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Moneyballing programmatic DOOH for an unfair advantage

by Mark Burton

May 10, 2023

By leveraging predictive marketing, OOH planners can eliminate guesswork and take a proactive approach to audience optimization. Using agile macro data sets, it’s possible to unearth hidden patterns in how an audience moves around and therefore analyse which OOH sites provide best value. Combining that with programmatic digital out of home (prDOOH) technology gives brands an unfair advantage over more traditional planning. It’s something I’ve talked a lot about with client’s and colleagues the last few years, but until I watched Moneyball (again), I hadn’t realized it was so readily comparable.

Moneyball is a movie (and book) where baseball team Oakland A’s VP Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and sports analytics expert Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) come up with a new way of evaluating players for the team. They use statistics to analyse every aspect of a player and their performance.

The line that resonates most with me is when Brand says, “using stats the way we read them, we’ll find value in players no one else can see”. Little did I realize when I first saw the movie more than a decade ago, that I’d use that line almost every day at work.

When the film was released in 2011, outdoor campaigns were almost exclusively paper and paste. DOOH was in its infancy at a few prime locations (think Piccadilly Circus and Times Square) and prDOOH wasn’t even a thing.

If you don’t know the plotline, Moneyball is a classic David versus Goliath story, where a professional baseball team with a limited budget changes tactics to take on the big guns.

Their strategy uses statistical analysis to identify undervalued opportunities . The theory would go on to change the game of baseball, and now almost every team, in any sport, uses some variant.

It is a mindset many from a digital media background will be very familiar with. In the OOH space it still needs a bit more prodding. Hence the value in exploring how to find undervalue in DOOH.

Understand the DOOH problem

There is a scene in the movie where Brad Pitt’s character (Billy Bean) accuses his scouts of thinking like everyone else, and not understanding the problem. He says the problem is there are rich teams and there are poor teams. It’s an unfair game.

OOH could be seen very much in this context. Big brands with big budgets have an unfair advantage.

To compete you need to think differently. Fortunately prDOOH allows you to do exactly that. We’re seeing a lot of digital-first challenger brands using OOH for the first time. They’re attracted to prDOOH because it’s big, and it gives reach. Crucially it’s digital, and it doesn’t have to be always-on. That’s really important to digitally native marketers in any emerging channel.

The “problem” with OOH as a rule, is that it is still planned in silo. It is not part of integrated campaign planning. It’s not even planned alongside prDOOH as linear OOH is generally planned separately.

What few marketers realize is this is the place you gain an advantage over your competition. If a campaign is being planned in silo, it can’t be efficient. It’s got to work harder, it’s got to understand context, and it’s got to be audience first.

OOH and DOOH complement each other, just like they compliment other channels. DOOH should be the glue linking channels and amalgamating with a wider digital plan as opposed to being a rigid silo channel. That’s the real problem. Now you just need to solve it.

Find value in sites your competitors don’t know the route to

Not all sites are created equal. Not all data is created equal. There are gains to be made by interrogating site data against another source. OOH sites are typically scored (aka priced) based on Route data. It’s the industry standard based on audience estimates.

Route has served the industry well, but as it is based on a panel of circa 20k people, so statistically there are inevitably holes. Using larger, more dynamic data sets, marketers can understand at a more granular level which sites are over and under indexed. By cross-referencing the data with Route, you can find sites that lots of people see, but the Route panel, maybe didn’t.

If your competitors’ campaign is planned purely using Route, the likelihood is, they don’t understand the value in these sites. They are ripe for up-weighting bids through the DSP. You’ll get them at a knock down price, comparable to the number of views, which will add the cover and frequency needed on any OOH campaign.

Vanity metrics cost - blend it like Beckham

While I’ve clearly used the headline above to get in another nostalgic movie title, there is a valid point using it. Just like big name players come at a premium in sport, so do big ticket locations in OOH. The motion boards at Euston or Waterloo are never going to be undervalued. They’re called ‘hero’ sites for a reason. They give kudos and gravitas. Value and efficiency have to come secondary.

Value comes from using those sites as part of a blended campaign, across a range of sites. With prDOOH inventory increasing all the time, there’s no need to limit your campaign to traditional, large-format billboards. Biddable screens are now common in place-based locations, such as retail parks, shopping malls, train stations, gyms, office buildings, and other contextually relevant places where your customers regularly spend time - and money.

Here context becomes the lead factor. Triggers like weather, events and announcements can make budget go even further.

By activating creative based on local weather patterns at the time your audience is active, you’ll see huge efficiency savings. These can be particularly valuable on CPG and FMCG campaigns where weather is known to be such a deterministic factor. To get that extra gain, brands need to analyse and understand prDOOH signage in and around shopping destinations, such as supermarket retailers, and shopping malls. This would allow a full funnel blended campaign, arguably on any budget.

Buy audiences - not locations

In the movie, they talk a lot about buying runs, not buying players. In OOH that is the equivalent of buying audiences and impressions, not just locations. Locations only matter if your audience is there.

To understand an OOH audience you need to use granular insights into digital activity alongside how people move around the physical world. Whether that’s Christmas shoppers at markets, or a sports-loving audience, planners need to understand where audiences are and where they come from.

This understanding allows even small niche campaigns to flourish. For example last year we targeted football fans on a matchday. A one-day OOH campaign would’ve been pretty much inconceivable a few years ago, but now the channel is so agile, and audience first is so achievable, it opens up a world of possibilities

The northern power towers

Another area of undervalued opportunity is the regions. London is naturally an important market. It’s also saturated. Inventory is expanding rapidly, especially in what could be termed provincial towns. Your audience analysis should show where your customers are across the country, and it’s unlikely to only be in London. There is huge value in particular in reaching younger audiences in towns and cities where your competitors aren’t focusing.

There is also media efficiency in the regions. Most towns and cities now have some form of “Billboard Towers”. The value these provide can not be understated. You can score these using audience metrics to understand if they’ll be seen by your customers. If they will, they should almost certainly be on plan. The size, scale, location and quality drive brand metrics and perception. If your competitors aren’t able to evaluate their performance value, all the better for you.

Turn the odds in your favour

As you may have gathered, Moneyball is one of my favorite films. Ultimately it’s about using data to turn the odds in your favor. As Brad Pitt put it, “We are card counters at the blackjack table. And we're gonna turn the odds on the casino” Having worked on prDOOH since its inception, I do think the analogy with the industry is pertinent.

The key to a good OOH campaign is no longer just how big is your budget. It’s, how much do you understand about your audience? Do you understand the OOH sites they see when they’re out and about? And do you know how to buy these to maximize your budget?

It’s a game of Moneyball.


data and insight
Programmatic DOOH
programmatic digital out of home