Out-Of-Home Goes Programmatic is The Next Big Thing

Out-of-Home advertising is undergoing a wave of digital expansion, but has yet to enter the programmatic arena.

The Out-of-home (OOH) industry has a lot to celebrate. It’s the second-fastest growing advertising channel after digital, and the only traditional form of advertising that is gaining share. It offers advertisers massive national reach, but can also be tailored to have local relevance. It enables life-sized and larger-than-life creative experiences unlike any other channel. It reaches consumers in the real-world, influencing thoughts and decisions on their journeys between home, work, shopping and entertainment. It’s been shown to be not only effective at driving foot traffic, but more effective than any other traditional medium at driving consumers online as well. Studies also show OOH to be successful at all points of the funnel, from driving brand awareness to driving conversion, generating higher ROI than channels like digital display, radio and print. And it is more trusted by consumers than any form of online advertising. With all of that, one would think digital dollars would be flocking to OOH, but that hasn’t happened because one thing OOH has not been able to celebrate is successfully entering the programmatic arena.

OOH companies have been anxiously pacing on the sidelines of programmatic for some time now, watching digital ad spend grow by double digits annually.  They understand that growth has been driven in part by programmatic technology, as 75-85% of online, mobile, and digital video advertising now transacts programmatically. With OOH accounting for a mere 4% of US ad spend, OOH media companies are eyeing that massive and growing pool of digital ad spend, and wanting to get in on the action. After all, the growth in OOH has been largely driven by the digitization of advertising displays, and digital displays should be able to attract some of those digital dollars, or so the logic goes.

As a result, there has been no shortage of press releases around the launch of programmatic OOH solutions. A veritable mini-Lumascape could be drawn up just around this would-be cottage industry, which by some accounts has been around for 4 or 5 years now. But if you talk to the actual buyers and sellers of OOH media, they will tell you that all of those solutions have had disappointingly little impact, and that “programmatic” OOH is yet to crack the 1% mark in terms of share of OOH revenue. As is sometimes the case when it comes to programmatic, the ratio of vapor to substance, of talk to walk, has gotten out of hand (hence the use of quotes referring to existing “programmatic” OOH solutions below).

From the perspective of programmatic buyers, however, there is another set of challenges arising from the fact that every “programmatic” OOH solution thus far has approached the opportunity by simply trying to automate the traditional process for buying OOH media. To be sure, there are some important differences between OOH and online, mobile, or social media, a key one being the one-to-many nature of the medium: a single out-of-home ad will be seen by multiple individuals, not just the user of a single device.

That one-to-many aspect has given rise to a curious feature of “programmatic” OOH solutions: the impression multiplier. Impressions are the currency of digital ads, and implicitly there is an assumption that an ad delivered on a laptop, desktop, smartphone, or tablet is seen by one person, and hence is one impression . But OOH ads are seen by many people, just like TV and other broadcast media. And just as with TV, there are companies in the OOH space that use statistical methods to estimate the number of people that see a given ad. Those estimates, typically using data from the census, department of transportation statistics, surveys, and other data sources, are the tried-and-true currency of measurement in the OOH space. These approaches, well-grounded in traditional media channels, are the standard for measuring reach-oriented buys.

It’s not hard to understand why “programmatic” OOH hasn’t taken off. It’s clear the industry needs a different approach before OOH can enter the programmatic mainstream. As mentioned above, this state of affairs has arisen because solutions to this point have all tried to automate the existing process for buying OOH. What no one has done yet, is look at the true benefits of programmatic and understand how OOH can be re-conceived to deliver those.