Programmatic outdoor advertising: An essential next step or necessary evil?

Programmatic outdoor advertising is an idea that's been hanging over the OOH industry for years. Adshel's Steve Geelan attempts to unpack where things are really headed.

How will programmatic impact out-of-home?

I was asked this question recently and my first reaction was one of dread of being enticed into the good vs evil debate on programmatic.

I knew where it would lead, winding my way down that rabbit hole trying to explain why we will need it, battling against the weight of the expertly argued: “I’ve seen the cents in the dollar PowerPoint slide”.

Thankfully, the simple definition of programmatic now provided by the IAB allows a springboard to a more meaningful examination of the question. Put simply, programmatic enables out of home inventory to be bought and sold via the use of software.

I love the increasing examples of technology enabling some very cool uses of both digital and posters around the world at the moment. 

We’re seeing great examples of the use of real time data feeds (breaking news, traffic conditions, etc.). There have been some really smart and simple campaign planning techniques like the Guinness campaign, with locations chosen based on the prevalence of tweets and Instagram likes in that area.

Quite simple, and relatively low-tech, but the opportunity that the connection between the digital and physical world presents is something that we’ll see come to life more throughout 2018.

If we are totally honest with ourselves, we have not fully embraced the evolution (or differences) of static to digital yet. We are simply using digital as an electronic version of a poster.

Digital is about capability. Think of it as an online screen on the street. Once this potential is fully realised and our understanding of audience deepens, so too will the shift to something more closely related to serving impressions at a given location and specific time.

This is where programmatic will have its greatest impact for out of home. We simply will not be able to run manual solutions to fulfil this. This is about technology fundamentally changing the capability of out of home as a channel. 

The software that talks to each other to plan, buy/sell, optimise and measure out of home inventory will do so to assist a far more complex (for a human at least) set of capabilities the out of home industry now possesses. It’s not simply about being programmatic; it is a step change in the capabilities of the channel, supported by software and data.

At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the moment Cathy Freeman crossed the line and won gold for Australia, a team of humans outside the stadium began changing the posters to ones referencing Cathy winning gold.

You could argue this moment was perhaps the beginning of dynamic ad serving and creative optimisation.

In 2010 the digital evolution had well and truly begun, with digital inventory starting to achieve some scale, a bedrock USP of out of home, but tactical and dynamic serving of creative was and has always been more of the one-off than the norm.

We’re on the cusp of the next leap in capability now, one that must be united with flexibility of inventory buying to not only bring to life dynamic creative but enable the path to see digital out of home inventory positioned alongside other digital impressions (desktop, mobile, connected TV) in the same buy-side interface.

It has been argued that logistics and complexity have been inhibitors for growth in the past but programmatic will be one of the tools of tech that enables a new out of home. It’s always been a strong medium but now it is a more connected, optimised and measured medium than ever before.

Steve Geelan is head of platform sales at Adshel.


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