Discover more from The A to Z of Media Planning
O is for... Outdoor
Helping you unleash the full potential of the last, most loved but often misunderstood broadcast medium
What’s your favourite media?
Not as a person, but as a practitioner.
Most media planners I’ve worked with have a genuine affection for outdoor or what is now more broadly termed Out of Home (OOH) advertising.
Outdoor gets all the love like no other.
But why is that?
Well, there’s something pure and simple about a medium where you can say so much more, with less, in the most public of ways.
For that reason, it always seems to be an OOH visual that leads the PR release for any breaking campaigns.
Contrary to the largely context less world of in-feed advertising, the spaces, sites, screens and ways that a brand shows up in OOH can say as much and in some instances than what is explicitly being said.
Placing increased emphasis on the choices we make as media planners.
Putting my effectiveness-led hat on though…. outdoor has a pretty patchy track record when it comes to payback.
Putting it kindly.
Econometrics consultancy Gain Theory’s ProfitAbility research (on behalf of TV trade marketing body ThinkBox) analysed thousands of ad-campaigns across different sectors and saw OOH generate 3% of the total ad-generated profit seen across the sample, from an 8% share of the total ad investment.
Not the ratio you’d be hoping for.
When analysed over a 3 year time period OOH just about breaks even, with the likelihood of profit being generated coming down to a coin-flip.
When judged within a more immediate time-frame, those odds get even longer.
Digging around further into publicly available analysis, when leading OOH media specialists Talon, alongside Omnicom’s Brand Science unit of the time tried to pull apart the contribution OOH made in generating revenue there were a worrying number of instances where ZERO revenue, yep ZERO revenue was being attributed to OOH advertising despite many millions being invested.
Beyond the cluster of zero revenue returns at the bottom of the trough of ineffectiveness, there were also a significant number of instances way above the line of best fit where some serious profit was being generated.
Which is why I’ve decided to make this post a bullish case for out of home, that will not only give confidence to invest in Outdoor when suitable, but guide those wishing to see more of any investment they might be responsible for in this most wonderful of mediums, sit above rather than below the line of best fit.
Hence O is for…Outdoor
The original, the last and an often misunderstood broadcast medium.
Where I’ll be sharing…
Five rules of thumb and reasons to believe in outdoor that you might have in-mind or to hand when considering out of home advertising as part of the marketing communications mix
Five plays that scaled brands and advertisers are making when using out of home advertising as part of their ongoing activities
Before finishing up with…
Dozens of creative uses of outdoor that flex different elements depending on what that brand is trying to say, convey or compel people to do.
Grouped together into prompts you might benefit from having close to hand when thinking of new or novel ways to flex a new creative idea or campaign message.
As it’s these creative uses of OOH which seduced many of us into doing what we do in the first place.
Thanks for reading The A to Z of Media Planning! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Five reasons to believe in OOH
So let’s get on with some reasons to believe in the most wonderful of mediums and rules of thumb you might have in mind when using it.
#1 Outdoor advertising is highly visible and viewable
This may sound obvious, but it needs to be contextualised.
When crafting a media plan there will usually be a set of calculations to demonstrate to a client or budget-holder the relative volume and weight of activity that a campaign and each line within it will be forecasted to deliver.
It might look something along the lines of 90% reach @ 5 OTS.
Meaning 90% of the target audience will be reached an average of five times.
But OTS is an abbreviation of opportunities to be seen not a guarantee that an ad will be seen by anyone by any stretch.
The variance between the impressions an advertiser pays for, those that are viewable and those that are subsequently seen is significant depending on which channels you’re comparing and contrasting.
Attention specialists Lumen’s research (admittedly for an OOH trade marketing organisation) into online desktop vs. mobile vs. out of home is… illuminating
OOH is a highly visible and viewable medium and depending on how you use it can create significantly more time spent with your brand / advertising vs. some of the alternative options which look good at face value.
Which makes outdoor advertising a good choice for all sorts of marketing communications objectives.
#2 Outdoor advertising spreads far, wide and fast
So out of home is visible and viewable. Wonderful. Is it scalable though?
Well this depends on the OOH infrastructure available in the countries or regions you’re operating within, but in the U.K. as an example of a mature market there are over 400K outdoor panels and screens of different shapes and sizes reaching over 98% of the adult population each week.
