OOH Guide 2023: The ‘ooh’ in OOH – by MediaVantage’s Manoj Khimji

The MediaVantage’s Manoj Khimji celebrates and defends the uniqueness of outdoor advertising

By Manoj Khimji, managing director, The MediaVantage

In a tale as old as time itself, technology is taking over the traditional. If you’re reading this and have been in the media industry for at least seven or eight years, you’re probably familiar with how this pans out. Mass aggregation, multiple links in the value chain, and ultimately a more measurable and efficient buying mechanism tends to win out. The DOOH (digital out-of-home) market was estimated at $6.8bn in 2021, and is expected to grow at almost 14 per cent CAGR over the next six years. To put this in context, this means the DOOH total market size will be just shy of $55bn by 2030. Nothing new, you say? Nothing that wasn’t inevitable? Well, you’re right, but this time there’s a twist.

You see, there’s no media that brings the magic quite like out-of-home does. Whilst DOOH is one of the fastest growing media channels globally, and certainly the fastest growing form of OOH advertising, the road may not be as clear as it was with digital advertising in the early 2010s. Unlike a digital banner, an OOH ad is a one-to-many platform, whereby broadcasting to a subset of audiences has a greater appeal and benefit to a brand than the one-to-one communication to an individual consumer. The very nature of that amplification makes it unique and even protects it from a cookie debate.

A lot of this is coming off the back of the recent announcement that Google will be making its DOOH ads available on its DV360 marketplace. From a media theorist’s perspective, this sounds great, right? Increased planning capacity, buying efficiency and smoother campaign efficiency. The news has mixed reactions from OOH media owners, some of whom are excited about being able to trade their sites through DV360, and some of whom clearly see this as a threat to their business despite Google offering to partner with various other ad exchanges operating in the space currently.

In fact, it is the perceived threat of personalised DOOH ads that has prompted lobbying and protesting against the entire OOH industry from pressure groups such as Adfree, Adblock and Brandalism, who are continuing to gain traction in their endeavour to ban OOH across entire cities. Sounds ludicrous, and yet it is an absolutely real threat. Sao Paulo in Brazil is completely free of any OOH advertising; London and Bristol in the UK are now in the crosshairs of these anti-OOH groups; and Amsterdam’s city council has agreed to a ban on any advertising of petrol- or diesel-engined vehicles, as well as airlines. The same nerves that were hit prompting the GDPR regulation in Europe are now beginning to twitch for the DOOH market too.

Whilst the complete eradication of outdoor advertising doesn’t seem like a real possibility (at least in our lifetimes), it does make us ponder what may have been, had OOH not been allowed in the first place. There are countless advertisers around the world that have built foundations of their brand communication through OOH advertising. During the stint when HSBC had almost exclusive ownership of aircraft concourses, the bank’s creatives were a mainstay of its total brand strategy – and a talking point among its target audiences and beyond. The British Airways ‘Look Up’ interactive billboard at Piccadilly Circus will always be remembered for its innovation and the inspiration it brought to London commuters scurrying around in the middle of their rat-race-fuelled working day. Closer to home, Expo 2020’s takeover and livestreaming of its opening ceremony became an instant hit in New York and sparked widespread positive talk about Expo and Dubai across the US last year.

These are, of course, some of the more memorable OOH executions over the past decade, but we’d be foolish to suggest that this medium is only about clever copywriting or smart use of technology. One element of OOH that frequently gets overlooked is its ability to function effectively through the funnel, providing mass one-to-many appeal at the top and squeezing the toothpaste through the tube all the way down to the bottom funnel and to geo-specific conversion in many cases. 

Too often we are guilty of focusing on the upper-funnel capabilities of large-format OOH as the spearhead of the entire category, whereas the reality is a more thorough and near-full-funnel solution. It’s a fragmentation that we should embrace and allow, rather than trying to aggregate. It’s definitely a media that works well hand-in-hand with others, but without necessarily needing to morph into them – in the same way digital, TV and print have. It even has the innate ability to survive on its own two feet in the web 3.0 environment, with metaverse billboards already being used by forward-thinking brands and advertisers. It also satisfies the one-to-many criteria, whilst retaining its physical properties of size, location and placement.

This brings us back to the ‘ooh’ factor of OOH, which is a media we should celebrate for its magic and innovation, for its clever copywriting, and for its wonderful (and underrated) ability to reach audiences in a context that is known, fixed and not dependent on cookies.