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18 minute read | June 23, 2021

Digital out of home: myths and legends

Written By: Natalia Escribano

There are many assumptions bandied around about digital out of home (OOH) and many of these are often untrue or inaccurate. The technology to deliver digital outdoor advertising has transformed at pace over the last few years – and the global pandemic has created an interlude of digital transformation as people are returning outdoors. 

At VIOOH, we’ve seen an extraordinary period of rebound and acceleration, with 35% to 50% month-on-month growth in the number of active programmatic campaigns since the beginning of the year. Ad spend is also increasing at a very strong pace, despite some markets still being in some form of lockdown. A strong indicator of the opportunities ahead as restrictions are completely lifted comes from Australia. We launched VIOOH in the Australian market in April, and in Q1 alone, Australia was already one of our best-performing markets.

JCDecaux UK’s latest Mobility Data found that, as a result of the easing of restrictions, OOH audiences have recently seen their largest weekly increase since March 2020. By w/e 30 May, total UK audiences had an increase of 33% reaching 70% - delivering 4.1billion impressions every two weeks, with the latest increase adding an additional 1billion two weekly eyeballs. Supermarkets are at 100%, Large Format 79%, Street Furniture 72%, Malls 84% and Rail 40%.

So, that’s all well and good, but why should you include digital OOH in your integrated ad campaigns? Looking to bust some myths, I want to answer the recurring questions we’re often asked by media buyers and media owners unsure about the value of programmatic DOOH. Here are a few ways to maximise digital OOH campaigns and deliver real value for brands. 

1. Programmatic is used to sell remnant inventory.

There was a predicted $336BN digital ad spend available, globally, in 2020 digital accounting for over half of all ad spend. The benefits of programmatic media buying aren’t only limited to solely programmatic campaigns – and in terms of digital OOH it’s definitely not remnant inventory.

Buying digital OOH inventory programmatically delivers campaigns in broadcast and brand-safe advertising environments to diverse audiences, reaching them on-the-go and making it easier to audit as ads are displayed in physical locations. It offers high-quality inventory 100% viewable, ad-block and fraud-free in high-impact locations with attention grabbing, dynamic ads. 

Investment into technology solutions has delivered a new broadcast and activation medium, helped deliver optimised campaigns and dynamic creative as well as data driven, audience led campaigns. 

It offers flexibility with the ability to start, stop, pause or adjust campaigns in-flight that traditional OOH is just not able to provide as effectively. Programmatic digital OOH is traded on an hourly basis or real time via a demand side platform (DSP) – so it’s incredibly flexible and agile, delivering the option to manage where, when and how the campaign is run. 

By booking programmatic DOOH alongside other media through a DSP, an omnichannel or integrated campaign can benefit from synergy across strategy, planning and targeting and messaging to provide a unified experience. Media buyers can also benefit from data collected whilst the campaign is live to enhance targeting, planning and optimising across channels.

For the sell-side, OOH media owners can now compete and even complement social and mobile campaigns alongside streaming services such as audio and TV. As well as increased yield, and gaining access to incremental revenue from new budgets and buyers, media owners benefit from increased transparency and control, alongside greater targeting capabilities with the use of first and third party data. Finally, access to near real-time reporting insights allows for greater efficiency and flexibility for media owners to pursue the best mix of deals. 

2. I understand the theory behind programmatic but how is it going to benefit my business long term?

Programmatically traded DOOH is now a serious contender for ad spend – and it’s easier than ever to plan, trade, activate and optimise within an advertiser’s overall campaign. 

Accurate targeting utilises the same audience data, as part of a multi-channel campaign, which means greater accuracy and long term synergies. This means your DSP uses the same audience data across OOH as for other digital channels, creating alignment between the public / broadcast element in the OOH execution, and the private / one-to-one element on other screens such as mobile and display. In fact, OOH can supercharge the effects of Social Media, increasing brand recall by 125% and engagement by 52%.

Media Buyers

Digital OOH offers best-in-class platform to manage the planning, trading and execution of OOH, enabling media owners to: sell efficiently, optimise yield, drive incremental revenue and maximise advertising effectiveness.

