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Signs of things to come

By Amer El Hajj, chief investment officer, Publicis Media MENA.

Can you imagine Times Square without its iconic neon signs, or the Shibuya Crossing without  its LED lights? Outdoor advertising goes as far back as the ancient Egyptian era, when laws and treaties were communicated on tall stone obelisks. Following that, the ancient Greeks advertised the Olympic games on wooden columns along roadsides.
This type of media evolved with time, from a sticker on a shop’s window to signage across the top of the same shop, to a bigger billboard, and finally to giant LED screens.
Even sci-fi movies featured futuristic billboard signs. Do you remember the scene in Minority Report featuring addressable outdoor digital signs? Or the kids’ movie Wall-E promoting specific messages at different times to the right audience? This is where outdoor advertising will be heading –we are not too far from that – and it will continue to evolve with time.
With advancement in technology came the progression of out-of-home advertising. Advanced quality printing machines meant improved printing quality. Bluetooth connectivity ushered in push messages from outdoor, facial recognition, data capturing panels and social media feeds to hoardings. Very soon, billboards will be able to recognise passers-by, target them with customised adverts that reflect their personal interests, and personalise the message with the use of their names.
Throughout time, the one thing that has not wavered is how crucial location is to an OOH campaign. At Publicis Media, we have innovated OOH research and introduced Oculus, a proprietary eye-tracking solution that gives us the ability to unobtrusively measure and evaluate subconscious behaviour of consumers and provide a true measure of their experiences. This research enabled us to understand the noticeability of any outdoor sign based on visibility, which varies according to location and signage format. With this, we now know that 70 per cent of commuters look at the outdoor messages all the time and more than 40 per cent see the ad most of the time. In outdoor advertising, a first impression is the only impression, which means brands never get a second chance to make that first impression. Think back on the times you passed an outdoor sign that was so cluttered you couldn’t read the entire message or even know what brand it advertised. What were you able to take out of the communication? I do not know about you, but I never remember a telephone number or website mentioned on a billboard. All I look at is the brand name and the general message, then I google it to find out more about it.
The research also told us that 75 per cent of commuters shop on their way home, 65 per cent make their shopping decision while in
the car and 25 per cent are motivated by an outdoor ad. This tells us that outdoor advertising is effective in influencing behaviour. The trick is to ensure the creative is appealing and the message short, simple and clear, given that people do not have the time to read or see a complex message.
Sheikh Zayed Road is rich with examples of eye-catching outdoor advertising. Some might remember the famous Emirates building wrap about 10 years ago;a very simple communication demanding of your attention. Adidas came out with the first 3D hoardings and Samsung housed the largest hoarding screen, featuring Dubai tweets. There are plenty of other examples, all of which were based on simple, innovative, relevant and appealing creative.
Therefore, given its ability to attract eyeballs and influence behaviour, the next logical question one should ask is: what importance is given to outdoor advertising by marketers? The majority of advertisers allocate roughly 25 per cent to 30 per cent of their local budget on OOH, while a few others, such as telcos, increase their budgets to 50 per cent because they rely on this media to communicate their
continuous offers.
Being an expensive commodity compared with other local media channels, outdoor’s revenues are inextricably linked to economic conditions. If the market situation is good, budgets are more abundant. When budgets are limited and cut, it becomes very difficult for brands to afford out-of-home advertising. This is why outdoor has seen a decrease in revenue in the past two years, dropping by 30 per cent in 2017.
I ask again: can you imagine Times Square without its iconic neon signs, or the Shibuya Crossing without its LED lights? The reality is it can andmay happen.
Governments are getting involved and passing legislation that affects outdoor advertising. In 2007, São Paulo’s mayor Gilberto Kassab (luckily not related to the Kassab outdoor company in the UAE) passed a ‘Clean City Law’, removing 15,000 billboards and 300,000 oversized storefront signs in one year.
Although we could stand to benefit from the municipality dismantling a few sites that serve no purpose other than visual pollution, I hope that government-driven removal of outdoor never makes its way to the UAE.