Brands and agencies thrash out how to break down barriers in DOOH and unlock the value of ‘right-time’ data-informed creativity

Investment is flowing into the digital out-of-home (DOOH) space, with more than £75m expected to be invested in the infrastructure this year, yet it’s clear there are some major barriers to overcome if it’s to receive the place it deserves on the media plan.

Confusion over the term ‘real-time’, conflict between creative and media buying agencies, lack of a DOOH-dedicated trade body, and the outdated method of buying, were among the issues tackled by agencies and brands at a recent roundtable debate hosted by Posterscope.

A broad spectrum of agencies, brands, outdoor media owners, and specialist start-ups gathered in London to thrash out what the remaining barriers are to take-up and how the industry must collaborate to unlock the real value of dynamic DOOH.

British Gas' Hive, 20th Century Fox, Denstu Aegis Network, Starcom Mediavest, M&C Saatchi, Microsoft, AOL, Liveposter, Ocean Outdoor, and Clear Channel were among those participating in the debate.

Movie studio 20th Century Fox is the fifth biggest OOH spender in the UK, and dedicates 40 per cent of its total budget to digital marketing. However, one of its biggest frustrations is the lack of flexibility around how to buy outdoor media, with the process still centring firmly on the traditional block buy, according to its marketing director Chris Green.

Outdoor media plays a critical role in its overall marketing plan, due to the fact it has to market an average 25 brands (movies) per year, unlike most brands which only need focus on their own. For that reason outdoor media’s ability to provide the kind of mass reach it requires to promote a new release in a short space of time, is vital to its plan.

However, one of its biggest bug bears is the fact that the buying mechanisms around DOOH are outdated. “We are huge investors in the digital estate – 40 per cent of our spend goes into digital. But one of our biggest frustrations is that how we lay that down on a plan is pretty much the same way we laid it out in 1985 – it’s in a two-week block, and if you want to break it up the premium is so high you may as well just take it for two weeks,” Green said.

He acknowledged that the media owner faces a tough challenge in having to remodel how it monetises the medium, but that it’s necessary if it’s to unlock the full advantages of DOOH.

“The digital estate should allow us to be a lot more flexible. We have our end to hold up to ensure it is really as creative as possible, but why can’t I, for example, have 14 days and pick the days I want? I appreciate it’s more complicated, but it rules out that level of engagement we can have by doing that, and only in doing that will we really see the digital engagement we want and the interactivity can really begin.

“At the moment if we do a campaign and make it NFC-enabled – about four people engage with each panel, which doesn’t make it worthwhile, and part of the reason for that is that there isn't enough being done to engage with actual consumer habit. We have this whole new format and need to think about it differently, both in how it’s sold and how we advertise on it,” he said.

Meanwhile Paul Grosvenor, marketing director of British Gas-owned connected thermostat maker Hive, described the brand as "big advocates" of DOOH, but reinforced that consumer expectations have "outpaced" the media itself, and there is work to do to ensure it can meet the demands of increasingly tech-savvy consumers.

He referenced the brand's latest campaign for which it had drawn from various data sources such as temperature, location, and airport data to provide relevant and timely messages to travellers, as an example of the medium's potential.

“Matching the marketing with customer need and relevant audiences is what we’re trying to do, and the commuter audience is one of those. So DOOH has been a great method to target them. The medium lets me do interesting things in new ways which can create a personal connection with people. I can pull in real-time data on travel, temperature, and present it to customers in a meaningful ad that resonates with them.

“The Hive app pulls in real-time data already, such as the temperature inside and outside your home, along with the target temperature that you want your home to be.

"So for example, an individual may get off a plane at Heathrow and go to the baggage counter, and we can serve them an ad because we know they’ve been to the Bahamas, we know the temperature there, and the temperature in London, so we can present that knowledge that that they have come from the balmy Bahamas to freezing London, and we can show a product that will help them ensure they get home to a warm, toasty house,” he added.

However, he said there were drawbacks to the campaign as it couldn’t run it across all the airport real estate it wanted, due to lack of infrastructure – particularly at Heathrow Terminal 5, which he admitted was a “surprise”.

Dentsu Aegis-owned Posterscope's managing director Glen Wilson outlined there are as many challenges as opportunities in the DOOH space. “We estimate that in 2015 media owners will invest £75m in digital infrastructure, yet that creates an almost infinite amount of possibilities to talk to people in the right place at the right time, at real scale.

“DOOH will have exponential scale in the UK, but that also creates a huge amount of complexity because every second of that digital air time is theoretically addressable. So the challenge is to make it as easy as possible to unlock those customer moments. And if we can rise to that challenge it will create enormous advertiser value and the ability to buy the right thing at precisely the right place and time, matched with the effectiveness of creating engaging, rich, compelling consumer experiences,” he said.

