John O’Neill is the CEO of QMS
If 2020 was like any other year, right now we would all be busy finalising the end of financial year.
But we did not get the year we had anticipated and instead we have faced intense upheaval, with businesses across the board as well as governments, confronted with tough decisions and relentless challenges. I know because of course QMS is one of them.
Out-of-Home (OOH) has been one of the mediums most obviously hit by COVID-19. So you will appreciate the irony of supporting our government clients, whose objective was to communicate the "stay at home" message, by using our premium digital outdoor portfolio to shout “Do not go out of home!”
As someone who has lived and breathed billboards for most of my life, this was a bitter pill to swallow, but it was the right one for the greater good.
In hindsight, I’m proud that our business and our medium could provide this service to Australians and help in flattening the curve, comforted by the knowledge that consumers would emerge from isolation eager to return and appreciate the great outdoors once again.
The irony of using billboards to send people inside continued as we began seeing firsthand the positive effect this campaign was having in helping our governments communicate the lockdown restrictions.
With weekly mobility data from DYNAMIQ, our sophisticated audience measurement system, we saw the previously growing OOH audience begin to fall - nearly 54% lost in five weeks. It was working.
The government’s campaign was helping us fight COVID-19, by reminding those still outside that they needed to remain at home as much as possible, wash their hands, practice social distancing and look after themselves.
But just as dramatically as we experienced the loss, our DYNAMiQ data is now showing the national audience is indeed returning as we knew it would.
It started timidly post Easter, and as each of the states has enjoyed increasing freedom, we have seen consumers look to return to their lives and with that, their mobility.
Trips to cafes, visiting family and friends and the return to regular patterns like school and gradual office attendance now has the OOH audience back to 75% of what it was pre lockdown.
And through DYNAMiQ we can break this data down even further, so we can get a clear picture of what audiences are doing state by state as restriction levels ease in different capacities, which is proving extremely valuable for agencies and clients as they plan their return.
Despite the recent months being tough, DOOH assets have been active - they are an always on channel after all.
In addition to government spending, we saw a number of advertisers such as AAMI, Furphy Beer and Hyundai use this opportunity to remain switched on, continue to build their brand and increase market share; as well as those brands who have been able to thrive in this environment, or pivot to introduce new offerings into the marketplace such as Stan, Foxtel and Amazon.
And it has been an opportunity for us to engage in our own community program through the development of the Teddy Bear Army; a remarkable campaign created to acknowledge our frontline and essential workers.
But now, our most recent DYNAMiQ data (June 21) is highlighting the return of the OOH audience aligned to the return of our more mobile lives.
This is particularly evident when looking at this latest data compared to the month of April. Urban roadside sites have shown 65% volume growth, major arterials 61% growth and the CBD, which was the hardest hit, is up 105% nationally.
We cannot avoid the degree of uncertainty the next six months holds, but we can provide the data on what OOH audiences are doing, with a granularity that means advertisers know precisely what they are buying.
This will be as important to brands looking to communicate their brand safety message to a mass audience, as to those using location and context to tell more of a community story. Reach, frequency and context are actually the levers for brands to communicate effectively and instil the trust and reassurance that research tells us consumers are seeking.
The need to provide clients with this level of transparency in audience measurement is essential to confidence and trust. It allows open and honest conversations to occur and these conversations are continuing as we work closely with clients to help them on the road to recovery.
It was tough facing the reality of the declining audience as lockdown began, and that is now being overtaken by evidence of the undeniable return of OOH roadside audiences state by state.
Marketers and their agencies can now use the full power of DOOH and its audience data to communicate their post COVID-19 message and beyond. I look forward to seeing examples of both the compelling and compassionate as creative and media collaborate to get this rebound right.