With the invention of digital, the traditional media owners have been forced to evaluate their proposition. For TV and radio, the greatest challenge has been that the plethora of new stations has decimated audience numbers by giving the consumer unlimited choice. For print, circulation has fallen as readers move online. The early predictions for the outdoor advertising industry were not good either. It was believed that the internet's ability to target consumers would result in a redirection of advertising budgets online and that the oldest medium would struggle to adapt. However, a look at the latest numbers from The Advertising Association/WARC 2012-2014 expenditure report shows that outdoor has responded to the challenge. Indeed, the industry returned to the record 2007 revenue level last year and is projected to be close to £1bn in 2014.
Outdoor advertising's main product is still 'analogue' where paper is printed, posted onto panels and changed regularly. However, it's digital screens that are driving growth in outdoor, accounting for 20% of all revenue in less than 2% of the locations, with digital screens offering flexibility and the ability to plan media more tactically than printed posters could allow.
Outdoor is split into transport, retail and roadside. The greatest potential for digital lies in retail and transport in what we call 'place-based media', referring to the interactivity of these environments. They allow us to display rich content, making the space more attractive for advertisers and consumers. The screens allow consumers to engage with advertisers, either to play a game or download a voucher. BirdsEye pioneered this on Primesight's digital screens in cinemas with a game that cinemagoers could play before seeing Ice Age 2, achieving 11,000 interactions. For the roadside sector, the circumstances are different, because regulations generally prohibit moving imagery due to driver distraction so roadside has the lowest digital penetration. For this sector, the greatest use for digital is to add capacity to the most valuable sites to allow flexible and tactical messaging.
The recently released audience measurement system, Route, gives us a wealth of new ways to increase outdoor's accountability. This ground breaking £19M research provides an "eye on" measurement of every poster panel in the UK by measuring the number of sightings. The data formulated with complex algorithms allow advertisers to plan highly targeted outdoor advertising campaigns based on the desired audience. With Route, we can understand how people travel, what routes they take and how often they take them. Knowing this, we have the flexibility to decide what communications we put in their way. By using the data it is possible to plan, trade and value the medium.
The future is exciting for the outdoor sector and the next step is to combine digital and "analogue" on posters, creating even more impactful campaigns. We are already developing a better understanding on the times of day when certain categories are more likely to be seen. Using this data we're able to categorically prove that toothpaste ads are normally noticed more in the mornings (instead of planners having to rely on a hunch), while for car advertisements it's the afternoon. Combining this with digital could mean running a campaign on traditional billboards while reinforcing the messaging using digital advertising. Digital provides endless opportunities for out of home, and with its growing support, posters will continue to have its place.
Naren Patel is Chief Executive of outdoor advertising media owner Primesight.