Andrew Morley, chief executive of Clear Channel, acknowledged the comments relating to the inflexibility of the traditional OOH buying model, citing one if its products – Storm – which has been created to need that demand for flexibility. However, he said it’s still “early days” and that it is taking “baby steps” in how it uses the medium.

Meanwhile Tim Bleakley, chief executive of Ocean Outdoor, said 100 per cent of its real estate will be digital by the end of this year, and added that 65 per cent of the campaigns that run across its screens are already bought dynamically. “We are very advanced in that flexible model. I have sympathy for those who are in the situation where 80 per cent of their profits still come from the print billboards, because it’s difficult to break away from your heritage. But ultimately we must drive change by innovation. I think we have taken some giant strides.”

He cited examples such as Tate’s Liveposter campaign with Denstu Aegis, which used live poster technology to run artwork dynamically optimised to coincide with weather patterns. It drew on data including time of day, traffic flow, weather, phase of the moon and flight time arrivals, so it could target commuters and tourists. Posters were played in rotation, which meant that different data sources and triggers were called upon throughout the campaign, and it automatically produced around 14,400 executions, from a pool of 10m possible unique combinations over the two-week period.

British Airway’s ‘Look Up’ campaign (see above) at Piccadilly Circus was also held up as a “phenomenal” example of what opportunities exist in the marrying of data and creativity which DOOH can open up.

However, most agreed that this kind of “stunt” is not necessarily the kind of work which will encourage a larger range of advertisers to invest in DOOH, given it’s not scalable and therefore could even fall into the realm of “gimmicky” in some clients’ eyes.

Dentsu Aegis Network chief executive Tracy de Groose stressed that there is an overall lack of awareness when it comes to the opportunities in the space, with agencies and by extension their clients, often in the dark about what the technological capabilities are and what investment is flowing into the medium.

“There is very low awareness of what’s happening in this medium, and that’s part of the problem. From a client point of view they see digital screens as quite niche and small, but this is obviously not the case anymore and so there is definitely a job to do about raising awareness. In itself $75m doesn’t mean very much but if shown as a percentage in the wider mix it's interesting…. we need that information."

The idea of an "IAB equivalent" for the outdoor space was bandied around, with no firm direction planned, but a point all agreed on was the need for industry-wide collaboration.

Both de Groose and M&C Saatchi's chief executive Tom Bazeley cited the need for the "knowledge gap" regarding the potential of digitally-led dynamic executions on outdoor screens, within creative agencies to be plugged.

De Groose said: "Part of the problem is the creative model. In my new role I get to work with the media agencies in the group and the creative ones, and I don’t think there are many people doing my job in many other groups, and I think that is a complete shame, as I think part of the problem is the separation of media and creative.

"If you look at the commercial model of creative, there is an incentive for long-form, beautifully crafted advertising and at the moment most of my observations at working with the creative agencies in our group is how they monetise this new kind of creativity that is real-time, dynamic, and personalised. And they are all struggling with it, and so they can end up with the attitude 'oh well I can’t make money out of it so I wont do it', and they will still fight the cause for the beautifully crafted ads."

Bazeley, founder of Lean Mean Fighting Machine, stressed that creative agencies would jump at the chance to innovate using the DOOH canvas, but need to be kept bvetter informed of what the technological capabilites are as they evolve.

"As a creative canvas what DOOH can offer is absolutely spectacular and I don’t know of any creative team in London that wouldn’t want to get their hands on it. But there is a knowledge gap that exists between the creative and media agencies. We need to have creative departments that are as au fait with what the possibilities are – in terms of the tech – and when that happens, clients will open the door and will receive a flood of different ways of their brands being dramatised using this new technology.

"Granted some might be specially-built things that will be prohibitively expensive, but very quickly we will get to the place where we have some fab ideas from them that can be done at scale, but we have to squeeze that knowledge gap as that is a big barrier," he said.

Meanwhile, Dan Douglas, managing director of Liveposter – the company which provides the technology to power dynamic DOOH executions such as the Tate campaign – said it is on a mission to "reboot" the medium.

"We are very bad at marketing the opportunity [in DOOH] and between all the stakeholders here [at the roundtable] – the media owners, specialists, creative agencies – we all need to take a role in rebooting the medium. The danger in using the BA 'Look Up' as an examplary bit of DOOH is that something like that is heavily publicised, but are a bit gimmicky and not scaled. People will then say to me 'oh that kind of experiential thing is not for me, I need a mass campaign that doesn't cost a fortune.'

"...I do worry that we aren’t talking to the 95 per cent of the market which aren’t doing dynamic yet. We all need to come together on this. We must come to a collective view on how to make this kind of dynamic DOOH a mass, scalable opportunity."

The roundtable debate was hosted by Gideon Spanier, media editor at London Evening Standard/Independent.

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