Could the generation lost to the art of branding building be saved by the oldest medium in the world?

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For a medium that commands over 50% of total UK ad spend, online advertising is but a babe in the firmament of media.

At the age of just 22 – despite its many well-documented growing pains – digital media has become by far the biggest line item on marketers’ media plans, largely due to its targeting and accountability credentials.

Let’s compare and contrast with outdoor advertising - we’re talking the oldest medium in the world here. The ancient Egyptians used papyrus to make sales messages on wall posters; and political campaigns have even been found in the ruins of Pompeii. Wind forward to the 1790s and the invention of lithography was the launchpad for mass produced billboards, and by the 1860s the first outdoor advertising trading companies were formed.

Unlike the rest of the print sector today, outdoor advertising revenue has been unaffected by the unrelenting rise of online advertising. In fact, it’s going through a digital renaissance which I believe will spur healthy growth in the sector, and put a shot in the arm of classic brand advertising, which has undoubtedly suffered at the hands of online performance media.

There are two key reasons for the current decline in brand advertising

The first dates back to the recession. In 2009 – when a whopping £2bn was wiped off the nation’s collective media plans – search advertising was the only format to grow (by 9% if my memory serves me correctly). Every scrap of spend came under the FD’s microscope, and while traditional display media suffered double-digit cuts, the easily trackable ROI from search powered its stellar growth to command the £5bn is does today.

The second major reason is generational. Media planners are nearly all millennials (at iCrossing the average age is 31), and they live and breathe mobile and social media. So with increased sales and measurable results at the centre of every client brief, the candy of online performance marketing increasingly trumps the classic branding approach.

The question is, have these two dynamics combined to create a whole generation lost to the art of brand building?

Back in 1986, at the age of 26, I became the assistant advertising manager at (now long gone) Visionhire. In those days, dear readers, half the living room tellies and nearly all the VCRs were rented. I’d read ‘Ogilvy on Advertising’, which extolled the virtues of brand and response techniques, then largely confined to coupons in the press, nascent direct marketing and promotion at point of sale – all known as ‘below the line’ techniques. All the big money went ‘above the line’, which offered two commercial TV channels, a huge audience for the press, plus some radio and outdoor. Media fragmentation wasn’t a thing in those days. Hence the long, boozy agency lunches.

But we learnt to totally respect the branding cycle – how long it took to plan, produce and execute a campaign. And how long it would take to build awareness, consideration and purchase intent; usually several months, which was also the typical timescale for the squeaky-bum presentation from Millward Brown who delivered our Awareness Index (AI) scores on the doors, against direct competitors.

Digital Out Of Home will inspire today’s young planners

Being ever the optimist, I don’t truly believe the wonderful art and science of brand building will be lost on today’s millennial marketers and media planners. I happen to believe that the oldest medium – now reborn as Digital Out Of Home (DOOH) will be a catalyst for growth in brand advertising, offering many of the accountable attributes of online display media and hardly any of the current brand safety and ad verification challenges.

Here I’d like to congratulate JCDecaux, who filled the Hansom Hall at St Pancras for their impressive Digital UpFronts presentation this month. First off – credit to JCD for repositioning their brand alongside the big pureplays and setting out their DOOH stall for the buyers, now that it accounts for nearly half of all outdoor revenue. And it’s growing at +30%.

The story is compelling.

98% of the population sees an out of home ad each week, and for millennials it’s easily number one for reach and time spent, according to IPA Touchpoints. As a subset, DOOH offers 49% UK reach with 1.3bn weekly viewed impressions.

That little word ‘viewed’ is music to the marketer’s ears. Digital outdoor is brand safe, there’s no ad fraud, and there’s no such thing as a non-viewable impression. And, they say, 99.5% of those impressions are generated by just four different aspect ratios, all offering video and animation in nice, large formats.

But the kids want programmatic! Step forward the JCDecaux SmartBRICS self-serve planning and buying platform which currently caters for half of the UK’s DOOH estate. Planners can set parameters down to street and frame level, complete with day-parts, numbers of impressions and ratings. They can even ad rules connected to the weather, or deliver moderated tweets as part of the creative. And post campaign, your viewed impressions report is independently verified by PwC.

Now if the delights of DOOH don’t reignite the branding buds of today’s marketers and planners, I’ll eat my best socks. It’s certainly inspired iCrossing’s media strategist, Lauretta Wood who seeks programmatic perfection by joining outdoor with mobile. Growth over the next few years is easy to predict, and the prospect of high visibility, high reach, location-based video ads is surely a no brainer for the contemporary advertiser.

Just imagine the enhanced effect when you sprinkle a bit of mobile and data over the creative for the perfect match between the oldest and the newest media? We’ll see more high profile award winners like the BA #Lookup campaign at Piccadilly Circus.

Then the generation lost to planet brand will surely come back in in to land.

Guy Phillipson is the chairman of iCrossing UK and the former CEO of the Internet Advertising Bureau UK.

Guy Phillipson

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