The outdoor industry reinvented itself in 2016 – will creatives get on board in 2017?

With adland beginning to get to grips with the opportunities offered by digital billboards, and multimillion dollar deals around ownership, 2016 was a stellar year for the outdoor industry. Mumbrella examines the factors behind the outdoor advertising industry's renaissance, and asks what can be done to get the medium back on the radar of creative agencies.

When news dropped last week of Ooh Media and APN Outdoor’s proposed merger, the creation of Australia’s first billion dollar outdoor company capped what had already been a massive year for the sector.

With Bonds’ talking testicles, weather sensitive insurance screens, and Woolworths’ Pokemon Go lure among the many campaigns featured on city streets, the outdoor industry sent a signal that the transition from analogue to digital medium was finally gathering pace.

Leaders within the industry agree that in the last five years, outdoor has experienced more change than the two decades that preceded them.

They believe they are finally winning their argument to marketers more interested in digital and TV, that outdoor is the medium most likely to reach people walking the streets and travelling to work. 

APN Outdoor Sydney high flyer

APN Outdoor: cashing in on the digital bonanza

Recent technological developments have included Val Morgan Outdoor last month launching its Dart 2.0 (Digital outdoor audience in real time) offering, which gives advertisers more information about campaign reach by monitoring consumers as they pass the company’s 8000 digital screens, assessing their age, gender and location.

This year also saw JCDecaux become more sophisticated in using technology to identify what forms of transport consumers are using as they pass the company’s signs.

And Ooh Media has begun using body recognition features to identify movement through its new Excite Screens.

Meanwhile, Ooh Media also signed up in March as the out-of-home partner for customer data company Quantium, which gives it insights into the behaviours of millions of consumers on its database.

Which all begins to explain why companies like Ooh Media and APN Outdoor have grown to market capitalisations of $800m and $1bn, respectively.

“It’s a very rare phenomenon in media these days that your audience is increasing,” says Richard Herring, CEO of APN Outdoor. “It’s a really stable and important part of media planning.

“While most other media are struggling with retaining their audiences through content being dramatically impacted by competitors, we have the luxury of improving our audiences every single day.” 

Herring: Will step down from his role at CEO of APN Outdoor in the new year.

Herring: “We have the luxury of improving our audiences every single day”

More than 20 years ago, the outdoor advertising industry lacked audience measurement and digital screens and while it was arguably the first advertising space to exist, it lacked the capabilities it has now, the outdoor bosses argue. 

When local and city councils in Sydney and Melbourne put street furniture contracts out to tender in 1997, the space began to change. Out-of-home grew again when operators began advertising in shopping centres.

When companies like APN Outdoor, Goa, JCDecaux and Ooh Media began to invest in their digital capabilities in earnest towards the start of this decade, questions rose on price to advertisers and quality of product.

“The issue at that time was the quality of screens, which were not as good as they should be. They became obsolete quicker, and they were expensive,” Herring concedes.

“The equation did change about four or five years ago when the price came down significantly, the quality increased significantly, and continues to increase, and the durability improved as well.”

At around the same time, the Outdoor Media Association finally launched industry audience metric MOVE, which offers data on 80,000 outdoor positions across the country’s five metro areas.

Today out-of-home advertising is booming, with Charmaine Moldrich, CEO of the Outdoor Media Association and MOVE suggesting an industry “revolution” is occurring.

In November, the sector reported a net monthly media revenue of $84.4m, an increase of 12.5% compared with the same month last year. According to the Commercial Economic Advisory Service of Australia’s report on the first half of this financial year, out-of-home and online were the only two forms of media experiencing more than 10% growth, year-on-year. Out of home now accounts for 5.5% of the advertising market.

Moldrich attributed the industry’s success to “vision, investment and innovation”.

“OOH is now able to offer, through its digital plant, immediacy, flexibility, interactivity and utility, over and above the other benefits of high visibility and impact it is traditionally known for,” she said in an email to Mumbrella.

The rise of digital screens has brought new opportunities to creatives and their clients.

Several months ago Adshel launched 110 new digital screens into its network, in one of the latest examples of continuing investment in the space.

Last month, digital accounted for 39.90% of total outdoor revenue up from 27.7% in November 2015, Moldrich says.

Brendon Cook, CEO at Ooh Media, says technology has allowed the industry to get back to its “rightful position.”

The company, which uses the tagline ‘unmissable’, argues that outdoor is technically the only medium in today’s society which is not skippable by audiences. And it works well alongside mobile, argues Cook.

Online and particularly mobile digital and location has a great synergy with out-of-home. More and more, digital is about how you consume on your mobile when you’re away from home in particular,” Cook says. “Mobile… with out-of-home are the two location-based media and they actually symbolically work together.

