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Out Of Home Media Sustainability

How out-of-home can play its part in a sustainable media buy

By Neil Tookey

June 29, 2021 | 10 min read

Neil Tookey, vice-president head of commercial trading at Essence, looks at the future of OOH through a sustainability lens.

Nandos OOH

A Nando’s banner cleaned air in the local area of Manchester by using Pureti spray coating

As life in the UK becomes less restricted and we’re all getting out and about more, brands are capitalizing on out-of-home (OOH) advertising – but how can we do that and deliver on sustainability goals?

The latest data from JCDecaux and Clear Channel shows digital impressions are at 78% and audience reach is now higher (104%) than pre-pandemic for roadside, as people are able to enjoy going out again. By late June, it’s predicted audiences will be at 100%+, followed by malls at 90% and rail at 60% of pre-pandemic levels as people return to shopping, socializing and working in city centers.

The latest ad forecast from GroupM predicts a 31% growth this year, with OOH being the fastest-growing media channel (aside from digital) over the next few years. Investment in digital OOH inventory has continued through the pandemic – it is now smarter, faster and more agile than ever, and GroupM anticipates that this will drive interest from new and returning advertisers.

So there’s a huge opportunity for brands right now, but with the G7 summit recently held in Cornwall and sustainability top of mind across the globe, how can the future of OOH help brands deliver on net zero environmental targets?

Advertising and sustainability

With the world’s wealthiest democracies – the UK, the US, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and the EU – reaffirming their intention of holding global heating to no more than 1.5C and more vital UN climate talks later this year at Cop26, brands more than ever are under pressure to deliver on sustainability commitments. Climate, society and the global economy are intrinsically interlinked.

There has been a lot of chatter from the wider industry sharing big sustainability claims. Many brands, including WPP and GroupM, are making their own sustainability commitments with hard deadlines. The recently-launched IPA Media Climate Charter is one of many practical first steps on the pathway for sustainable transformation. Measuring and reducing the impact of media investment through GroupM’s carbon calculator for media plans, something we already offer at Essence, keeps us all accountable.

Increasingly brands need a social license to operate. 86% expect business to play their part in solving big challenges like climate change or social justice. 83% feel that brands focus on positive impact rather than just doing less harm to the planet and people. At least half of our clients in EMEA have net zero goals already – and it’s important to reflect these in marketing decisions.

So the industry is wholeheartedly looking at ways to be environmentally friendly, but what does this have to do with OOH?

Positive impact of OOH

Arguably, OOH is one of the best media channels not only to deliver on net zero goals, but to positively impact local and national infrastructure and communities. Investing in OOH can deliver net zero goals as well as brand and wider community benefits.

OOH has led the charge within the media owner landscape when it comes to sustainable development. All four major OOH suppliers have already implemented strategies to drive carbon neutrality across their business – no mean feat considering they are intrinsically linked to physical infrastructure in cities.

Around 50% of OOH advertising budgets go back to public infrastructure projects and local communities to fund everything from transport such as electric buses, roads, job opportunities and apprenticeship schemes. Positive social impact and close collaboration with local councils is integral to the OOH model.

So what does this mean for brands? They can use these public spaces for community good. Doing good, after all, is good business. A great example is a recent Nando’s banner cleaning air in the local area of Manchester by using Pureti spray coating.

Innovative digital screen designs enable easy access for pedestrians to smart screens, wifi, USB chargers and defibrillators. They can also utilize solar panels for lighting and to power screens. Some are eco-friendly ‘living’ bus shelters that have mini gardens on the roof to encourage biodiversity and wildlife corridors. These future-proofed screens run on 90% renewable energy and are designed to be long lasting – reducing the need for regular replacement. Clever panel design ensures they’re easy to fix and replace in sections rather than as a whole.

By looking beyond the format, and collaborating with broader social and environmental impacts, brands can have an even bigger impact through OOH. If an ad campaign is designed for sustainability from the outset – even if the messaging isn’t about sustainability – it can positively impact the environment by considering zero waste with all builds and creative.

Brands can be a catalyst for change by enabling sustainable behaviors via OOH ads while people are out and about – reminding them to recycle, use the correct bins or increase their step count. A recent L’Oréal campaign, for example, encouraged bottle recycling, and an Ikea campaign listed the number of steps to the nearest store.

Smart screens can also be used to harness data for positive impact – to activate, inform and convert sales. The data can be used to understand the cities that you are operating in and how you can add value to the communities. Data can also be used to inform placement as well as messaging and behavioural change. For example, Renault Zoe’s recent roadside pollution-triggered campaign gave a price discount to consumers depending on levels of pollution. The campaign was triggered whenever the air quality was poor, allowing dynamic creatives to be displayed according to the real-time data before showing an ad for the Renault Zoe. The campaign led to a 144% increase in Google searches for the term ‘Zoe’, inspired a best-use case of such data and caused a number of other brands to start building similar campaigns. Its success convinced Renault to renew such operations as part of their ‘always-on’ advertising plan.

“95% of our inventory is digital,” says Phil Hall, joint manging director, Ocean Outdoor, when talking about ways to best manage the impact of OOH.

We have a mantra of ‘digital cities for digital citizens’ and believe there is a remit to support our cities and make them more sustainable. For example, switching some screens off at night or dimming light levels and using 100% sustainable energy. We work closely with the local authorities in this area. For example, Southampton City Council wants to minimize air pollution so we’ve been helping them to hit their targets by measuring the levels of pollution and working to make our sites more environmentally friendly.”

Looking ahead to the future impact of OOH, Louise Stubbings, creative and partnerships director, Clear Channel, says: “OOH looks completely different today compared to three years ago, and this change has been galvanized by public sentiment. We’re part of the environment in a way that no other channel is, so we are a lived rather than a consumed experience and the changes we are making to our infrastructure benefit everyone. We all need to take responsibility and constantly think reduce, reuse and recycle – if every business did these things that would mean long-term transformational change.”

She explains that they’ve had an “explosion of briefs” requiring sustainable OOH sites and execution. Her recommendation is for brands looking to achieve sustainable goals through OOH to “have conversations at the front end and involve everyone, but also agree what success will look like for you”.

Getting back to the office

So we all have a lot to consider to achieve our sustainability goals – and OOH is a great media channel to achieve these goals. In the meantime, there are opportunities abound with the gradual return to offices.

Two thirds of workers are now back at their workplace and on average people are visiting their workplace 3.6 times per week. Workplace workers have been savvy savers throughout the pandemic, saving +4% more than the average adult and they’re now looking to spend – holidays, fashion, meals out and cars are just some of the key categories they’re looking to invest in.

In a recent commute to the office, I noticed how many different formats we come across in just an hour door to door. My journey is fairly simple: South Eastern train from New Eltham to Charing Cross and then a stroll up to Oxford Circus. Within two minutes I saw my first ad of the day – a bus shelter six sheet. At the station, we have a digital six sheet currently displaying two copies promoting the return of theaters in the foyer before going through the gates. The beauty of digital OOH is that it allows your messaging to be a lot more dynamic and current – the opportunities are endless.

So next time you travel to work, look up and ask yourself how you could use OOH in a smart, sustainable, creative and impactful way. OOH advertising is everywhere – you name an environment without a poster and I’m sure the market would investigate placing one there. With sustainability at the forefront of everyone’s mind and increased footfall as people get out and about, now is the time to harness this powerful advertising tool for great environmental change.

Neil Tookey is vice-president head of commercial trading at Essence.

Out Of Home Media Sustainability

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