Why I Love Out of Home Advertising

I’ve worked in media since the early 1990s. When I started, TV, radio, print, and OOH were the focus of 99 percent of our work. I watched as the digital revolution began, and three of those media became an afterthought.

Digital turned everything upside down. It made marketing into a metrics game with its broad reach and ubiquity. Digital became so important, with search, social, mobile and more now sucking up more than half of all ad dollars, that most traditional media couldn’t keep up.

All except OOH. Turns out the smallest one is also the mightiest. OOH has not just survived the digital revolution but thrived.

This is why I love OOH. It knows exactly what it is, it understands its value, and it doesn’t compromise.

While those other media plod through a drawn-out quest to evolve — it took them absurdly long to even acknowledge digital as a threat, and they’re still trying to figure out their competitive strategy — OOH said, “Hey, marketing products is what we do. That’s not going to change. You do you, we’ll do us.”

OOH plays the long game. Digital offers a call-to-action or click-to-buy, while OOH ads gradually sink into your brain with continued exposure because billboards, etc., are a constant. You see them every day, all the time — on your way to work, taking your kid to soccer, coming home from the movies. Digital is less consistent. Sometimes you see an ad on a site, sometimes you don’t, depending on the day’s algorithms.

The constancy makes OOH effective, and way less likely than those other media to suffer from comparisons to digital.

I have plenty of other reasons I love OOH, and I know its appeal will last well into the future. Here are six more.

1. OOH Is Highly Targetable

If you want to target a mass audience, then TV and digital are fine. You gain exposure to a lot of people. But how many of them want to buy your service? You’re better off targeting only the people you think will be interested in what you sell. You can’t beat OOH for targetability. You can target by:

  • Location: Target the people who live near and drive past the billboard.
  • Demographics: Find a neighborhood whose residents are in the age, ethnic or socioeconomic group you want to reach, such as women 18-34 or Latinos 25-54.
  • Mode of transportation: Billboards reach car owners, but maybe you want to connect with people on public transport. Then subway, bus shelter, or bus advertising may be the way to go.

2. Creative Remains the Focal Point of OOH

Advertising should be creative. That’s what brought me into the industry, the challenge of finding that sweet spot between begging people to buy your product (crass) and creating art for art’s sake (laudable but rarely sustainable). Advertising is art with a purpose, and OOH pulls this off this like no other media.

I love the process of going from idea to execution. Thinking about what the client wants to accomplish and then finding a creative way to do it. Fantastic creative makes a point without smacking you over the head with it. I find that lacking in other media, with their obvious CTAs.

Great creative is often subtle. It sneaks up on you. It makes you think for a few miles after you see the billboard. Great creative is why over half of adults, and 71 percent of adults 25-34, noticed a billboard in the past month, and more than 50 percent of them say they found the content highly engaging.

3. As Technology Evolves, Messaging Will Become More On-Point

Digital OOH allows you to change your messaging with the click of a button, and I think that’s one of the best things to happen to the industry. It opens up so many new opportunities for creativity, yes, but it also keeps us relevant. You have to evolve with the times, or you will be left behind. Just ask a magazine editor.

4. OOH Embraces the Slow Build

I think teasers are awesome. Those are difficult to do with digital ads because you don’t see the same ad every time you visit a page.

I like seeing a billboard that tantalizes you with the vague promise of something to come. You see it day after day, and you wonder, what could it be promoting? A new Beyoncé album? The latest Netflix show? A week later, you get the payoff, the reveal. People talk about stuff like that. It grabs their attention.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve discussed teasers like that around the office because all of us noticed them. I’d bet your office is the same.

5. OOH Goes Great on the ‘Gram

“Do it for the ‘Gram” has become a rallying cry for the youngest generations — the people our clients want to connect with. Know what looks great on Instagram? A really cool wall mural on the way to Coachella. Rotting zombie fingers in a train station. A light bulb that lights up when you walk under it. Know what doesn’t play well on Instagram? A screenshot of a banner ad. Audio from a radio spot. I could go on.

Smart OOH ads draw attention in the moment, and they’re so creative and fun that people want to remember them, so they do what we do now in society—they post about ‘em on social media. This gives a second life to a campaign beyond its initial audience. I promise you won’t see that with other kinds of ads.

6. OOH Is Immersive

We tend to think of digital media as immersive, but that’s not really true. When you go to South by Southwest, for instance, you aren’t on your phone the whole time. You’re experiencing the moment, you’re looking around the venues, you’re talking to other people. OOH complements that in-the-moment experience. It’s all around and it’s immersive — but it’s not obtrusive.

And that’s critical because if there’s anything pop-up ads taught us, it’s that people don’t like feeling intruded upon. (Cuz guess what, pop-ups work — but the stigma attached to them from early 2000s AOL-type sites will never go away.) Billboards and experiential media become part of the landscape, and people respond better to organic advertising.

OOH is exciting. There’s nothing like seeing a new billboard on Sunset Boulevard, thinking about the history of the area, writing new history with a new client. And yeah, maybe I’m biased, but I love OOH so much, I even used an OOH ad on a bus bench to propose to my wife. You can’t get a better endorsement than that.