Mobile and Programmatic Out of Home: The next generation of ads

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This article first appeared on Mediatel News and has been reproduced with kind permissions. 

From London’s Piccadilly Circus to New York’s Times Square, digital out-of-home adverts have become a staple, often iconic, aspect of our cities and towns.

The digital generation of billboards have revolutionised advertising, enabling stunning displays on a much bigger scale than ever before. Whether on the side of a building, straddling a motorway, or running the length of your local department store, who can miss a brand logo when it’s 50 feet high and revolving?

Today, the transformation of out-of-home is subtler, yet every bit as radical. Programmatic out-of-home (prOOH) ads can be bought digitally, meaning displays can be changed, swapped or switched off in real time, and audiences can be targeted with incredible accuracy and effectiveness. 

Imagine a train coming from a destination five hours away, pulling into a city station at roughly 6:30pm full of hungry passengers. As the doors open and people file out, the boards above immediately advertise pizza parlours, sushi bars and pub roasts all within walking distance of the station. That perfect timing and context is the magic of programmatic.

Now imagine that every hour, for the last three hours of that train ride, that same group of passengers have been seeing destination-based restaurant ads as they scroll idly on their mobile, and there you have the golden combination; mobile and prOOH. A match made in advertising heaven. 

The perfect partnership 

Incorporating mobile into a prOOH campaign means gaining access to a huge array of invaluable data. It enables advertisers to test and trial ads on a small scale first by serving them on mobiles and measuring consumer response to establish what works and what doesn’t. Brands can gather real time performance insights on mobile which means they can engage in live planning - flexing and pivoting the prOOH activation where necessary to execute the perfect campaign. 

Every step is measurable so once the run is over, even richer insights can be drawn from post-campaign analysis, making each activation smarter than the last. 

Beyond the insights it offers, mobile can also serve as the connection between prOOH and other channels, like Connected TV, which means a story can be told intelligently, across platforms, all with consumer privacy in mind.

And sequence is totally interchangeable, prOOH complements mobile at both ends of the user journey. At the big splash at the beginning, or the crescendo at the end, nothing works better than a prOOH ad to grab attention and drive a message home. In other words, if ad campaigns were music, mobile is the rhythm, while prOOH is the lead singer.

In real terms, this combination offers huge potential to drive footfall and encourage user recall. Consider supermarkets, for example, users can be served ads for a product on mobile devices within the vicinity of a particular supermarket branch. Outside its doors, and right before entering the shop, a prOOH ad for the same product might be just what it takes to push that consumers’ interest over the line into a sale.

Unlocking new audiences 

Mobile and prOOH in combination also allows advertisers to understand their audience in a totally new way. Insights on out-of-home audiences have typically been generated by the industry standard for DOOH measurement, ‘Route Measurement’, based on the straight-forward method of surveying passers-by, while standing under a billboard. But mobile data opens a whole new world of audience understanding. 

It’s often the case that our true interests and the way we want to be perceived do not always align. Using Route Measurement as a base, mobile data adds an additional new layer of insight which helps split audiences into more sophisticated, niche segments. 

Advertisers can even learn what their audiences desire, based on how certain ads perform. A brand might begin by trying to target a particular audience, and then mobile data may reveal that a slightly different audience is actually engaging with those ads. A preconceived targeting idea can be blown out of the water. This kind of intelligence teaches a brand where and when to invest in that big prOOH ad, to reach untapped audiences.

What does the future hold? 

The timing of prOOH ads will only get more exact as the technology develops. As an industry, we’re on the edge of having the capability to perfectly time an ad with the most relevant audience. 

When lockdowns end and previously cooped up consumers fill the likes of Oxford Street once more, thousands of shoppers will pass the same prOOH ads. We’re not far from being able to index audiences in real time. The technology will be able to wait for the right demographic to walk by, showing the perfect ad at the perfect moment.

For now, the mobile and prOOH partnership is completely new, so we find ourselves in a trial and learn environment. Any brand venturing into this incredibly exciting branch of advertising needs to be prepared to optimise and tailor campaigns as they go along. 

We’re at an intersection of media which is in its early stages and we should be bold to try different approaches. Seasonality, time of day and time of week will all impact the effectiveness of campaigns.

The best location for a prOOH ad right now in lockdown Britain might be outside an essential shop, or a public park, but this time next year consumer behaviour and footfall will be drastically different. Getting the most out of this technology is all about testing and learning and fortunately, constant optimisation and improvement is exactly what mobile and prOOH data lends itself to.

Joel Livesey is the lead senior director of inventory partnerships at The Trade Desk.