As driverless cars ascend from Elon Musk’s lips to God’s ears, the out of home (OOH) industry is on the verge of a renaissance perhaps unseen since President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the interstate highway system in 1956.
That’s because captive consumers who no longer have to pay attention to the road are prime targets for advertising and the static OOH assets that might otherwise have gone the way of the dinosaurs suddenly have renewed potential.
Here’s how OOH asset providers and ad tech companies plan to make the most of this moment.
WiFi access yields better UX
Per Ian Dallimore, director of digital innovation and sales strategy at outdoor advertising company Lamar Advertising, Lamar sees an opportunity to provide WiFi to consumers in self-driving cars via its inventory of 325,000 billboards.
In other words, the OOH provider sees potential in making the experience of riding in a car more pleasant for passengers while also presumably making itself a more competitive option to advertisers who could, in theory, tap into WiFi to enhance their own executions.
However, it’s unclear when something like this would be available and how Lamar would ensure an uninterrupted WiFi connection between billboards.
Location, location, location
For his part, Dan Hight, senior vice president of channel partnerships at mobile location platform xAd, noted the key to success in the driverless era is making the best use of the time consumers spend in their cars and this, in turn, puts more emphasis on location-based advertising.
“I don’t think [digital is] a replacement for out of home – it becomes another screen advertisers can reach,” Hight said.
Put another way, when campaigns incorporate location-based data, such as which consumers can be found in particular areas and where the right place to put a billboard might be, marketers are more likely to hit the holy grail of right consumer, device and moment.
Partners in crime
But it also means there’s an opportunity for OOH companies to partner with auto manufacturers and ad tech firms to pair billboard messages with mobile and in-car offers.
“We’re talking with a set of different companies like Tesla, Ford, and BMW and saying, ‘If your refrigerator knows you’re out of milk and will let your phone and vehicle know today, why couldn’t it somehow talk to a digital billboard you are driving past?’” Dallimore asked.
Andy Sriubas, executive vice president of strategic planning and development at Outfront Media, noted that Outfront has launched such an effort in the form of geofenced billboards with xAd in which consumers who pass by see a brand message on a billboard and also receive “the exact ad” on their phones, or what Sriubas called “mobile small format OOH.”
“The two mediums reinforce each other,” Sriubas added. “So if you’re not driving and you’re in the car and it’s connected, you see in real time the ad on the billboard as you drive through that particular geofence if it’s targeted to you…and I think it’s the perfect combination. There are now many, many case studies that allow us to show that mobile is much more effective when reinforced by OOH than if you buy mobile on its own.”
Cindy Gustafson, chief strategy officer at media and marketing services firm Mindshare, concurred that OOH will evolve into extended connectivity.
“As people are passing these units, sequential or complementing messages can also be simultaneously served on their phones, tablets, laptops, etc. during their commute when they don’t have to keep their eyes focused on driving,” she said. “Ultimately, for marketers, the takeaway is this: there’s a lot we can do with OOH to help bring a brand’s proposition to life and engage consumers – but we need to keep pushing on the potential of what is expected in this medium in order to capture consumers’ attention, exceed their expectations and leave a lasting impression.”
But not everyone agrees 100 percent.
Between sponsored pins, takeovers and sponsored search, Jake Rector, partner and media strategist at self-proclaimed idea factory Tilted Chair Creative, said existing mobile assets like traffic and navigation app Waze can augment or replace traditional billboards “offering a level of interactivity and accountability previously unavailable to clients buying highway OOH placements.”
Further, Rector noted KPIs like redemptions or navigations make it easier to attribute ROI to these campaigns.
At the same time, Rector said Waze and billboards can work together to increase overall performance, which he noted Tilted Chair did in a campaign that sought to drive traffic to Torchy’s Tacos in Waco, Texas, as well as to test the relationship between Waze and billboards.
“Waze ran absent of any billboards for four weeks. Once billboards were introduced to the campaign, Waze’s click-through rate nearly doubled,” Rector said. “This means that because drivers were more aware of the brand via the billboards, they were more likely to click on the Waze ad.”
Because autonomous cars will mean even more of a captive audience, Wade Forst, senior director of emerging experiences at interactive agency Razorfish, said OOH should evolve to include more solid creative – incorporating audio, video and connected experiences. At the same time, he noted billboards have historically struggled to get creative right.
Miko Rahming, senior vice president of innovation and creative at technology and media company Intersection, agreed that connected cars create another opportunity for increasingly connected and digitized OOH displays.
“Vehicles are still moving through physical space and, as such, will continue to encounter physical advertising. They will also provide more data to gain anonymized insight into the movement and needs of the public, which will inevitably result in new, yet-to-be-invented experiences,” he said. “It was reported that billboards in Tokyo will soon be optically recognizing automobiles and responding to them in advertising, so the demand for this type of connection is already here. Besides large billboards, eye-level human scale digital screens can also interact with automobiles. This is a two-way concept where the infrastructure being deployed won’t just react to passing cars, but can also offer important data back to them.”
A ‘Blade Runner society’
According to Forst, billboards are a heads-up medium that will continue to work even in “a society with mobile enchantment and heads-down experiences.”
That’s because not every consumer will have a driverless car in 2020, but also because Forst said he hopes we will eventually have a “Blade Runner society” in which ads are everywhere and unique to individuals.
In other words, it’s possible consumers will eventually see ad messaging wherever they go in the real world that, furthermore, is catered specifically to them. And that’s the kind of bold future that could become reality thanks in part to beacons, which will talk to mobile devices and pull data, which, in turn, could inform OOH messaging.
But rather than billboards talking to cars and/or the devices within, Manolo Almagro, senior managing director of retail technology and innovation at marketing agency TPN, pointed to vehicle-to-vehicle communication in which cars can instead talk to each other and tell consumers if, say, a friend is nearby, which, in turn, paves the way for marketers to provide contextually relevant offers for pals who want to pull over and grab coffee together. And that, he noted, is something billboards cannot do.