I seem to be asked this question, on a more and more regular basis. Whenever I’m asked this question, or if I’m asked to speak or, in this case, pen an article around the future of the ‘Out of Home’ (OOH) industry, I wonder whether those who encounter my musings may suggest that I come across as defensive. I suspect I do, as I have ‘always’ felt, ‘relevant’, I would not have stuck around if I didn’t.
That isn’t to say that I am not among the most excited about the changes our industry is seeing, and the incredible potential that is fast becoming reality, making us continue our vital, ‘relevance’. I just feel that these things haven’t come along to save us, rather improve our already incredible client and consumer offering. OOH has always, and will always, engage with the general public in a unique, physical, attention-grabbing and welcome manner that no other media can. So our aim when talking about the things that I will come on to, is to amplify what is already a wonderful relationship with society (when creatively done right). We aim to take the mutually beneficial relationship that OOH already has with society at large, and create a ‘Rewarding Connection’ where people meet, get to know, spend time with and interact with brands that are relevant (not personal, that’s creepy – more of that later).
There is great risk, yet great reward, in the opportunity that lies ahead. As we all get excited about what technology will allow us to do, we must avoid losing track of what we should do: strategically, creatively and morally.
Data of all kinds – GPS, mobile, POS etc. – allow us to very accurately target any given audience. Where your phone sits for eight hours at night is likely where you live; where it rests during the day is likely work; GPS data between the two is your travel pattern. Then let’s looks at the apps you have, your browsing history, what interests you, what do you buy? Consolidating your data (and it is your data) with millions like you, we are able to build a very granular picture of audience groups (anonymized and aggregated of course). It’s not difficult to imagine AI or machine learning starting to predict your travel behavior – and serve you digital OOH ads of products you want, before you even know you want them. But you do want it, right, because the algorithm said so?
Again, I am not belittling any of the above advancements, they are important to brands, to make sure they are reaching the right people, and that we are optimizing dollars, yen, euros, rupee or pounds. However I would argue that just “reaching” people is not enough, and if that’s all we do, then we’ve not done our job.
We are not a ‘physical website’, nor are we a ‘long tail media’. We are part of the fabric of urban life. Picture any subway system on earth (with the exception of Singapore, which is cleaner than my house). If OOH advertising was removed, it would leave a white-tiled cell with a healthy wildlife. OOH enhances that environment for people. Times Square, Piccadilly Circus, Dotonbori Square; millions of tourists flock from around the world to take photographs of the amazing OOH creative work on display – what other medium can claim to be a global tourist trap?
This, I feel will be our coming, this environmental benefit will explode. I’m not just referring to the aesthetic benefit to the landscape, which I concede is often debatable and should be worked on; but also the benefit to the actual environment itself. Rapport has already launched the ‘air purifying billboard’ for example. Following the lead of airports like Terminal 5 at Heathrow, that was architecturally designed with OOH advertising in mind, the ‘Smart Cities’ of the future will embrace the OOH medium at concept to ensure that, while offering brands the opportunity to engage and generate revenue for the cities, they will also enhance, inform and protect daily life.
I am not leaving the all-important clients and brands to the end for any other reason than to stress that it is the existential benefits and attributes of OOH that should have brands flocking to the medium. The strategic capabilities to use OOH, to provide an entire journey through the consumer experience, to create or distribute viral content, to build a broadcast or optimized audience, to have a lifestyle interaction or an actual interaction with a view to giving a reward – it is this versatility that is unique to the OOH proposition. The prospect of ‘relevantly’, weaving your way into the fabric of evolving daily life, in a physical, rewarding way, is the real beauty, and the future of OOH. Our ‘relevance’ is therefore assured, as we are the common denominator between all audience segments, demographics, communities, societies & populations, we are exactly where you are.