In 2012 I was given the opportunity to be a part of a company whose goal was to focus on the growing landscape of digital out-of-home. At that time, digital OOH was identified by agency standards as digital signs, digital place based media and cinema advertising. But over the past five years, media practitioners, such as myself, have come to know that digital OOH is so much more than just these three categories.
Today we carry around mini computers in our pockets that can unlock a slew of opportunities for our industry. From audience data, to mobile engagement via QR/NFC, to beacons and augmented reality experiences, the mobile phone has contributed to an exciting time in the OOH world, and has helped to make one the oldest forms of media relevant to technology.
In other words, the out-of-home industry is the dorky kid from high school who just traded in their braces and wiry glasses for straight pearly whites and contact lenses. It’s hip and trendy, has a hot new best friend named mobile, a cool younger sibling (digital OOH), brands love it, and other media formats (ahem… print / TV) want to be it.
It’s the topic heard ‘round the media industry; but is everyone truly embracing this evolution?
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the first IAB conference dedicated to digital OOH + mobile. The morning started out as a standing room only crowd with a lot of familiar faces. The facilitator made her intro and then asked for a show of hands to get an idea of the attendees representing the agency side versus media owner side. It was a pretty even crowd and also included some who fell into the ‘other’ category. The moderator then asked for another show of hands to identify the teams that are buying both mobile and out-of-home media together. This was of course the theme of the day, so I anticipated a strong showing; but I was surprised to see a rather small showing of hands.
On a daily basis, my team talks about the synergy between OOH and mobile. Media owners have started to add mobile investment options to their plans, and strategy teams expect 360 tactical thinking from investment teams. As such, I had assumed that this had become an industry norm, particularly because there is such a strong marriage between the two that even mobile companies who know little about OOH are seeking out the industry and are pitching reasons why they should dedicate a percentage of their OOH budgets to mobile. It’s almost as if these mobile companies are Christopher Columbus discovering America, but we, the OOH industry, have been here and surviving independently for decades! It’s natural, then, to question embracing these new explorers who have suddenly taken interest in our piece of the business, and evaluate the costs and benefits to our industry.
It is refreshing that out-of-home or offline media is at the forefront of conversations among other media channels, for brands, and at organizations like the IAB. There are so many ways to connect with consumers today, and OOH advertising is the one format that can’t be turned off, x’d out or fast-forwarded. Rather than resisting the inquiries, we should be taking advantage of the spotlight. Our team has taken the time to educate ourselves by meeting with all different mobile partners to understand their POV on the industry and how we can provide value back to mobile. Ultimately, we know the power of location better than anyone, and how a relevant message at the right time can influence a consumer. The static and digital sign is here to stay, and will continue to be used as a perfect branding and directional tactic. The value that mobile brings to us is that we can now recommend a location based on data or suggest ways to improve a campaign’s performance from mobile learnings. This comes down to adopting online practices and applying them to the physical world as we analyze audiences and locations, optimize messaging and evaluate campaigns.
For this reason, I was hoping to see a larger portion of the room raise their hands. While a lot of the data practices are relatively new, I questioned why both agencies and clients aren’t always receptive to mobile as part of their OOH strategy. Naturally, we as humans are afraid of the unknown or what we don’t fully understand. Some in the OOH community have vocalized their hesitation to include mobile as part of their wheelhouse of capabilities as an OOH agency. For one, there is fragmentation across media owners and this adds an additional layer of partners. Also, there could be a learning curve that comes along with this and time committed to the education is not a luxury that everyone’s schedules permit. Or (quite frankly), some are just set in their ways and are content with how OOH teams operate within an organization. However, if we as an industry embrace new thinking with mobile, the fastest growing media sector, this can lead to further innovation and potential revenue growth for both brands and agencies.
OOH buyers and planners are now expected to think differently. To do that, we need to utilize our resources to educate our teams and in turn become resources for our clients — who harbor the same hesitations since their experience has been more traditional. We need to encourage brands to embrace that a one-to-many sign can influence a one-to-one engagement between a brand and a consumer and create an intimate experience. It is our job to communicate the synergy between mobile and OOH and provide a valuable piece of measurement beyond the level of counting cars or people. And aside from buyers jumping onboard and integrating a mobile + OOH approach into their strategic thinking, we need the creative agency to get involved and decide if the same ad on a billboard is the same one that should be on a mobile device. We can never predict how a campaign will perform, but if we collaborate as one unified team there are certainly ways to set our clients up for success.
There’s a famous quote where a CFO asks a CEO, “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?” CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?” My interpretation of this is not at an individual company level, but rather at an industry level. What happens if we as an industry rest on our laurels and don’t take the time to embrace mobile and innovation, or test out a new technology and pitch ideas to clients? It’s our job to stay competitive against other media channels and maintain the wave of excitement technology has afforded this industry.
The same way OOH transitioned from painted panels to vinyl, from static to digital is the way we need to embrace mobile and innovation. For these improvements have always helped our industry stay competitive and efficient.