It is now easy for media buyers to trade OOH efficiently via programmatic trading and automated inventory management. They can also plan and buy relevant digital OOH inventory in real-time via partners pre-bid API and unique data segments. 

At VIOOH for example, we offer one buying point to seamlessly connect multiple digital channels for a unified brand experience and we’re enabling digital buyers to build campaigns based on audience or location, across markets.

Media Owners

In terms of media owners, they can gain access to programmatic buyers and budgets, helping to increase revenue. They are the controllers of the buying and selling process, they set the sales policies, pricing, accessibility and channels - across both automated inventory management and programmatic trading.

Premium digital OOH sites use a base currency of viewed and viewable impressions in line with market industry standards. Media owners can benefit from revenue diversification strategies helping them to maximise digital budgets. This efficiency increases yield and helps to give access to new budgets or incremental revenue.  

Delivering effective programmatic OOH in an innovative way, helps advertisers make meaningful connections with consumers to ensure they get the most out of their media budgets, which is an incredibly valuable long term business benefit.

3. Can you clarify how Programmatic OOH is brand safe?

Digital OOH delivers premium and brand-safe inventory, high impact creative and zero viewability issues. It has strict rules about where creative can be displayed, ensuring brand safety and OOH is by nature a broadcast medium, with a one-to-many environment. All of these features are also true when the OOH inventory is traded programmatically, and through this transparency and control, location and time based targeting is available, as well as real time reporting insights delivering full transparency.

There is also little chance of audience fraud or click bots that can be found in programmatic display. Digital OOH uses both first and third party data, and due to the public, broadcast nature, there is no ad blocking, bots or skipping, as often experienced with display or mobile advertising. 

Finally, there is also a creative moderation process in place in every Programmatic Market Place (PMP). This means that media owners have to moderate the creative and that checks are carried out at this high level. In addition, for an added precaution, there are inclusion / exclusion lists which can be set up. 

4. How can I ensure scale when targeting a specific audience?

Programmatic digital OOH delivers scale through a number of routes. Brands can react to ever-changing conditions with trigger-based targeting around promotions, news, audiences and consumer journeys, locations, weather and environmental conditions, time and moments.


DOOH traded programmatically raises brand awareness and drives footfall through location-based conditional trigger campaigns (e.g. train delays or weather). For example, GlaxoSmithKline ran a campaign for anti-histamine medication Piriteze in the UK on a non-guaranteed basis that utilised pollen levels as the trigger for activation. Once the pollen levels dropped, GSK was able to stop the campaign and recoup unspent media budget, showing the efficiencies of programmatic that would not have been so easily possible with traditional ways of buying OOH.

Targeting by time of day - in the right moments

DOOH campaigns can be adapted in real-time or by time of day to target different audiences with more relevant messages (e.g. morning commuters vs. evening commuters).

Virgin Active Gyms, for example, used digital screens to target and congratulate early morning ‘gym bunnies’ in a slightly different way to those who it was reminding to go, as normal, in the evening after work. Footfall uplift (0.42%) measurement, showed users 2.30x more likely to visit Virgin Active gyms when exposed to the campaign.

It’s also possible to feed in real-time data to inform programmatic DOOH campaigns. From pollen count for allergy medicine to live transport updates, DOOH can adapt to coordinate with peoples’ literal journeys, as well as their digital ones. 

For example, an advert for a London tourist attraction in St Pancras Station could be timed to be displayed exactly at the same time as hundreds of excited tourists coming in on the Eurostar. If the train is delayed by an hour, so too is the ad.

(Actual) Customer Journey

To strengthen the impact of an omnichannel campaign, DOOH can map and match the physical journey of consumers. For example, beginning the consumer journey with a DOOH ad at the station on the way to work, can then be continued by serving more actionable ads on mobile and other channels afterwards.

John Lewis wanted to increase footfall to their stores across the UK, and targeted frames in close proximity to JL stores and competitor retailers. The result was a 73% uplift in store visitation.

Mobile & DOOH

Brands are able to leverage the affinity of mobile and digital OOH through geotargeting, movement tracking, retargeting and sequential messaging, for targeting and cross-channel optimisation. Mobile advertising when combined with digital OOH can drive high levels of in-store visits and app downloads.