In the U.S. the graphic below models the incremental reach potential outdoor advertising offers vs. solely investing in these other channels in any given week.
Not bad at all.
When it comes to considering what you might plan, this scale enables OOH to play the role of leading actor, or to be a very capable member of the supporting cast.
If you have new-news that you wish to go mainstream there are many worse places to invest your ad budget.
#3 Outdoor advertising that is high reaching + highly visible
= A significant incremental revenue opportunity
The inclusion of a medium that can reach lots of people, lots of times, in highly visible and viewable ways can significantly boost advertising’s ROI potential.
The same econometric meta-analysis I referenced earlier by Omnicom’s Brand Science team found that all media channels (except radio) had significantly improved ROI when OOH was integrated into the channel mix.
Interestingly the improvement was most significant where online channels led.
This enabled OOH to play the role of leading actor as the “broadcast” channel; filling the funnel with more people, that are more familiar with what a brand is trying to say or convey or compel people to do - in-turn making targeted digital dollars more efficient and effective at driving conversions.
This doesn’t necessarily take into account incrementality, but clear to see some very complimentary combinations in play.
#4 Outdoor is a public medium that is more memorable than most
In the same way a video ad being played out before a big summer blockbuster movie in the cinema carries more cognitive clout than it playing out after a re-run of an average drama on TV or within an annoying mid-roll unit on YouTube – a key visual distributed through OOH is significantly more memorable than an equivalent distributed online or via paid social.
Omnicom’s Brand Science team modelled out the half-life of advertising and
its lagged effect vs. a range of different campaign objectives and OOH was second only to Television in how long its advertising effects tend to last.
Meaning it’s more memorable than most.
A key feature of a medium which can flex and adapt to both sharper sales-oriented or softer brand-building objectives and KPIs.
As the right types of placements can be hard to ignore.
I’m starting to feel much better about OOH as an option now.
#5 OOH is the swiss-army knife of advertising mediums
With the sheer variety of sites, formats, locations, backdrops, settings, technical possibilities and trading mechanisms giving outdoor advertising a versatility that is difficult to replicate.
Especially when you think of it as a canvas for creativity, as much as a means of functionally distributing messaging amongst broad groups of people.
Everything is in-play, in-public.
Which is both a blessing and a curse, as the number of options, combinations and associated costs creates a potentially overwhelming number of variables; meaning more choices and more traps of ineffectiveness that a media planner or an advertiser might fall into.
No doubt a contributing factor to the wide delta in performance with regards to how well OOH advertising generates revenues and profit that we saw earlier.
For this reason I’ve pulled together five plays that brands are making, that are by no means exhaustive, but represent the majority of media strategies that are effectively putting OOH into action.
Each with a name, an emphasis, an example or two alongside some fundamentals you might consider when adopting one of these approaches.
Five plays that brands are making to put media strategy into action in OOH
#1 Launching // Campaign-Led // Going far, wide and fast
Given OOH reaches 98% of the UK population each week, outdoor is very effective in launching “new-news” amongst the masses.
Either as a lead medium, which is often the case with entertainment releases or as a complimentary medium to help establish a new campaign message at scale, before taking a back-seat and letting more cost-efficient / targeted options like paid social or programmatic take over.
With ad-awareness and comprehension being the primary measures of success, big launches tend to balance and blend statement sites and inventive uses of them, with more efficient formats that get the job done beyond journalists.
Let’s take Barbie the Movie as a case in point.
Ad-landers may be seduced by the likes of BarbieCAN station or the confidence of a 48 sheet with only a splash of pink and a release date, but most people in the wild will see the standard formats on the right that are hard-working and pushing a simple, distinctive and directional message that Barbie’s launching on the 21st July.
Statement sites like BarbieCAN without complimentary reach builders, sees outdoor simply being used as staging channel for social media distribution more than a genuine media channel.
Not a bad choice, but it does leave some of the revenue potential on offer in outdoor, on the table rather than the balance sheet.
#2 Trawling // Conversion-Led // Inventory that’s considered and counted
There are many advertisers who don’t have the luxury of playing back a narrative to their shareholders that they’ve improved awareness, image or comprehension – it’s sales that will keep the lights on and get people paid.
Performance marketing is an approach to advertising in organisations with this emphasis that seeks to juice visits, leads and sales for brands in ways that can clearly and credibly be counted; which rubs up against a big criticism of OOH and its perceived inability for its contribution to be analysed.
