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Ocean Outdoor UK CEO Phil Hall: how digital Out of Home is navigating a tricky economy

1/Ocean is a major Northern Europe media owner. The UK economy is reported to be lagging its European rivals. How is this playing out in Out of Home?

We’re seeing a couple of interesting factors at play across 2022 and 2023. For the first time in a long time, certainly in the course of my career, there seems to be something of a disconnect between the wider economy and the advertising market. In the past they have always been inextricably linked and a recession would immediately lead to a sharp downturn in advertising spend. However, that appears not to be the case this time around.

The root cause is hard to distinguish but is likely around both the fact that the recession is likely to be short-lived and also very specific in nature, predominantly driven by fuel and food inflation. There’s no doubt it’s a tough advertising market but clients are definitely still spending very significantly. Out of Home is strong within the general market, with growth outstripping virtually all competitors. OOH has a great story to tell at the moment. Audiences are back and the advances in technology and creativity, allied to the unmissable and unskippable nature of the medium, continue to attract advertisers.

2/Is further consolidation in the OOH industry likely and will Ocean be a buyer?

There can only be one answer – ‘it depends’. Ocean is a very ambitious business. We believe in long-term growth in the medium and we know that advertisers will always want a high quality environment in which to showcase their brands. We never stop looking for opportunities to increase revenue organically or through acquisition. We’ll be a buyer if the strategic fit and the price is right.

3/What is the single most important message Ocean would like to send to advertisers and media agencies?

Not all impressions are equal. We are in an age of increasingly sophisticated ad avoidance and consumers resent being presented with a message that intrudes on how they want to spend their time. We’re about to launch our fifth neuroscience study and this third party research has consistently shown the same thing – an out of home message performs strongly in memory encoding an advertiser’s message in consumers’ minds. The larger the format, the more effective the encoding. Reach and frequency will always be vital metrics but the quality of that reach and frequency should always be planned, bought and measured too.

4/Programmatic is still a small part of the OOH media market but growing. Where does Ocean stand on programmatic? Does it adequately account for your particular line-up of premium sites like Piccadilly Lights and new Battersea Power Station?

The increased prevalence and usage of data and automated buying is great news for clients, buyers and sellers. It enables greater targeting and should open our medium to new advertisers. Who wouldn’t be supportive of that? Our only caveat and concern is over how programmatic is used. I’ve heard people make equivalencies between digital display and digital OOH. This is wrong. These are two very different media and should be treated as such.

Not all buy-side platforms consider the quality of an impression as to my previous point. Premium sites absolutely can be available and flourish in a programmatic world, but only if the price reflects the quality of the product. We’re all for progress and an easier, more sophisticated buy. We’re against commoditisation and any race to the bottom as that won’t benefit buyers, sellers and most importantly, advertisers.

5/Reflecting on 2022, which would be your outstanding creative campaign and why?

I’m going to be cheeky and go for two very different and very creative campaigns here. The first is a Versace DeepScreen™ campaign we showcased on the Piccadilly Lights. Our Ocean Studio team did the full service creative design for that and it was signed off by Donatella Versace herself – that’s a pretty good endorsement! The campaign performed brilliantly, generating a lot of interest in front of the screen and on social.

Versace DeepScreen Piccadilly Lights from Ocean Outdoor on Vimeo.

A very different campaign was the Commonwealth Games Augmented Reality mascot trail that our Ocean Labs team launched in Birmingham. Inclusive exercises at each of our Loop screens and an accessible podium by the Birmingham Media Eyes with a DeepScreen™ high five from Perry the Games mascot for completing the trail. Consumers are increasingly comfortable interacting with OOH screens. This was an example of great creativity with OOH screens front and centre that engaged audiences over an extended period in an enjoyable way. An advertiser’s dream.

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