For example, in the second burst of activity for Virgin Active gyms, using learnings from the first one, programmatic optimisation delivered improved results and greater media efficiencies. It delivered a 54% increase in walk-ins compared with the first burst and 2.44x uplift in footfall.


5. Why would I do a programmatically-triggered campaign programmatically rather than going direct to the media owner?

The merits of being able to utilise high impact, premium OOH inventory to create awareness or intrigue while also activating the campaign in a smart way using programmatic trading and event-based triggers, can work extremely successfully. Analysing and optimising at individual OOH screen level mid-campaign, and seeing its impact on metrics such as footfall, in-store and online purchases, means that with programmatic, OOH can now truly be considered as both a branding and performance channel.

Trigger-based buying using data around promotions, news, consumer journeys, location, weather, environmental conditions, time and moments means campaigns can be adjusted automatically or only displayed once certain criteria are met, reducing wastage. The creative used in DOOH ads can also easily be changed, amended, or even paused, in near real time. The creative can be replaced automatically to respond to the external environment or other triggers, maximising effectiveness. 

For example, a campaign for Renault ZOE calculated air pollution levels, enabling bidding on screens in the vicinity of high and medium pollution locations. The creative was adjusted based on the live data, and based on the full campaign (TV, OLV and OOH), it delivered 144% increase in searches on Google.

When Nespresso wanted to resolve the issue of stabilising their in-store visitors throughout the day, they used a “digital doorman” and programmatically served DOOH in a mall environment. Creative executions included real-time information around in-store queue times and time-limited offers to drive in-store visits. The campaign stabilised visits throughout the day, and brand metrics, footfall and sales all saw significant uplift, with a huge 19.5% sales uplift across all Nespresso products.

In another example, Otto Group Media used smart segmentation of two key target groups for their latest campaign: Gen Y and Gen Z. Specific creatives were produced for each of these target groups, displaying specialised products tailored to the audience group, and an extra layer of time of day and weather was also added as a trigger to produce a truly dynamic campaign. Outstanding recall values were achieved with 44% recognition (recognition of the DOOH spots). The spot designed for the target group of 20 to 29 year olds led to above average recall in this target group with 47%. People who had contact with the ad perceived Otto to be 32% stronger as a modern brand than people who had no contact with the DOOH campaign.

6. What creative solutions can I use to retarget the audience that’s been exposed to OOH? 

There are many creative solutions to use for retargeting. A popular option is for brands to leverage the affinity of mobile and digital OOH through geotargeting, movement tracking, retargeting and sequential messaging, for targeting and cross-channel optimisation.

And the research supports the added value of using mobile and OOH together:

  • Eye-tracking researchers found there was a 52% increase in the time spent looking at the private screen (mobile) when there had been ‘priming’ on a public screen, boosting dwell time. 
  • Spontaneous brand recall also increases to 21% when exposed to both OOH and mobile.
  • Research conducted by Outsmart showed a 17% uplift in smartphone brand actions when the user is exposed to the OOH ad first.
  • Add programmatic OOH (prOOH) into the equation and the capabilities kick up a notch further. Programmatic OOH, with its high-impact broadcast screens, trigger-based creatives and maximum targeting and flexibility capabilities is the perfect partner for mobile - and these two mediums can work together in harmony to create the ultimate brand experience.

Metrics such as the click-through rate on a specific mobile ad geo-targeted to users who have been exposed to a prOOH ad, the use of special promo or QR codes integrated through the programmatic OOH creative and actioned via mobile, and the ability to track the number of users who followed a specific code in a personal device are just some of the functionalities made possible by bringing the two mediums together.

Digital OOH delivers omnichannel synergy across strategy, planning and targeting, with messages reiterated to deliver a unified experience. 

There are many ways to maximise digital OOH campaigns and deliver real value for brands, so don’t get caught out with irrelevant preconceptions, myths or legends. Now is the time to harness this impactful digital media channel – and experience the benefits and value programmatic OOH consistently delivers for brands. 

Natalia Escribano is Chief Commercial Officer at VIOOH. For more information visit: 

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