Therefore savvy media planners trying to use OOH to unlock the incremental ROI opportunity outlined earlier, plan outdoor investment in ways that create the best possible chance for its contribution to be counted.
This can be achieved through A/B testing or more sophisticated multi-cell testing and modelling – with some of the elements an advertiser can flex, experiment, test and learn the relative effectiveness of captured in the graphic below.
For smaller brands that are scaling, adding selective OOH on top of any existing digital performance marketing tactics in spaces of strategic importance can validate whether demand is scalable and has been increased via the inclusion of this new channel.
But don’t fall into the trap of launching every format, everywhere, all at once.
Roll-out region by region to see where and whether that increase in responsiveness is universal, and pulse it in ways that create variance between weeks with or without OOH – the combination of which hopefully creating the inputs into econometric models or correlations that can give confidence to scale investment further.
For scaled brands that are multi-channel advertisers by nature, more significant econometric modelling will likely be part of ongoing measurement and analytics practices – but a big issue has been the lack of robust and consistent audience data for outdoor advertising to feed into that analysis.
To solve for this a planner where possible must plan with variance and reliability of audience data in-mind.
Working to create different format mixes and weights across regions or corridors of importance; where possible validating those choices with data from providers like Route to ensure what’s being planned, is planned in ways that can be counted later down the line.
Where possible time-stamping and geo-stamping impressions across DOOH inventory to help create like-for-like inputs into econometric models consistent with those available through other channels.
#3 Triggering // Context-Led // Moments of receptivity and responsiveness
When you consider the variety of sites and screens in combination with an increasing proportion of those being digital and sold on rotation, this creates even more flexibility for brands who wish to dial up the power of context; with many of those being in close proximity to trial or purchase.
Impulse categories like quick service restaurants, alcohol, soft-drinks and confectionary are major beneficiaries; especially if they can direct people towards their own retail outlets.
It’s hot. Fancy an ice cream? No? Well it’s also Pimms o’clock! At the train barrier? Pay with Google ; ) Near Tesco’s. Try this for dinner! At Airport Security. Pick-up a bottle of this beyond customs. At baggage control. Take the train rather than a cab (or vice versa). Arrive in the city. Your nearest McDonalds is up there on the right.
These types of plays can be switched on and switched off and compared and contrasted vs. stores or locations where that nudge to purchase isn’t in-situ; making it easier to pull apart any increases in footfall, visits and purchases.
Which is likely a reason why the likes of McDonalds, KFC, Modelez and Coca-Cola so heavily in OOH to trigger people’s impulses to snack, drink and eat.
It works for them and their key venues, be them owned or across their partners retail estate.
#4 Anchoring // Positioning-Led // Locations or behaviours with aspirational associations
The highly visible, viewable and public nature of OOH means it can flex across both sales-oriented tasks like the previous play, but brand-building tasks too.
Not just through what’s being said, but where and how it’s being said too.
As brands, just like people, need to consider how their behaviours and body can help cement and solidify their desired positioning in people’s minds.
OOH is particularly helpful given its public nature, therefore can help dramatize or demonstrate a brand’s desired qualities or characteristics in ways that can create shared meaning.
A great example is Apple; the world’s most valuable brand and business who are significant investors in OOH advertising as part of their ongoing mix.
They have a lovely behavioural principle I wish I’d written that they put into play when crafting their media plans of never sharing the eyeline.
They prioritise solus and/or statement placements that ensure they have the audience’s full attention, across the most prestigious of sites, in doing so putting their flag on the mast to elevate what it is they have to offer at that point in their marketing calendar above and beyond the competition who are down in the clutter.
These aspirational associations can come from how a brand shows up, but also where it shows up too.
A very specific example from Burberry comes to mind.
A brand that cultivates its heritage and home that is the city of London.
Playing on this they hold a tenancy in and around the baggage carousel at arrivals at London’s Heathrow Terminal 5 with a myriad of statement sites that create a gallery style effect across the eyeline – enabling Burberry to be the first memorable impression on people’s minds as they visit or come back to London.
Which also got me thinking of HSBCs long-term jet-bridge holdings across the world that they use to dial-up the international credentials of the world’s local bank.
A play that elevates their status with both retail customers and CEOs alike.
