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Out Of Home Open Mic Marketing

US political ad spend shows no signs of slowing down - here's what that signals for OOH



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May 7, 2024 | 8 min read

With a surge in global elections this year, a remarkable number of in out of home (OOH) ads have appeared, says John Dolan (vice president, global head of media sales, Broadsign). Here's what that means for the industry.

2024 is shaping up to be the biggest global election year yet. While the international spotlight is on the US presidential election race, more than 60 countries will have held regional, legislative, and presidential elections by the end of the year, according to Politico. For constituents, this has translated to a barrage of non-stop campaign ads across TV, radio, mobile devices, the internet, direct mail, billboards, and more. 

In fact, forecasts predict the 2024 election cycle will shatter political advertising records with GroupM estimating US political ad spend to reach $15.9bn this year, and Insider Intelligence projecting a 30% increase compared to 2020, according to Reuters. Due to the reach and local advantage that out of home (OOH) advertising provides, coupled with challenges presented by an ever-evolving digital political advertising landscape, election advertising across OOH inventory is expected to grow by the end of the year. Let’s take a closer look at why.

The election advertising impact of on/off political ad bans on social media

Many citizens turn to online resources, including social media, to make informed voting decisions. However, when it comes to political advertising on social platforms, the landscape is inherently complex, especially with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), which has posed new challenges.

TikTok, which has over a billion monthly active users and a user base comprising more than 50% between the ages of 18-24, has long banned any form of political advertising. Political ads are also prohibited from the professional social networking platform LinkedIn. As of 2023, X, formerly Twitter, allows political ads again after a previous ban. Google election ads are subject to different requirements and targeting restrictions, based on region. And, for those advertisers experimenting with AI, both Google and YouTube have established rules that the use of AI in election ads to synthesize voice or imagery must be disclosed.

Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, has also rolled out AI restrictions for political ads. Regardless, a Forrester report predicts that "major brands, political figures, celebrities, and creators will see their likenesses appropriated and misused,” but that creative demand-side platform (DSP) and supply-side platform (SSP) scanning could serve as a preventative measure. 

With such a complicated landscape to navigate, many election ad planners are evening their odds, by exploring an omnichannel strategy, and often, one that includes OOH.

Why you’re seeing more OOH election ads in 2024

Despite these challenges, election ad spend is anticipated to grow across channels, including OOH. According to OAAA, political OOH ad spend has grown significantly since 2018, and with a landmark global election year, the medium is on track to expand its share of political ad revenue.

This could, in part, be attributed to OOH’s local advantage. OAAA estimates that 85% of political OOH ad spend is local, with 66% occurring in the second half of the year. Furthermore, Insider Intelligence reports that local ad spend in the US could grow 8.6% to $175.6bn in 2024, with political advertising making up an estimated $11bn of that total, based on a BIA Advisory Services Report.

Beyond its local advantage, OOH advertising is attracting political advertisers looking to reach audiences as they move about their days, seeing that 80% of US workers have returned to work commutes post-pandemic, and both US air travel and transit were up in 2023. This is essential, as political advertisers benefit by being able to reach their ideal audience through precise targeting by zip codes, voter districts, and demographics. 

While not exclusive to OOH, more omnichannel and OOH specialty demand-side platforms are also introducing a growing volume of OOH targeting tools that let advertisers reach voters throughout their daily journey. Breaking news; global, local, or national developments; and even campaign achievements can be used as data triggers to execute timely political ad messaging or help make the most out of pre-and post-event campaign appearances.

Overall, OOH can also be used to amplify political messaging across other media channels to enhance impact or re-engage audiences exposed to DOOH ads by retargeting on their mobile devices. It’s a complement to many other channels, especially as OAAA research indicates that adults tend to favor billboard ads over other media formats and the ad format generates the highest ad recall across media channels. In addition to these advantages, digital OOH (DOOH) campaign performance has grown more measurable in recent years, which ensures advertisers can better analyze campaign results to adapt and optimize their campaign creative and messaging.

Furthermore, an OAAA survey from earlier this year found that nearly half of respondents exposed to an OOH political ad found them informative in terms of learning more about political candidates and policy issues. A quarter of those survey participants also called out the ability of political OOH ads to serve as a reminder to vote.

Navigating the wild west

While it’s clear OOH political advertising is poised for new growth this year, complications certainly remain. The rules and regulations for election advertising are still coming into being, with not all OOH publishers allowing it. It’s not always clear on which OOH inventory political ads can run. This not only poses challenges for election advertisers, but also advertisers who don’t want to risk their brand safety by having creative run near potentially polarizing content.

OOH media owners and ad tech developers are working to help overcome these challenges, however. OOH media owner Outfront recently announced a “political avoidance network,” which offers 2,000 OOH screens that do not allow political- or issue-based advertising. 

For election advertisers looking to determine OOH inventory that is accessible and approved for political advertising, earlier this year, Broadsign advanced its integration with StackAdapt. The update introduces a political advertising auction package that makes localized political OOH campaign planning much more straightforward. Buyers now know they’re bidding on OOH inventory that has been verified to accept political ads, whereas before they may have been rejected after bidding. These represent just two recent developments, and mark the beginning of more to come.

Diversifying inventory

For advertisers looking to leverage OOH for political advertising, it’s important to diversify the inventory on which OOH ads will run. Consider all the available options from office building elevators, to wayfinding kiosks, roadside billboards, and many other OOH venue types both static and digital), and find the right mix to suit your needs. In short, advertisers that run a year-long targeted political campaign to engage voters across the target market and across a range of indoor and outdoor screen types will achieve maximum exposure.

There’s no denying that OOH political ad spend is up, with the OAAA estimating a 113% increase compared to Q1 2021. Many advertisers are turning to the medium to reach voters, elevate candidate visibility, and amplify political messaging, but what that means for the larger OOH and ad industries has yet to be determined. It’s certainly a trend to keep an eye on as we progress through 2024.

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