OOH Guide 2022: Playing catch-up – by Intiative’s Safwat Abdulkhalek

Traditionally out-of-home may not have the bells and whistles of digital media but is evolving, writes Initiative’s Safwat Abdulkhalek

By Safwat Abdulkhalek, media director, Initiative

The last decade has propelled technology to unexpected heights and such an evolution struck the world at lightning speed, with little time to adjust. In the blink of an eye, the digital takeover was upon us and companies began scrambling to get rid of the obsolete and make room for the smarter and quicker. This is especially true for the field of advertising. The rise of the digital trend struck it swiftly. Yet, surprisingly, it did not abolish the traditional. Outdoor is still holding strong in the face of the tsunami-sized wave of digital and it seems to only grow stronger, evolving to catch up with the needs of the new, fast-paced world.

Outdoor has been a long-standing favourite for advertisers, and that hasn’t changed, despite the shiny new toy on the block. It wears multiple hats where it has high visibility and reach when placed strategically, creates rapid brand awareness and hype through eye-catching visuals, builds on recurrent viewership due to its 24-hour availability, and increases store traffic, especially from those billboards that are near points-of-sale. 

However, that is not to say that outdoor is at a standstill and relying on its traditionally known benefits. In parallel to the rise of the digital trend, outdoor has been incorporating the digital element, undergoing a major shift in both the GCC region and on a global scale. By making way for digital screens, from digital bridges to hoardings to synchronised consecutive LED screens that directly attract consumers’ attention, the rise of digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising doesn’t show any signs of stopping any time soon, and in fact continues to evolve further.

As of late, the UAE witnessed the trend of 3D screens. Large, domineering screens project life-like creations that audiences feel they can simply reach out and touch. Not only that, but the projections – or, one could say, holograms – themselves seem to almost interact with onlookers. We can take, for example, Samsung’s 3D Tiger in the City activation that was launched on Jumeirah Beach Road ahead of the brand’s flagship opening. Under the slogan of “Ready to break the rules?”, the activation was complemented with a giveaway competition where audiences were asked to snap a photo with the daunting tiger projection and tag Samsung on Instagram for a chance to win the latest smartphone. That is one example of many that have been popping up around the UAE, as we’ve been seeing more twists and creative advances when it comes to outdoor. Another example is Yas Mall, Abu Dhabi. It also recently launched its newest interactive 3D screen, making consumers question what’s real and what’s not, driving them to watch the innovative displays on the screen regardless of the advertiser.

Outdoor is not just complementing the rising digital trend but greatly benefiting from it and using it to optimise itself. Alongside DOOH comes programmatic out-of-home advertising, the most imminent emerging trend where – similarly to programmatic digital advertising – ads are no longer placed randomly on screens by booking an order but rather based on real-life data coming from cookies, mobile IDs, browsing data and mobile location to determine behavioural patterns of consumers. Programmatic OOH now allows the best of both worlds: high-impact, buzz-creating ads targeted to the right and relevant audience. These ads are algorithmically displayed based on several factors, such as the number of people in the area, whether nearby consumers fit the right profiles, and even the weather or time of day.

Lastly, one factor that has been an obstacle for OOH advertising is lack of accurate monitoring and tracking. Today’s digital world has heralded daily optimisation, return on ad spend (ROAS) tracking and real-time reporting and dashboards. Outdoor media found itself lagging on this front, leading many brands to have reservations about spending big amounts of money for non-monitored media that cannot directly be linked to an investment. In an increasingly price-sensitive world, simply creating awareness or showing face is a luxury not all brands can afford, or even want to go for anymore. However, this is changing, with new technologies and tools that track outdoor billboards being introduced to the market. Dynamic impression-based measurement systems for pre-campaign forecast and post-campaign analysis are being offered today. They provide exposure, audience metrics on face-level, circuit-level, and campaign-level for both static and digital OOH. These measuring tools, however, are still in their early stages and have not been fully perfected yet for symbiotic use by both supplier and client. As this is a very new concept and system, it is expected that it will take a significant amount of time to reach digital media’s level of accuracy and optimisation. However, once these tools reach maturity and precision, Outdoor will not only remain a key media for investment but also witness even greater investments from advertisers who were hesitant to do so before.