Merging of largest, smallest screens delivers exciting opportunities

As more outdoor and place-based inventory goes digital, we near an inflection point for this part of the digital advertising world.

It’s a truism these days that all media are digital, but that’s especially true, in a somewhat-overlooked way, of out-of-home. While it’s true that a lot of out-of-home (OOH) advertising still consists of static images on billboards, the sides of buses, and other places, digital out-of-home (DOOH) has been around for a long time, quietly gathering steam.

Acknowledging this, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) started a task force on the subject in 2014. In February, that group published IAB’s first Buyer’s Guide on the subject.

As the guide points out, eMarketer estimates that DOOH earned $2.96 billion in ad revenue in 2015, accounting for more than 40 percent of total out-of-home spending.  As DOOH takes a larger share of the total OOH market, it brings a new era of accountability, greater relevancy, new inventory formats, and new ways to tell a story.

There are four reasons I think this is a really interesting moment for DOOH.

1. More spectacular spectaculars


I love that outdoor advertising has a placement called a “spectacular,” exemplified by just about any of the signage in Times Square. The online industry should take a page out of their book when we name new web ad units.

Whether spectacular or smaller, like the new digital signage-plus-wifi kiosks from LinkNYC that are sprouting like tulips along avenues in Manhattan this spring, DOOH encompasses engaging capabilities including full-motion video, dynamic real-time content, social media engagement, mobile geo-targeting, multi-screen messaging, syncing and touchscreen interactivity, augmented reality, mobile-to-screen, and gesture recognition, among others.

As with other digital screens, DOOH is seeing an already-fast pace of innovation only accelerate, driven by the marriage of technology and creativity.

2. The ultimate mobile medium

Outdoor ads were the first mobile ads, in the sense of ads that people saw as they were moving through the real, physical world (though back then, people just called it “the world”). Indeed, possibly the most famous outdoor ads in history were highway ads for a company called Burma Shave, where the ads were spaced along a stretch of road. You literally had to be moving to get the full ad message (and the brand).


So it’s natural that DOOH and mobile ads are highly complementary. Indeed, I’d argue that outdoor and mobile are the single best complementary pair, whether it’s via QR code, near-field communication (NFC) wireless signal, or just an old-fashioned URL, mobile makes an ideal upstream path for an outdoor ad. And an outdoor ad is an ideal invitation for someone to explore a product or service via the handiest interactive device: the one in their purse or pocket.

In places where outdoor ads are billboards along the highway, outdoor-to-mobile interactive opportunities are more limited – I live in New York, where I’m rarely behind the wheel – at least for now. Though as voice interfaces get better and better, safe ways to interact with highway ads are likely, as well.

3. Measuring out-of-home

In addition to mobile providing an upstream connection, making any DOOH ad an interactive ad, mobile is also poised to transform measurement and accountability of outdoor. In late February, Clear Channel announced a new program that leverages place-based data from a variety of partners to help ensure that outdoor ads are well placed to reach relevant and interested people.

Mobile location data can add novel KPIs to outdoor, as well, such as counting smartphones that were in proximity to a given retailer’s outdoor ad that then appeared in the vicinity of the retailer. In blunter terms, measuring foot traffic based on outdoor ad exposure in a direct and meaningful way.

4. Taking a seat at the digital media table

One of the biggest challenges IAB has faced in getting our DOOH Task Force off the ground is just the diversity of the marketplace, in terms of ads, placements and KPIs. Think about the range from an ad on a screen in an elevator or on a gas pump, through to ads on mass transit, all the way up to the biggest billboard in Times Square (which, if you’re interested, is a Clear Channel display on the Marriott Marquis, at 25,000 square feet, using Mitsubishi’s Diamond Vision display technology at a pixel density of 2,368×10,048).

Finding common ground, much less common creative formats, is extremely tricky. But we’re working on it.

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