By isolating target contexts of strategic and situational significance and actually owning them - as HSBC have done for over twenty years.
One last way anchoring via OOH can help brands is in its super-power to create tangible touchpoints for people with otherwise invisible products, apps or services.
An approach keenly embraced by utilities and Big-Tech platforms.
Google used a long-standing tenancy on Old Street Roundabout in London, the epicentre of where London’s young tastemakers go to work, rest and play - to show what their different apps and services had to offer young Londoners.
UK telecoms provider O2 went even further to create a physical point of connection with existing and potential customers alike, by partnering with live-entertainment venues to re-brand them as O2 venues – in doing so literally putting their brand on the map and giving their customers priority access to the hottest tickets in town.
Not a bad way to differentiate otherwise easily forgettable apps and utilities.
#5 Playing // Creativity-Led // Sites and spaces as a canvas for creativity
The last and most loved play that I see brands making - hence I’m going to do it justice.
Using the unique qualities of outdoor as a means of landing a creative idea in the real world, in new and novel ways, that act as an exclamation mark on top of any harder working comms they may be using to reach the masses on an ongoing basis.
Giving me an excuse to share over fifty of my favourite outdoor executions, with a line of reasoning from a media practitioners perspective as to what they’re flexing and why it’s so fabulous.
Grouped together with likeminded executions to show these are common enough to re-mix or upcycle on your next campaign without worrying you’re copying.
As no idea is a new idea.
First-up are some dramatic demonstrations that suspend belief both within and beyond the frame.
With some lo-fi examples below that dramatize the flavour you’ll find inside a bottle of Marmite Dynamite Chili, the stickiness of Araldite Glue, the amount of ocean plastic choking our waves or the giant leap of Nike athlete of the time Carl Lewis in the 80s.
However we’re increasingly seeing emerging tech capabilities creating ad-experiences that leave people thinking either “ooh that’s clever” or “how on earth did they do that?”
Especially with Digital OOH and now 3D OOH.
With the likes of BA’s “Look Up” and Pepsi’s “Unbelievable Bus Shelter” augmenting reality, no goggle’s required, years before we were doing so with our phones.
Or Nike’s 3D OOH in Japan being the best example of a brand experimenting with anamorphic design techniques to celebrate Air Max Day.
As well as plays like the above that are in full view of the “general public” I really enjoy it when brands flex OOH to connect with really specific groups of people, or those with shared attitudes to the world.
Such as these examples below that will only likely be experienced by few, if any, but have the capacity now through social media to be influential to many.
Be it a simple line on top of a bus, re-working the meaning of a sign from warning kids, to welcoming them, or more boldly creating a pop-up store at the top of mountain that’s extremely difficult to get to; just like The North Face did a little while back in Aosta, Italy.
The majority of these examples so far have been key visuals with a playful twist, but some brands go further by creating stories that people can either step inside or even get a sample from.
On the sampling side outdoor enables brands to combine sampling and storytelling in original and newsworthy ways that encourage people to trial and re-trial.
On the more expansive side we’ve seen the likes of XBOX pummel willing participants with all of the elements to see who could survive the longest and win a Tomb Raider shaped prize, or the publishers of Jay-Z’s autobiography lift his life story off the page and into some of the iconic spaces outlined in his book.
Some of these stories that people can step inside will be so compellingly crafted that they’ll travel way beyond those who can experience it first-hand.
Such as a simple, but exquisitely thought-through public bench with legs the height they’ll need to soon stretch to owing to our rising oceans – or Adidas’s swimmable billboard that spotlighted inequality across the Middle-East and what they were doing through product design to remedy it.
Some brands feel the need to go even further to capture the public zeitgeist, by transforming landmarks into brandmarks that make people sit up and take notice.
Be that Barbie the Movie re-naming train stations in the U.K. or Nike turning to some of London’s most famous landmarks, to Lionise our Lionesses.
A couple of my all time faves are captured above too.
With PlayStation back in the day & Louis Vuitton & Yayoi Kusama more recently using famous landmarks and locations as an extension of their brands distinctive trademarks and aesthetics.
What if what it is you’re trying to say or convey has multiple elements though? Elements that might be difficult to capture in a key visual.
Well some brands turn the streets into exhibition spaces.
A reference point of this approach being a central London gallery who lifted some of their famous works out of the gallery and put on an exhibition across the streets of London – in and amongst the bin bags, corner shops and chicken shops.
