Wendy Gower, MD, Hearts & Science
A massive speed bump in 2020. But all things considered, the future is bright - very bright - for OOH in Australia
It’s hard to make complete sense of some of the dynamics of 2021. Some sectors of the economy are booming, house price increases are bonkers, car sales are strong (and would be stronger if it weren’t for a global semiconductor shortage); and in our sometimes crazy media world, Q1 posted double digital year on year increases in TV and Digital Video. Go figure.
Of course, not everyone is a winner, but the path ahead for many is looking rosy. And in my view this is certainly the case for OOH, despite the roller coaster of last year.
Emerging from a Covid Body Blow
Covid restrictions and lockdowns managed to curtail the one thing that OOH relies upon, namely, the general public going about their daily routines. Whether commuting to and from work, shopping, going to the movies, or going to the gym – OOH was severely impacted. And that’s before we think about travel more broadly – locally, interstate or those halcyon days of global international travel. The newly installed NZ travel bubble is most definitely welcome.
In almost all cases, audience numbers were adversely affected, and coupled with caution and belt-tightening from advertisers, OOH has seen some of the largest headwinds ever experienced. At its worst in May 2020, revenues dropped by a whopping 68% (source: SMI). The media owners had to provide more flexibility than ever before, the sacrosanct trading parameter of OOH being a non-cancellable medium was paused and audience guarantees were implemented where feasible. Many staff at the major operators were moved to reduced working weeks and there were regrettable redundancies.
But it wasn’t all bad news and as we know, not all OOH panels are created equal; for those operators within retail shopping environments – particularly those anchored to grocery (and toilet roll mania) - were runaway winners.
Now with audiences across office, metro CBDs and commuting at circa 85% of pre-Covid levels, the much-needed recovery is well and truly in train and OOH total revenues in February were back just 22% year on year.
This period of massive instability allowed the operators time to reflect on their trading models and refine their data proposition to really set themselves up for success. There has been massive investment in infrastructure over the past few years, and that is set to continue. But what more needs to be done to continue this growth trajectory, to capitalise on the opportunities and importantly to weather whatever might be in store over the next few years?
The Outdoor Media Association (OMA) is currently updating MOVE, the OOH industry’s audience measurement system. It is expected that the new currency MOVE 2.0 will better reflect the evolution of the medium and meet the increasingly sophisticated needs of planners and clients. It’s not a small task and carries a price tag of circa $10m of investment of OMA members. The new system will measure the impact of digital signage, cover all OOH formats, locations and environments, and will measure all sites nationally – both metro and regional. MOVE 2.0 will also have the capability to report seasonal and monthly audience variations. The system is being developed by Ipsos and the test & learn stage is already under way. While MOVE 2.0 won’t launch until 2023, it’s safe to say enhanced audience measurement will be a key driver to growth of the medium.
At Hearts & Science and all OMG agencies, we’ve partnered with independent verification platform Veridooh after a robust tender process. In our view verification isn’t an optional extra – we need to verify that our clients receive the digital OOH inventory as booked and paid for. Confidence in delivery through full transparency and accountability is standard operating procedure in 2021, and its full deployment across OOH continues to drive further confidence in the medium.
OOH was traditionally tricky to plan – particularly interstate where a planner would likely have limited market knowledge. Enter INSITE, OMG’s OOH Planning tool. INSITE has been a game changer for us, housing 56,000 outdoor panels nationally and powering our ability to map customer journeys across Australia, with the ability to filter by format, media owner, points of interest, retailers, postcode etc. And, importantly, with the ability to further turbo charge our planning through ingesting search data, helix personas or a client’s first party data. Better planning will result in better outcomes for our clients so this too is an important build.
It seems obvious to say, but the way an OOH message is consumed is very different from format to format. However, this isn’t always reflected in the creative treatment posted. There is nothing worse as a planner than to see an OOH message that fades into the background, is too cluttered or simply doesn’t make sense. We hate wasting money! The major operators have invested in technology to enable clients and planners to see the way the message will be delivered in situ, predict how audiences will react to seeing a message, even to predict the performance of a creative execution. This is an incremental marginal gain you can’t go past, and in my view should become a mandatory in the implementation of OOH campaigns.
The inherent immediacy that digital OOH can deliver, whereby campaigns can react to both physical and commercial circumstances in real time, is a more frequent consideration and is also a game changer. Context is critical in message cut through and finding improved ways to automate the process, underpinned by tools such as INSITE, or the progression to programmatic trading, may help unlock this capability and drive greater value of the medium
While it’s still early days for programmatic OOH, there’s definitely much interest and discussion, and lots of operators are now shaping their go to market strategies. Programmatic buying will provide advertisers with flexibility, agility, ROI and targeting, similar to that of other digital channels, and will better enable planners to intersect customers at the moments that matter on the customer journey.
Right now, programmatic OOH only represents circa 1% of the total outdoor inventory traded, but this will grow. We don’t envisage a time where this will replace the buying approach across premium / high stature panels, but a blended approach is very likely; handpicked stature panels coupled with a programmatic approach to reach drivers. Unlocking flexibility in real time and harnessing data to deliver enhanced targeting capabilities of programmatic will undoubtedly deliver more effective outdoor campaigns and attract new and lapsed advertisers to the medium.
The Customer Journey
At Hearts, we believe that critical to increasing relevance in planning, is our ability to effectively map the customer journey and identify leverage points - moments of intersection - that will deliver disproportionate return.
As customers move through their customer journey of touchpoints, we know that OOH has a role to play throughout. OOH can form an integral part of the customer experience and support in moving people along from awareness to consideration to purchase and then post purchase; in a standalone capacity or as part of a cross media channel plan. Now that is flexibility.
Impact, Scale and Amplification
With all that said, let’s not forget the basics. You want impact, awareness, fame and amplification of other channels for your campaign – you can’t go past OOH.
With ongoing investment, Move 2.0, verification, better planning, better creative, programmatic, attribution and all the basics that have always made OOH so successful - the future for OOH is definitely looking bright.