Outdoors: Out of the Shadows

Technological advances are answering the challenges long raised by traditional outdoor media, writes BPG Max’s Amit Raj

Amit Raj, General Manager, BPG Max

In the $500bn global advertising market, outdoor is the only traditional medium that has steadily grown for the past 10 years. Last year it had a share of 6 per cent, and was estimated to grow to $33bn by 2021. What makes this medium so special and sustainable? It has a response to everything that is seen as a challenge in digital media. Viewability and brand safety are a big concern in digital media. Outdoor is transparent and almost 100 per cent viewable. Its surrounding is for everyone to see, with nothing hidden and no adverse content. Now, let’s take the next hurdle for any broadcast media today: ad-blocking or surfing during breaks.

Outdoor is non-invasive but attention grabbing in that aspect. You can ignore it but you cannot avoid it. It’s a powerful feature that assures you that if the messaging is good you have the full opportunity to engage. Digital platforms have glorified the concept of geotargeting, but guess which medium always was geo-targeted. Outdoor options in a specific community, inside or outside a supermarket or near workplaces are all examples of geo-targeting.

In the GCC too, outdoor was the media of choice for a long time, to the extent that it took more than 20 per cent of advertising share. While most advertisers still believe outdoor has an unparalleled ability to get attention, spends are declining at the rate of approximately 12 per cent a year in the region. The reason is in the increasing quest for ROI measurement, audience targeting and drive for performance. If you are not like digital then probably you are not good enough. While developed markets have adapted to digital outdoor seamlessly and quickly, in the GCC we are still struggling to justify outdoor as a good traditional media.

Digital outdoor complements traditional, impactful outdoor with digital targeting and measurement. Digitalisation of outdoor is the much-awaited shot in the arm that will make GCC outdoor media irresistible and move the medium on to a sustainable growth trajectory, as it is on in developed markets. These are some of the possibilities that will make it attractive again.

Mobile data is increasingly being used by outdoor vendors to profile audiences around a city. It also gives information on audience clusters. While this is a powerful tool to measure audience reach for signage, it can also be used for real-time localised messaging. The extent of mobile data available is insane; an ad can be served in front of a group on the basis of their profile. Even so, GDPR and local regulations might not make life easy. A natural progression from audience data integration, something that is gaining momentum, is programmatic outdoor buying. Digital screen and audience data will lead to platforms where audiences can be profiled for effective targeting and optimisation during the course of a campaign. If the platform has enough inventory across the available outdoor spectrum, a biddable option is a possibility that can being explored. It is believed this will rationalise costs, which is often a point of debate and criticism today.

If the static digital outdoor revolution was not good enough to convince you of an outdoor channel leap, think about this: While you are standing under your building contemplating where to go for dinner, you could have a digital bus signage gliding past recommending you a great Thai restaurant nearby. Mobile signage like bus and taxi ads will be dynamic and driving a call to action for specific locations – a great performance medium.

It is only a matter of time before the transformation in our region is complete and integrated with data. We will have an impactful media that is viewable, safe, accountable and targeted. What else do we need to populate much of the purchase funnel? While outdoor is set to take prominence again, it will be refreshing to see the market addressing the outdoor medium as a complete channel rather than the stereotype of a branding, reminder medium. It is time for the dark horse to rise.