Navigating the hurdles in the programmatic OOH race 

Emma Hegg
By Emma Hegg | 30 August 2021
Emma Hegg.

Emma Hegg, Head of Out of Home, dentsu

Does Programmatic OOH run the risk of the industry tripping itself up? 

There has been an abundance of trade press recently about the rise of programmatic OOH over the past 12 months and the new opportunities that it has created in the market- leaving advertisers wanting to know more. No-one can argue that the acceleration of OOH into a digital area where advertisers can pause and optimise campaigns in almost real time is exciting, especially during a time of unpredictable macro factors.

OOH has become a true digital channel, being able to buy and execute campaigns all within a few hours; this omnichannel screen approach is something that we should all be excited about but we worry that in the race to “get there”, some of the basics are being missed. 

What are advertisers buying in Programmatic OOH? 

There is a lot of ambiguity in this area currently and as we push for greater transparency in all channels, it’s never been more important that clients know what they are paying for. Whilst we know that programmatic provides hyper targeted audiences for OOH, we also know that not all panels and sites are equal. We spend a lot of time ensuring that clients use OOH in a way that grows their brands, so if we don’t have visibility on the “quality of the panel” how can we ensure that brands aren’t impacted negatively?

Defining Audiences 

It’s important that we understand how audiences are being defined. OOH isn’t a 1 to 1 interaction, it’s a unique channel that provides broad reach and with addition of data layers or a hyper targeted approach to locations, OOH is still a 1 to many medium. To combat this, vendors have created what has been named Impression Multipliers, which allows us to understand that when a programmatic OOH ad plays, it will deliver multiple impressions, unlike the 1 to 1 impression in the digital world. 

This is a great interim solution as it provides clarity of the uniqueness of programmatic OOH.  However, currently each media vendor is utilising different Impression Multipliers. With multiple methodologies across the whole programmatic OOH supply chain, this is causing confusion amongst planners. If the only comparable metric is cost, with no standardised approach on how audiences are sized, it quickly becomes a race to the bottom and more than likely incorrect audience projections. 


So how is programmatic OOH being governed? Where are our assurances that their brands won’t be placed on sites that might not meet the code of governance for OOH? It’s not just about ensuring that proximity to schools is avoided or any other such restrictions, it’s also about ensuring that creative is managed in context to the physical world around it. An alcohol brand being placed outside an hospital isn’t illegal, but it could do some damage to a brands’ image.  


It’s been quite a journey for the OOH industry to ensure that independent verification is possible across the vast majority of OOH inventory in AU – as this provides us with transparency on how our campaigns are executed. This is no different for programmatic OOH. Advertisers are still buying OOH sites; they are just executing in a different way – programmatically. 

Therefore, it is paramount that advertisers know where and when their ads are played, albeit the metrics may be different but viewability still needs to be accounted for. So far there are very few providers who can verify programmatic OOH campaigns and acceleration is needed in this area if OOH wants to play legitimately in the digital space.  


One of the biggest challenges for programmatic OOH is education. If we want our clients to utilise it, we all need to know how to do so effectively. What can it do uniquely and more importantly what can it not do?

We believe it’s key to remember that this change is dependent on whom you may be talking to. Whilst we would all like to think that agencies, sales organisations and even clients all talk and collaborate on every campaign, the reality is that sometimes channels are siloed. 

Programmatic OOH might be the bridge that closes that gap, but it’s vital that OOH planners and vendors understand programmatic and that digital planners and buyers understand the value of OOH. Performance campaigns will often have very tight metrics for success, which isn’t always suited to OOH and therefore doesn’t play to its strengths. the truth is, that the brilliance of OOH often can’t be measured, so its key that the impact of OOH is understood, so it isn’t diminished

Where to from here

In a pre-pandemic world, SMI reported OOH spend in excess of $1b, with some vendors shooting for a mere 5% of their revenue to be generated through programmatic OOH; this could represent a $50m ambition in AU. This highlights the reason for us all to get it right from the beginning. 

We would encourage that the industry - both OOH and Programmatic DSP’s and SSP’s take a step back, take a breath and come together to do it right. 

Consideration before acceleration will equal sustainable growth. 



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