely interactive, such as games, can be brought into play. Broadly speaking, digital billboards fall into three categories. Linear ( rich content, but no live data required), Dynamic (enabled by live data feeds) and experiential. The latter has the potential to transform the consumer from apassive recipient of content into an active participant in an experience. Phipps Newman cites the example of a campaign enabled for sports drink Lucozade in which live billboards in bus shelters were used to deliver impromptufitness classes.The impact of such campaigns goes beyond the experiential moment. Going forward, they can be shared on social media or used as the basis for advertising campaigns.

Buying Options
The switch to digital has allowed brands and agencies to embrace the kind of programmatic buying that is already familiar online. Donnelly says the key for advertisers is to identify the right way to buy. "You can buy ahead of time. But you can also buy programmatically. That will give you the ability to change course mid-flight in a campaign." Elliot Ward says advertising can, thus, be bought in response to events that directly affect the buying intentions of the consumer."You can change your ad according to the weather or the time of day," he says. This could mean a shop advertising different food options when the weather is hot or cold.

A Coming Revolution
Arguably though, all this falls short of the kind of targeting that we see online, where ads follow the customer from website to website and from device to device, withtargeting based on previous behaviour and transactions.

Peter Bordes sees a future where out of home targeting will be based on real-time profiling. ALFI has been installing its technology in the baggage reclaim area of Baltimore International Airport (BWI). A combination of face recognition, video and A.I. enables the system to identify individuals as they stand in front of the screens. Ads and information are servedbased on an analysis of who they are, their mood and what they are doing. The technology not only allows ads to be targeted, it also provides a means to measure reaction once content has been served. Bordes says this creates an ad serving ecosystem that genuinely operates in real time. "Our aim is to evolve the entire industry," he says.

It has to be said, that as things stand, measurement remains something of a challenge for the digital out of home industry. Regardless of how rich the content is, in the majority of cases, there is no backchannel. Unlike an online banner, consumers see the content and walk on by. It may havean impact, it may not. Donnelly acknowledges measurement can be difficult but stresses it is very far from impossible. "One of the metrics you can look at is sales uplift," she says. "You can also conduct a footfall analysis."

She cites the example of a campaign advertising sunscreen when UV levels were high. The subsequent analysis showedan uplift in footfall to nearby stores when the ads were run. Similarly, Phipps Newman says Heathrow Express recorded a £2.5 million increase in sales over 18 months due to the live billboard campaign. Interactivity also provides measurement options. Ads can encourage consumers to pull up additional content on their phones using QR codes. Unlocking creativity does require buy-in from the media owners and may hold up the roll-out of ever smarter systems. Nevertheless, that technology that is now on stream does appear to be opening the door to improved targeting and creative innovation.

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