Historically, out of home (OOH) used a static medium – billboards with vinyl and paper. Ari Buchalter, chief executive officer at outdoor ad agency, Intersection says it is digitising very very rapidly.
30% of revenues in the out of home space are now coming from digital screens in various forms, whether that's giant billboards in Times Square or screens in the backs of taxis.
At Programmatic Punch NY, Buchalter and Adam Green, senior vice president and general manager of Broadsign, a cloud-based digital signage software, discussed whether automated outdoor advertising really is programmatic and how the innovation will evolve to offer advertisers a personalized and effective platform.
How programmatic is OOH?
As of June 2019, OOH has barely scratched the surface of programmatic, explains Buchalter - but that is changing rapidly. Theoretically, any ad that can be digitally served can also be programmatically transacted, adds Green.
“Advertisers are demanding change from an effort consolidation standpoint,” he explains. “It’s just labour efficiency. If I can manage more media from one pane of glass, one report, out of one system… there's a benefit there, not to mention the media efficiency of chasing my audience where I want to find them, wherever they may be.”
There are a few things holding OOH back, Buchalter adds, one being that there are buyers who want to work with it in the exact same way as they do digital. “It's a different medium,” contends Green. “It has different affordances. It's a one to many mediums. You're not going to get around those things trying to force fit it to be exactly like the rest of your digital buy. This will lead you to make very bad compromises.”
What needs to change is that you have to make it just as easy to execute to buy within the same systems people are currently buying online, mobile and everything else. Buchalter adds: “from a workflow standpoint, creative, targeting all of those things, make it just as easy to buy and then make it so that the measurement and attribution can work in a similar way as well.”
The creative possibilities are unlimited, says Green. If you can take a medium into which you can serve an ad on an instantaneous basis and change your creative to respond to the environment whether it's the audience, the weather, what kind of cars are coming down the street, whether the train is late, the world is your oyster.
But is that scalable? It is perhaps a big task or a burden for creatives to have access to all these different possibilities.
“We think about it as a spectrum,” Buchalter states. “If all you want to do is treat this as another website that just happens to be in the physical world with no bots, is always viewable and the creative experiences are lifesize, what we've built in the simplest extreme requires no effort on the creative side.
“We can take the standard IB units and have that work in real time just as a regular website on a regular SSP would work. At the other end of the spectrum if you want to do something really amazing, that's going to take a little bit of custom work.”
It's important to note that the technical plumbing for these screens is IP enabled, adds Buchalter. "You can do some pretty amazing things because these assets are sitting in the real world and you can key the message of off what's happening in that place, at that time to be relevant in a way that you're laptop can't."
Data pulling in the out of home space
In the US there’s a few companies that will track your outdoor audience. One being Geo Path. Buchalter likens this as the Nielsen of out of home.
If you show an ad on a billboard, at a certain place and a certain time, they have models that say how many people saw it based on their department of traffic, census and other data which is the standard that the industry agrees on. Nielsen also measures some assets in there as well a handful of other companies.
However, because of IOT beacons, 5G etc, there are other technologies coming online that can count in other ways, more deterministic ways, adds Buchalter.
“It’s going to take some time for the industry to move there. But things probably do shift that way ultimately. That’s actually less of a challenge. The important thing is for everyone to agree on something. You have to have some standard that we can all point to and say we agree that that's an objective independent measure. The challenge now is how do we execute it? How do we do attribution? How do we do those things?”
Ad fraud and privacy
When talking about ad fraud people perhaps think about bot fraud as one of the most common type. You don't have that in the out of home space, however. These ads aren't serving in browsers and are not on the open internet.
Buchalter says that these ads are all on closed-circuit screens with every impression that's shown only seen by humans.
“There also not as much worry around viewability in the same sense because nobody is spending the money to put a screen where it can’t be seen. There’s no issue of ad-skipping or ad blocking. Out of home isn't a content-based medium where you have to worry about it showing up next to fake news or porn. From a safety standpoint, it checks the boxes off in a way that traditional programmatic media can’t. Which is a pretty powerful benefit to the medium.”
It would be foolhardy to say that it's completely immune to fraud though, adds Green. “If the money flows, so will the fraudsters. For the most part, ad fraud is not committed by great people, it's organized crime. They're putting money behind their technology to do it and they will find ways. But I think that's why it's important for the players in the space like our companies to always be watching, forwarding and building our technology to avoid it. We're going to be open to fraud in different ways until we have to find new ways to fight different fraud.”
On the privacy front, the issues on digital aren’t the same for OOH. Again, it’s a one to many medium.
“The industry is now at a point where it needs to decide what it wants to do, as it enters this world of privacy and data,” says Buchalter. “We should look at the lessons and frankly the mistakes of the online world that have resulted in GDPR and CCPA and everything else. We need to raise the bar.”
When an ad follows you around on your personal device, it may be annoying but at least it’s only viewable to you. If OOH were to interpret that formula whereby ads start following you around the streets, that's a different expectation of privacy all of a sudden, worries Buchalter.
He concludes: “We should avoid the world of minority report altogether. We should raise the bar and again, learn from the mistakes, be completely transparent about everything that's collected, keep it for the shortest amount of time and don't collect anything you don't need. Do it the way we should've done it the first time around.”
Programmatic Punch New York took place on June 6. If you missed out on this event, our UK variant will take place this December, find out more information here. Or, join us in New York for Programmatic Punch US 2020.