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OOH Future of Media Media

Out-of-home ad bosses share their pandemic recovery plans


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

August 13, 2020 | 9 min read

With the exception of cinema, the out-of-home (OOH) sector was the hardest hit by the pandemic downturn. In the last quarter, the Advertising Association and Warc expenditure report showed spend fell 70% and Nielsen pegged it at 85%. Here, The Drum asks OOH bosses about their long road to recovery.


Emily Crisps' first OOH campaign

Billboards, or what specialists call OOH and DOOH (digital) ad inventory, relies on one-to-many impressions in high footfall areas. And in lockdown, that proved problematic. Lucrative city sites were ghost towns and marketing instead focused on personal and at-home devices where the public was spending more time.

Shelleen Shum, the forecasting director at eMarketer, says “OOH ad spend for most markets was negatively affected”. DOOH was hurt slightly less. But in Q3 and Q4, footfall is expected to increase and delayed campaigns to resume, while a pandemic election in the US will drive spend there.

So, how have bosses at Clear Channel, Global, Posterscope and Talon adapted in lockdown?

Clear Channel

Justin Cochrane is the European chief executive of Clear Channel International, which operates half a million outdoor advertising panels across 31 markets. For him, it is all about flexibility from media owners.

“The worst thing you could do is try to cling on to clients. We accepted the fact that the audience disappeared and that we’d lose bookings. We were as good as we could be to clients.”

Globally, Clear Channel’s revenue was down 60%. In Europe it was slightly less, at 55%, and it was marginally less again in the US where some weren’t so keen on locking down. “The European outdoor business is much more city center focused whereas the US is more focused on highways,” Cochrane says.

Delayed campaigns are creeping back, however, and he says “Q3 is recovering quite well”. In context, its Q3 revenue losses are currently at about 30% down.

This week, Clear Channel is pushing its Radar client portal to Europe in order to help clients virtually map campaigns, whether that is aiming them at “18-34 year olds who shop at high-street fashion brands or parents who recently visited a supermarket“.

Run in partnership with AdSquare, it is powered by 5% and 10% of the population’s anonymized mobile data, which is used to track footfall near Clear Channel’s billboards, bus shelters and street furniture.

Before this, it was reliant on the slow drip of population data from some 10,000 commuters carrying multi-sensory trackers. Through both measures (and more) it is closely tracking the recovery on a site-by-site basis. “Previously, mobile data wouldn’t have been accurate enough to know if somebody was in the vicinity of the panel.”

For Cochrane, the most impressive campaign since lockdown has come from Emily Crisps – semi-regretful first-time buyers of DOOH (pictured above). He also had a shout out for Paddy Power’s ’Leaving the Couch, Remember the Crouch’ spot.

Crouch Paddy P

DOOH has been allowing for more risky work like these, he explains. They can be altered with the press of a button – much easier than tearing down 4,000 posters.


Global, the out-of-home and audio giant, had earlier this year rebranded its ad marketplace from the Digital Audio Exchange (Dax) to the Digital Advertising Exchange (also Dax). The platform now hosts around 1,000 DOOH sites, buyable through four DSPs. It promises to serve the creative to DOOH screens in “less than an hour”.

Dax now needs to convince buyers that audio and OOH can work in tandem, and that is the job of Oliver Deane, Global's director of commercial outdoor.

He tells of BMW’s recent hybrid plug-in campaign that synced DOOH timings with its radio ads in the knowledge that a substantial number will get the audio and visual experience, which he argues drives the effectiveness.

Despite the downturn, it has been forging ahead with its ”screens in the ground” modernization strategy. It’ll have around an extra quarter of owned screens ready to sell come March 2021. Expect more of these audio/visual opportunities in the future.

As for OOH strategy, Deane thinks McDonald’s is nailing it. Drive-thrus remained opened through most of the downturn and roadside and transport spots were vital to this awareness campaign.


“Advertisers are using DOOH quite well as a creative canvas to deliver very succinct clear messages to people. They’ve moved on from those samey Covid-19 ads.”

The group is running the ’Think Bigger’ campaign right now, in the face of the freshly announced, rather expected recession. Using data from the last recession, it’s looking to showcase the advantage of using that marketing budget.

One positive, Deane concludes, is that the downturn has forced the industry, in the buy- and the sell-side, to make the media “much more flexible and much more immediate”.


On the agency-side, out-of-home and location marketers Posterscope boasted billings in excess of $3bn – before the pandemic.

Managing director Glen Wilson says: “We had a global pandemic with the over-arching instruction of ‘don’t leave home’, which had a pretty seismic effect. The AA/Warc’s 70% spend decline figure will prove to be pretty spot on”.

But brands are starting to rush through Posterscope’s doors again. Automotive in particularly was “one of the first” sectors back in and Wilson speculates that they need to shift ageing stock, fast.

“Notwithstanding unseen circumstances, like a return to lockdown – which we've seen springing up in various cities – it looks it looks very positive,” he says.

OOH’s benefit is that it can reach a lot of people at once, which is helpful in an increasingly fragmented media landscape. The crisis will “accelerate” existing trends.

“The rise of digital out-of-home was driven by the media owners that built it, like progressions such as Ultravision and scrolling panels before. These let you sell your best sites more times. Digital has that, but with an increased quality of presentation.”

Posterscope is trying to sell clients on the broadcast potential of DOOH, with buys and creative that are automatically triggered “when certain conditions are met”. This could be weather, time of day, traffic, pollen counts (GSK campaign here), temperature, government-mandated lockdowns or even football scores.

Wilson’s task is in proving the efficacy of such buys. Through its new Ecos Now trading platform, it is focusing on the media that clients want to buy, not just what’s for sale.

He offers an example: “Cider sales strongly correlate with hot weather. If you could only buy the medium in certain places when certain temperature triggers were set off, then clearly that would be a much more efficient use of expenditure.”

There’s suddenly no gamble. The specific conditions for that buy either exist or they don’t.

Talon Group

Barry Cupples, the chief executive of OOH planning agency Talon Group, says DOOH “unlocks predictive analytics that allows marketers to make better decisions on-the-fly”. Which is most important right now.

Having all the variables all in one dashboard and being able to act on them in almost real-time is a new appeal for the OOH space, with many still associating it with the trusty plastered-on billboards.

“The advances inform the creative process and help optimize both the media and the message with better and more integrated audience targeting.”

Talon’s OOH data management platform, Ada, has been particularly helpful in “giving clients the most relevant path to audiences on a changing weekly basis”, but this week it rolls out Atlas, an automated DOOH buying platform. The goal here is for marketers to extend online strategies into DOOH. If it is easier to buy and plan, who could pass it up?

Looking forward, those that can figure out the public’s movement fluctuations will benefit. And Cupples believes that, for a competitive edge, the creative needs to stand out through timely delivery, with messages that align to the time of day, location and consumer purpose. He points to its works with clients like McDonald’s and O2.

Go Green

His final point is that OnDevice Research shows OOH recorded the largest increase in consumer trust during the pandemic, as channels like social suffered in comparison. The huge amount of PSA material filling OOH sites has likely driven this and will have long-term benefits.

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