An approach re-mixed by Spotify who transformed a New York transit station into an artistic Ode to David Bowie – to spotlight his connection to the city.
An approach re-imagined by the likes of Budweiser, who drew attention to moments of cultural significance that Bud were involved with, or enjoyed within, by asking people to do a quick image search for them in the actual places those events had taken place.
An approach most recently adopted by CALM, a mental health charity in the UK, who movingly created a gallery of suicide victims last photos, to show how difficult it might be to see those who might need help.
Following up from their equally moving Project 84 from a couple of years back.
Talking of help, some brands have used OOH to directly or indirectly help people those in their vicinity, by creating OOH with utility.
As per IBMs famous Smart Cities campaign that turned billboards into shelters, ramps and stairs to help people better get around their city, or HSBCs transformation of Bus Shelter’s where homeless people often go for shelter, into virtual branches to help get the homeless banked and into the monetary system.
Or super simply an activation in LATAM that used the lighting from outdoor panels to create places that felt safer for people to pass through or use at night.
Outdoor as a utility can incorporate interactive and playful elements too.
Such as a famous example from a Parisian road safety initiative that shocked passers-by that were paying more attention to their phones than the roads they were crossing with fake “screech” sounds from passing vehicles to shock some attention out of them – creating surprised faces that were then played back through digital screens
on the other side of the road.
As well as providing utility in the moment, some brands try to create a lasting impression by renovating or rejuvenating local spaces for local communities and leaders within them.
Either playfully to dial-up their product credentials, like German DIY retailer OBI, stylistically to revamp dead spaces into play-spaces like Nike with their famous Pigalle Basketball court or more significantly, the likes of Heineken using their ad $s to support bar owners in the pandemic with the creation of shutter ads.
Public spaces used to support local communities, causes and initiatives.
Which is something that has been happening in plain-sight for many years as OOH sites where the freehold is owned by local councils creates revenue streams for local services.
Moving to the more tactical side, the beauty of outdoor as a creative canvas is that there are an almost endless supply of elements you can play with, print with or interplay with to help make a point in a slightly pointier way.
Like these examples below.
Using the sun, to write the copy for an ad which promotes THE sunshine beer.
Using Xenon lights, to light the nights sky like they might if you choose MINI.
Using the crane to pick-up a bottle of Coke Zero, because even machines prefer Coke.
Using the unique multi-screen nature of London Underground’s escalator panels to re-create Rocky’s iconic run up those famous Philly stairs.
Or even using the breeze created by passing trains to ruffle the hairs of the model on a haircare ad in real-time.
High-fives all round : )
It’s not just what surrounds the frame that’s fair game, the frame itself can lend itself as a creative device.
Be it the glass in a typical cabinet.
Be it deliberately breaking or burning the billboard or using printing where the ink is likely to run when it’s wet as a significant part of the message.
Be it even using other brands outdoor advertising as a way of making a point or sharing your point of view.
Be it even using the poor guy or girl who has misposted the poster to show that “nobody’s perfect” before offering a resolution.
Plays we’ve all seen many times, but can’t help to smile when you see them re-mixed in new contexts.
For those of you that got this far, a high five is in order; if I’d had longer, I promise I would have made this post much, much shorter.
Well it’s a highly visible, viewable and attentive medium.
Second only in scale to Television, that when used in the right ways is evidenced to significantly increase the ROI potential of your media-mix; with a versatility that many other channels could only dream of replicating.
However payback can be patchy; beware falling into the trough of ineffectiveness.
Think of the plays you might make and what winning looks like
Be it launching, trawling, triggering, anchoring or playing that I outlined, but plan those plays in ways that create enough variance in both inputs and outcomes for analysis to pull apart Outdoor’s contribution to your desired outcomes in a credible way.
As it’s when you know you’re onto a winner, you give yourself license to invest in some of the more creative plays I shared that form so many of the reasons why we love outdoor so much in the first place.
So there you go.
I hope this deliberately bullish case for outdoor advertising gives you some renewed energy and enthusiasm to make a mark for your brand, or the brands you work with, through this most wonderful of mediums.
Please share any great examples or approaches that I may have missed and I’ll add them to the post.
Until next time : )
Thanks for reading The A to Z of Media Planning! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.