Outdoor The Passive Medium? Think Again.


Outdoor is no longer the chameleon of our streets – a steady and assured medium that blends in with the background and offers advertisers a passive route to selling a product or idea. Instead, it’s at the forefront of engagement, providing an emotional exchange that no other media can replicate. So why are we not shouting this from the rooftops?

In a digital age where we spend more time with our phones than we do our partners, checking our device on average 110 times a day, the need for marketers to grab the attention of audiences is greater than ever.

Rather than be the passive medium it prides itself on, the reality is that Outdoor is a megaphone, an avenue for advertisers to amplify a message like no other with the added benefit of creating emotional engagement.

Ocean Outdoor, a media owner specialising in digital outdoor sites, devised a neurology study that proved the emotional impact audiences have when viewing their premium digital inventory. One of the key learnings was that the human brain encodes these spectacular outdoor sites in a similar way when we see a famous landmark. These digital sites are creating an emotive bond that is being hardcoded to the human brain. Of course, TV still reigns King as the emotional pull on consumers, but OOH offers something more unique. OOH offers spectacle. 

“Rather than be the passive medium it prides itself on, the reality is that Outdoor is a megaphone”

In the UK, British Airways created a fine example by combining GPS data and digital OOH to produce a wonderful execution. The digital billboard tracked the flight data of the British Airways jet as it flew over. The ad then plays showing a child pointing to the sky displaying the jets origin. Since being posted on YouTube, it garnered over 1.2m views, giving amplification to what was a relatively small campaign. As one comment described, “the video attracted more views than the billboard”. The irony of course being that the 1.2m views would cease to exist without the OOH campaign.

OOH has gone through an unprecedented change in recent years. In 2003, UK digital Outdoor accounted for just 1% of total Outdoor revenue. In 2013, it accounted for 23%. Paul Sambrook, Business Development and Marketing Director of Rapport explains how clients have a desire for engagement. “There is genuine interest to create engaging and interactive campaigns. A value exchange with the consumer is critical, and brands are finding more efficient ways to do this. Mobile in particular is an area we are looking into as a way of achieving this, such as the use of NFC and Beacon technology.”

There’s a greater opportunity for engagement if OOH and mobile can harness each other’s strength. It’s estimated that 80% of Twitter traffic in the UK is driven by mobile. With more people connected whilst OOH, where alert levels are shown to be at their highest, the natural movement is to combine these two offerings to give advertisers a potent and measurable activation. According to Millennial Media, 55% of smartphone users prefer location based settings on their phone, and according to Google Insight data, 17% of searches are “on the go”. The foundations are pre-made for both OOH and Mobile to work together in creating far more engaging and personal campaigns that are accountable.

The key challenge to OOH is showing the mobile industry what it has to offer back. Mobile continues to develop and reinvent itself and rather than ask “What can Mobile offer OOH?” the real question is “What can OOH offer Mobile?” Perhaps the first step is for OOH to truly get to grips with mobile technology and understand its intricacies. Simply running an NFC campaign and reporting the number of interactions is not a valuable result. OOH has engaged with the consumer at the interaction level – the real magic however is what happens after. What did our consumer do when they were at home once they interacted with our poster? This is where engagement can be taken to a completely different level – all instigated by OOH.

OOH must never forget its roots. Its strength will always lie within its “always on” characteristic on a mass scale. However, it’s gained a second pillar of strength these past few years with the benefits of mobile along with the new technologies that digital OOH offers. It places OOH in the enviable position of being able to create spectacle and engage audiences that no other media can match. OOH needs to dismiss itself as the chameleon on the street and wake up to the fact that it is one of the most engaging and exciting mediums that a brand can activate. 

Craig Barber, Head of Innovation & Emerging Media

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