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Tom Goodwin of Havas : welcome to the wonderful digital future of outdoor media

For an industry that talks a lot about change and is surrounded by change, advertising hasn’t really changed that much. But its future depends on embracing new possibilities, on new mindsets, and on new processes. Of all media, outdoor advertising could be best placed to show how exciting our industry can become – if we embrace technology.

I think that the shift of digital has created and will create three ages: the pre-digital age; the post digital age; and the time between the two, the messy interim where we currently are. This is what we all call the digital age.

The pre-digital world was simple. Media was analogue and separate. Nobody confused TV advertising with newspapers or radio shows. We had distinct supply chains and systems: from agencies to publishers to brands, everyone knew their role and place. Lines were clear and fixed.

The messy interim

In the digital age, we have generally taken the same roles, processes and systems, replicated them, and bolted them onto the side of advertising. We take print and TV ads, and generally repurpose them for digital surfaces. Traditional media is explained in digital terminology. Advertorials are stuck online and called “native.” We’re in a complex hybrid time – what I consider peak confusion – where we have analogue and digital systems, measurements, philosophies and structures all at the same time. This complexity and confusion means that compared with the incredible new opportunities of digital surfaces, we have in fact created very little that’s genuinely new.

The wonder of the post-digital age

We are slowly morphing into the third phase: the post-digital age. This is a time where, for all intents and purposes, all media is digital: just a series of different shapes, sizes and contexts for screens. It will be a world where devices are relatively dumb, and the smartness has moved to the cloud. Everything is cloud-connected and creative supply can be instant. Ads can be bought programmatically. Assumptions about what ads can do, how they are bought, and how they are measured, are rewritten.

In this world, we need to see creative and media working together. The placement of the ads, the buy, the creative, are all intertwined like song lyrics and the musical score.

A transformed outdoor media

Of all media, it’s probably outdoor that has shown the most excitement and progress towards this age. As someone that’s tried to get a 40×30-inch picture printed and framed recently, it hit me that buying a 4K 42-inch LED TV would have been cheaper. Digital is at the cost of paper: it’s a reality today, rather than a dream for the future.

Excitement is everywhere. Whether it’s the aggressive expansion of digital 6-sheets at bus stops around Europe; the ever-larger, ever-better resolution signage in Times Square (above); the video ads that seem to follow trains in the Shanghai metro; OUTFRONT Media’s Videri efforts or LinkNYC’s monoliths around New York, the creative canvas for outdoor media has never been more interesting.

Surfaces around us are changing. From smarter retail signage; to augmented reality pioneer Magic Leap (below); to digital art in the home and to smart homes themselves, we’re seeing the very fabric of the physical world around us morph to become dynamic and personalized. It’s this way of thinking that best explains the incredible creative canvas that digital advertising can offer.

Programmatic creative and supply

We need to reconsider how ads are bought, placed and supplied. So far, the digital outdoor world has largely replicated the idea that you buy locations, for set periods of time, with set creative. What’s really possible in a cloud-based world is that brands can buy contexts or time, and customize creative. Rather than buy 30 seconds for four weeks, an airline could buy the first cold day of the year, or car insurance companies buy at the moment traffic is terrible. Contexts can be even more specific: the Friday night drive home in bad weather, or the moment that your rival’s planes are grounded. Then, this can inform the creative. Programmatic has long been considered to be deflationary, when in fact it should be a tool to bring creative and media together in far richer ways than at present.

Interactive marketing

We all know that digital ads should move, but what if they moved depending on your movement? What if digital screens were richly interactive? What if their messages invited you to touch and play, sending information or money-off coupons directly to your phone? Screens can even become immersive, using eye-tracking or movement sensors to change content based on your physical location.

Transactional surfaces

Armed with movement detectors like Microsoft’s Kinect or with cheap touchscreen lattices, there is no reason why every surface can’t be transactional. Digital bus stops could be places to browse Airbnb properties, or to search hotel rooms while you wait. Why can’t you see a new range of clothing, and immediately buy it too?


The transactional nature of outdoor is where the real potential lies. This isn’t as the screen itself, but as a part of system which creates a total advertising experience. We’ve long had Bluetooth and NFC, but outdoor ads and mobile phones should be working more closely than ever. I see mobile coupons directly downloaded to device wallets as a reward for interaction.

The real way to see the future of outdoor is in the context of the future of all advertising. It will be a world of constant screens; of a flow between the upper and lower parts of the marketing funnel; and of ad experiences that truly work around people. In this world, the potential role of outdoor to impart scale, premium experiences, and to be top of mind is unparalleled.

unnamed-1Tom Goodwin (left) is the SVP of strategy and innovation at Havas Media, based in New York.

His role is to understand new technology, behaviours and platforms. He is a columnist for the Guardian and Mediapost and regular contributor to TechCrunch, Forbes, Ad Age, Ad Week, Inc and Digiday.

Goodwin joined Havas after founding Tomorrow, an agency providing innovative advertising and marketing solutions for the post-digital age. He has also held leading roles at IPG Media Lab, HUGE Inc and Lowe Worldwide in the UK and US.

Goodwin is the keynote speaker at this year’s FEPE International Congress to be held in Barcelona on June 1-3. FEPE International is the only global out of home association and works to promote and improve the worldwide OOH industry. Board members include JCDecaux, Clear Channel, Exterion, Ströer, OUTFRONT Media in the US and oOh!Media in Australia.

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