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The future of advertising is outdoor

How outdoor advertising can make our cities smarter.

Transparency and authenticity have been under the spotlight lately in the advertising industry. Following a series of scandals, many have begun to question the value of the kind of digital advertising dominated by the ‘digital duopoly’ of Facebook and Google. Last year, in response, traditional media powerhouses ITV, Channel 4 and Sky joined forces, talking up the value of tried and trusted media channels for advertisers and questioning the real value of digital. Yet despite their efforts, there are still signs that digital remains the marketeer’s preferred destination. But what does this mean for OOH (out-of-home) advertising?

With the advertising industry in a state of flux, OOH may appear unaffected by recent events. But the world’s oldest advertising medium is beginning to move with the times and rise to the challenge from digital. The UK’s biggest OOH player JCDecaux recently signed long-term contracts with Network Rail and the Westfield Centre, shoring up its position in the market. Yet even here there are disruptors, with newcomer Global Radio buying up a 35% market share, turning it into a considerable force overnight. Disruption and competition are likely to yield innovation and growth, but how can we expect the industry to change?

Once the panacea for cost-effective reach, frequency and impact, significant investment in OOH is beginning to lead to a reimagining of the medium; more contextual, timely, instant and data-driven.

With new developments in smart cities technology, the OOH industry has set its sights beyond the traditional billboard. In 2015, Alphabet owned Intersection launched their highly successful LinkNYC, launched in New York after winning a bid to replace the city’s payphones with streetside digital kiosks. Similarly, in the same year, San Jose, California, one of the world’s smartest cities, launched the SmartPole, a new kind of streetlight, with the aim of tackling traffic congestion.

In this sense, the OOH industry will be in step with its own time-honoured tradition. In 1969, the company Adshel pioneered the first free bus shelters in the UK, mirroring a concept pioneered in France by JCDecaux. It was an inspired concept, the shelters provided the traveller with the simplest of wants, respite from the reach of the wind and rain. The concept was so enduringly successful because people understood the value exchange. The shelters provided space for advertising content, but the travelling public were getting something useful in return.

JCDecaux bus shelter in Lyon, 1964

The bus shelter was just the beginning of a long heritage of OOH advertising helping to fund public services and infrastructure projects in the UK. Telephone boxes and the London Underground have both been in part funded by advertising, helping to drive down costs for the commuter and for local authorities. According to Clear Channel UK, revenues from OOH advertising are estimated to have contributed £400m to UK communities in 2018. An enormous investment in making the UK a better place to live.

The chance to bring the same kind of smart city deployment to the UK has not gone unnoticed in the OOH sector. Similar street furniture projects can help to provide 21st century apps and services, electric vehicle charging points and help to boost 5G connectivity, with a UK network rollout beginning in 2019. With the rise of automation and programmatic advertising, street furniture can also help to revitalise the high street by promoting local businesses and events.

Such public infrastructure projects can be provided free at the point of use, completely funded by advertising content. In the smart city era, it will be OOH above all other channels that will help to address the needs of consumers, city-planners and advertisers alike.

The same impulse, with the aim of improving peoples’ lives and well-being, is inspiring innovation across the country. One good example is in my small village of Richings Park in Buckinghamshire, made up of 750 homes. A group of us are working together to launch a ‘smart village’ project aptly named Smartville, to improve safety and security for local residents. Crowd-funded by the community, ANPR cameras and CCTV will create a safety net to reduce crime. Such projects go beyond the stretched budgets of local government and beyond the means of many of our fellow citizens (crowd-funding for the project took over eight months). Here the advertising industry can maintain a role, funding local infrastructure projects in time-honoured fashion.

With the emergence of contextual outdoor advertising, the industry has the scope to engage with its audience in more creative ways than ever previously possible. Data-driven, contextual advertising is adaptable, it can engage with its context, shifting to changes in the weather or the passing of time. It can also better engage with its audience, whether in a playful way or by addressing a genuine need. Contextual advertising restores to the industry the creativity and ingenuity that are its very essence.

The future of advertising then is outdoor; data-driven, contextual and making a genuine difference to our cities and to the lives of the people that live in them.

By: Ged Weston, Commercial Director at Maximus


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