Out of home must learn the lessons of display as it adopts programmatic

By James Davies |

November 28, 2018 | 7 min read

Advertising’s oldest format – out of home – is fast moving into its programmatic future.

Digital OOH isn’t even that new, it has now scaled, and it was over four years ago the medium saw the launch of real-time trading. While this remains a relatively small part of the out of home market we expect and hope for it to grow fast, and for good reason.

Do air Day Times Square

The programmatic future for OOH

In fact, the global digital OOH market is expected to be worth more than $5bn by 2022, growing some 10% a year, according to MarketWatch. The major driving factors of that growth are increased investment from media owners, technological innovations, new creative possibilities and improved flexibility bringing it more in line with other digital channels.

It’s about time.

Marketing isn’t going to become any less real-time and reactive; take Lidl’s spoofing of this year’s John Lewis Christmas blockbuster ad for proof of that. And OOH is so well placed to act on the opportunity of ‘now’.

To do so the medium must accelerate its move to programmatic; it must become quicker and easier for brands to activate and optimise at a moment’s notice, reacting to political, social or business events or other relevant real-time data signals.

The latest marketing news and insights straight to your inbox.

Get the best of The Drum by choosing from a series of great email briefings, whether that’s daily news, weekly recaps or deep dives into media or creativity.

Sign up

However, to do so sustainably, from my experience as both Chief Strategy Officer at Posterscope, and now in my role in location marketing company GroundTruth, I consider it crucial that OOH learns five important lessons from the adoption of programmatic by the online ad sector.

1. Datasets that may appear to be comparable are probably not. Diligence is critical, based on a deep understanding of how data is sourced, cleansed and processed.

2. The OOH sector needs to be wary of letting opportunistic copycat companies that don’t add value enter the ecosystem; the online ad sector is still battling to repair the damage done by such players.

3. A technology solution akin to ads.txt is needed, so that will only allow authorised parties to trade your inventory from day one.

4. Integrations must be kept as easy and straighforward as possible. Even with the common standards that define online advertising, tech integrations can be complicated and long drawn out.

5. Which leads me on to perhaps the most important: build and agree standard industry protocols now.

Of course, while online advertising has its problems due to high fragmentation, at the same time it is a hive of innovation and innovation in OOH must not be stifled for fear of what might not work. The good news is that consolidation on both buy and sell side means that it much easier to change direction if that innovation leads to unintended consequences.

The implications of automation in OOH must be fully assessed, even if that automation is not done in real time. Superficially it appears that it creates operational efficiency, which allows resources to be redirected into areas of more strategic importance such as planning. Beware, though, the reality: new operational complexities are introduced as technical capabilities are developed – the job might have changed but the level of resource needed often stays the same (or indeed, increases in new areas).

I also fear an ongoing lack of consistency in OOH. Uniqueness and competitive value within the sector is important but already DOOH has a reputation for being difficult; a plethora of specifications, methodologies and terminologies just exacerbates this.

A place for creativity

And let’s not forget creative in this equation. Campaigns need to evolve accordingly. There are plenty of great creative innovation examples in OOH but very few instances where real-time marketing has been baked into a brand’s, or indeed a company’s, long-term creative strategy.

One recent example is Skoda UK, which combined contextual data with inspirational messaging under its ‘Driven by Something Different’ push. Digital billboards highlighted the natural beauty of four different, stunning locations in the UK alongside how long it would take to drive from that exact spot to the location in the ad, using real-time traffic statistics to update journey estimations.

Or consider Google using real-time data in an outdoor campaign across New York to promote a new set of Google Maps features designed to help people find things to do and places to eat in their neighbourhood.

One great example for a (Drum Marketing Awards-winning) campaign GroundTruth worked on was AXA. Together with Havas Media UK and Posterscope, we unleashed a mobile campaign carrying three distinct insurance product messages, and measured the interaction rate with said messages over specific locations. In addition to other contextual data including location and weather, interaction data was fed back into the digital out of home creative. This meant the digital OOH message displayed not only included the city name and weather advice, but changed the overall product message depending on the measured interaction rates from the mobile campaign.

All clever campaigns – but think of the opportunities that being able to bid in real time, and serve real-time contextual ads, would offer the canny marketer?

The OOH sector has the chance to learn from display and get this right first time. The opportunities for digital out of home are ripe and growing; datasets that are increasingly

real-time and location-based, consumer familiarity with technologies such as augmented reality and the huge rise of mobile location-based advertising and services will all help fuel this growth. As long as OOH innovates at speed it’s future will be very bright.

Out of home’s time is, quite literally, now.

James Davis is head of UK for GroundTruth and will be a speaker on the Programmatic in Out of Home panel at The Drum’s Programmatic Punch conference on 3 December.


More from Advertising

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +