How the outdoor media industry reinvented itself via digital, data and content

The rapid growth of online media in the past decade has seen “traditional” media – television, print, radio and outdoor – lose some of its once lustrous reputation in the marketing industry. Yet one of those traditional media, outdoor, has been able to buck the trend and reinvent itself in the digital era. And in doing so it has increased its audiences – and revenues.

OMA, Australia’s outdoor advertising industry body, recently announced the sector’s eighth consecutive year of revenue growth. As it edges closer to being a $1 billion annual industry, just over 47 per cent of that revenue is now in digital billboards and signs. oOh!media, one of the biggest players, has digitised more than 8000 of its 20,000 outdoor sites. With its recent $570 million purchase of Adshel from HT&E, that will only increase.

The most obvious advantage of digitising sites is the ability to update ads immediately. Not only does that save time and money compared with the traditional printing and posting of ads, it allows advertisers to be more contextually relevant. If bank interest rates go up or down, the ads can be changed immediately. If a brand wanted to do a one-day price special, the ads can be updated. If it’s a hot day, ice cream and soft drink companies can post an ad to convince the consumer to buy their brand. If it’s a wintery day, gravy companies can do the same.

It also lets advertisers communicate multiple product benefits of their brand, at once or at different times in the day. Car companies can highlight fuel efficiency in one ad, road handling abilities in the next and finance options on a third. Fast food chains can advertise their lunch menu in the middle of the day and the dinner menu as commuters are driving home.

And with outdoor digital sites now in pubs, fitness centres, universities and cafes, contextually relevant native content is now possible. Contiki saw a 300 per cent increase in sales from a 2017 university campus campaign using a combination of advertising on screens in universities and native content.

But the latest research also highlights one age-old virtue: simplicity. One of Twitter’s 2016 outdoor ads leading into the US elections epitomised that: an image of the eyes of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump side by side, with a simple hashtag next to each and small Twitter logos in the corners.

The less visible advantage of a digitised outdoor network is the data it generates, allowing the targeting of more specific audiences. Marketers are being challenged to ensure that every dollar of their budget delivers a sales result, so using data to better understand and target consumers is a necessity.

In 2016, oOh!media and Quantium announced a data partnership, with the former’s CEO, Brendon Cook, saying the partnership would enable a telco to target “high-spending pre-paid customers versus the traditional demographic of 18- to 39-year-olds”. This year, APN Outdoor CEO James Warburton announced a string of data hires, promising to continue to invest in data innovation “to increase the insights we can deliver to advertisers, to make their outdoor campaigns more effective”.

In 2017, CommBank was one of the first advertisers to make the most of the outdoor industry’s new digital, data and contextual creative abilities. The bank used its own live data from customer surveys on ATM screens to deliver creative digital ads tailored to an area or state. One outcome was a billboard on a major Sydney freeway with the headline “47 per cent of New South Wales believes the Australian dream of property is still a reality”.

The next obvious step with outdoor’s new abilities around digital, data, and contextual and immediate ads is to step into the programmatic media buying and selling space that is prevalent in online advertising. Major outdoor player Clear Channel, as well as Google in conjunction with JCDecaux, have recently launched such offerings in the UK.

The outdoor industry in Australia attracts 6 per cent of advertisers’ media budgets, and this has been growing steadily in recent years. The latest research from the UK’s IPA shows that spending more of your media mix on outdoor leads to stronger results. Those advertisers who spend 15 per cent or more of their media budget on outdoor are seeing 26 per cent increases in profits and 30 per cent increases in market share. This research, and the digital and data pivot that the outdoor industry has made, are very good reasons for marketers to reappraise what once was seen as a traditional medium.