For those of us who have worked in out of home advertising since before the digital revolution, the current excitement around the medium – largely but not exclusively sparked by digital – is welcome and, let’s be honest, just a touch surprising.
OOH is the oldest advertising medium (I’m not speaking from direct personal experience here) and has always played a key role in most advertising campaigns, large or small.
The excitement around digital has two causes: the creative potential of real time ads and the new-found ability to identify the OOH audience through smartphone technology.
But challenges still remain and one such is the need to show that OOH can be the main medium for big national, regional and even global campaigns. One of the consequences of the rise of digital in all media is fragmentation and buyers – specialists, media agencies and, ultimately, advertisers – want to find a reliable way to reach these huge but elusive audiences.
We’ve heard much recently about what we might call the digital ‘black hole.’ Back in the day Lord Leverhulme, the founder of Lever Brothers which became part of Unilever, is supposed to have observed that he knew half his advertising was wasted, he just didn’t know which half.
That, essentially, is the dilemma facing digital users. Billions of ads ‘disappear’ through shortcomings in technology, measurement, sometimes even fraud. FEPE’s own research across six markets showed online digital advertising as the least trusted medium. It’s no longer good enough to say that the medium is still cheap and therefore this doesn’t matter. Unilever CMO Keith Weed (left) and WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell have both made this point forcibly recently.
Out of home has no such problem. A poster or a screen is verifiable, far more so than any other ad medium. Our challenge, stated very clearly by Rupert Day of WPP OOH company Tenth Avenue at the recent FEPE International Congress in Budapest, is to show that, as an industry, we can give buyers access to big global audiences easily and cost effectively.
In some ways advances in digital technology work against this. There are countless companies working to build a better mousetrap in digital signage. We should applaud their wonders – and we do. But ultimately these things need to work together to give advertisers what they want, otherwise planning a campaign and distributing it in a number of countries (‘transcreation’ as it’s known) becomes a nightmare.
So the OOH industry worldwide needs to work more closely together to ensure that, without stifling competition or technological advances in any way, buyers can secure the message they want where they want at the cost they want. One of the objectives of FEPE, which represents all sides of the OOH industry, is to help bring this about.
OOH is a dynamic industry and, in part, this is because it has not consolidated to the extent that many other media have. Yes there are giants like JC Decaux which will always be favourites to win huge contracts like the London bus shelter contract. But there are many other players across the world capable of expanding the industry’s horizons.
It’s more important than ever that they work together to take the next giant step: truly global out of home campaigns.