Fusing The Worlds Of Physical And Digital OOH Advertising

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Srikanth Ramachandran is the Founder and Group CEO of Moving Walls Group, an enterprise SaaS leader for the OOH media industry.

Walls in the physical world have been used as a communication medium from the days of the Neanderthal. However, the first recorded use of leases for billboards in physical-world advertising occurred in 1867.

In the over 150 years since then, the “physical world” or out-of-home (OOH) advertising landscape has changed dramatically. Today’s outdoor advertising scene is dynamic and ever-changing, with new technology and innovations allowing OOH media owners to reach clients in novel and engaging ways. One of those methods is the adoption of programmatic advertising.

OOH And Programmatic Advertising

Global OOH spend is projected to reach $39.05 billion in 2023, which is still in the single digits as a percentage of overall ad spends. This is despite OOH advertising being the most impactful medium to reach consumers offline. I believe the way for the industry to succeed and grow is for OOH media owners, advertisers and media agencies to automate in a similar fashion to programmatic social media advertising.

There are three major trends at play when it comes to OOH advertising: First, the number and type of venues where public digital panels that support advertising are present are growing. Second, there are an increasing number of companies providing data to measure and understand the audiences who see these panels. And third, just like connected TV, programmatic advertising—the ability to automatically serve ads in near-real time—is now supported by digital OOH (DOOH) sites.

Despite these improvements and advancements, the OOH sector remains primarily reliant on largely manual interaction between advertisers and media agencies to generate revenue. While programmatic (or “self-serve”) DOOH advertising automates the buying, selling and delivery of DOOH media, a majority of OOH sites are still static posters that can’t be automated. Also, small businesses do not typically have the type of budget that enables access to sophisticated OOH planning and buying.

Meanwhile, all industries have started using online self-service to sell to and serve their customers. This is where web-based, self-serve advertising technologies have the potential to change the game. Programmatic advertising has made social media advertising available to any business, regardless of size or budget. Small businesses and even individuals may now easily design and run advertising campaigns on social media platforms. According to Deutsche Bank, small businesses accounted for nearly 75% of Facebook’s $70 billion annual ad revenue in 2020. This has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for businesses of all sizes, allowing them to reach out to clients in ways that were previously unattainable and drive sales in a more cost-effective and efficient manner.

Unfortunately, the OOH industry has yet to be democratized in a way that makes the media available to everyone. OOH media owners have typically looked to grow their revenues by targeting local businesses but have not yet found a way to do so in a scalable manner. Meanwhile, OOH media has grown to garner massive reach through the sheer number of advertising locations available. I believe the next step in development of our industry should be to address this unbalanced demand and gain some advertising dollars that would otherwise go to online channels.

How OOH Media Owners and Platform Providers Can Support Self-Serve Advertising

Here is a classic case of “if you can’t beat them, join them.” OOH’s big opportunity is in going digital by embracing the self-serve advertising that has worked so well for social platforms. It’s amazing that even today, there is no way for businesses to directly access OOH inventory information and check the availability of the biggest players out there.

The challenge for OOH media owners is that they are dependent on large advertisers and media agencies for a majority of revenues, and these are the ones that get serviced by their sales teams. DOOH platform providers can solve this challenge by offering self-serve advertising capabilities to businesses. For example, you can provide real-time inventory information, campaign booking flows and other tools that aid in the creation and execution of advertising campaigns. This can be a game changer in the OOH sector, allowing the owners of OOH media to communicate directly with clients they would never be able to speak to otherwise.

OOH media owners can reach more businesses by promoting their sites on relevant search or social media platforms. They could also drive awareness at conferences and other events. However, this would still not solve the challenge of being able to fulfil the requests of so many advertisers; a physical sales team alone cannot engage with the millions of small businesses that can only spend on very small-value campaigns. DOOH platform providers can help by incorporating self-serve advertising into existing websites to provide clients with options such as booking campaigns, accessing seasonal discounts and packages, and much more.

A key difference between OOH media and social media platforms is that for the former, there are no standard ad or creative formats. Also, OOH media owner terms and conditions are very individual choices. To address this, consider providing plenty of customization options on your platform. These could range from simple things like brand colors to more complicated offerings like minimum booking and creative approval conditions.

The initial challenge for the platform providers is to help media owners change how they manage their inventory and bookings and make it easier for them to connect to any existing financial tools. Interoperability will become a keen focus, as OOH media owners may be using measurement or content management tools from third parties, which will need to seamlessly connect back to the self-serve advertising portals that DOOH providers deploy.

I believe programmatic/self-serve advertising is the next step in the evolution of the OOH industry. Look what it did by democratizing industries like travel—flight tickets and accommodation saw incredible growth from platforms like Airbnb, Booking.com, Traveloka and many more. It is time for OOH platform providers to offer media owners more ways to not only convert their advertising panels to digital but also embrace digital for the way they sell.

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