Cook: Will lead the new company

Cook: Outdoor is “the only unmissable medium”

“For me, it’s a wonderful time to be in the medium and it’s interesting and adventurous.”

However, the outdoor companies warn that although there are a few notable exceptions, many ad agency creatives are not taking advantage of all the new opportunities in the space.

Bonds’ ‘The Boys’ campaign received global attention

“We built the horse and cart and had the goods on it and the creative agencies and the clients sat in the driver’s seat,” Cook says. 

“But we’ve now gone and quickly built this car and it’s going to get faster, and better looking and one day it will drive itself. But they’re not yet in the driver’s seat of really working out how to use the medium properly with the new capabilities it has.”

While Cook says creativity is beginning to occur, with campaigns such as AAMI’s weather-dependent billboard, he believes the industry has to do “a lot more” with creative agencies.

Another globally recognised campaign was Bonds’ ‘The Boys’ which featured on one of Ooh Media’s digital billboards in Melbourne. The two ‘balls’ rose and fell with the weather temperature, and offered information on men’s health.

Although the campaign was a success, Cook argues outdoor companies still need to do more to inform creative agencies on what can be done.

“If you think about it, the traditional sales channel has always been the media agency. We have to go and educate clients about our new capabilities and educate creative about our new capabilities,” Cook says. 

“If you get all three working harmoniously together then you are going to get great results.”

Like Cook, Charlotte Valente, head of marketing at Adshel, says the challenge for creatives was understanding the medium. However, she believes the rise of digital and data almost “simplifies” the creative process.

“The challenge is in creatives actually understanding all the opportunities and that’s really up to us as out of home media vendors to be able to expose them to the opportunities and show them how they work and the effectiveness of it,” Valente adds.

As part of the push the OMA will publish a third edition of its book ‘Open’, showcasing great international and local creative.

The OMA will also run its Creative Collection competition, with a new Grand Prix award, aimed to champion creative thinking in outdoor.

Creatives pioneering a new out-of-home opportunity

According to Valente, research by Adshel found creating ‘intrigue’ in consumers was one of the most effective ways of delivering results in outdoor.

The company’s Immerse platform taps into the insight, creating high impact campaigns across Australia’s major cities.

“It is a bit of theatre, but what it does is create talkability. Often what we find is the amplification of those Immerse campaigns through social media are quite big and that’s why advertisers are taking advantage of them,” Valente explains.

The screens were used in a campaign for Melbourne University, who turned Melbourne city into an art exhibition.


Adshel’s Immerse platform, designed to create intrigue

Barclay Nettlefold, CEO at outdoor company QMS, agrees digital outdoor offers a “powerful creative platform.”

In the last 12 months his company launched 32 new digital billboards and Digilab, a technology hub for innovation.

“The challenge for agency creatives now is how to harness this (digital) and drive greater targeting, relevance and market disruption within their campaigns,” Nettlefold says.

For Simon Lee, executive creative director at creative agency The Hallway, new technology being provided by outdoor is what can make a campaign more immersive for the consumer.

Lee developed an outdoor campaign for NSW National Parks last month which involved animation and sound, encouraging Australians to answer nature’s call and get outside.


Lee describes the digital out-of-home industry as being back in its “pioneer stage”

The campaign was launched mainly around train stations on APN Outdoor’s Xtracks screens, targeting people who were as far away from nature as they could be.

These screens are sound enabled, so we’ve been able to couple our visuals with rich audio-beds bringing the sounds of birds, the breeze or the ocean to the urban environment. Again, we specifically requested these placements in order for the campaign to be as immersive as possible,” Lee explains.

The Hallway National Parks

The Hallway: NSW National Parks campaign featured on APN Outdoor Screens

Lee describes the digital out-of-home industry as being back in its “pioneer stage”. He says it is both an “opportunity” for creatives but also the “responsibility of creative” to lead the industry.

Luke Chess, creative partner at agency Mammal and former judge of outdoor at the Cannes Lions, says the medium is no longer purely for messages but have developed into an experience which is “challenging and interesting.”


Chess describes out-of-home as “challenging and interesting”

Chess adds that one of the advantages of outdoor was its ability to integrate with digital technologies.

“What I’m getting at is something like the Survival billboard done for Tomb Raider, for Xbox, and rather than just doing a static billboard they actually turned the billboard into a stamina event, a reality TV event,” Chess explains.

The billboard featured real people being put through a variety of harsh conditions.

“They only bought one billboard but they turned it into such an event that people were pointing cameras at it and sharing it online.

“Whilst the investment in outdoor was minimal, it was propagated through digital medium,” he says.

The digital growth opportunity

“Digital technology has completely broadened the role that out-of-home can play as a communication platform and is now a tactical medium allowing for immediacy, creativity and flexibility,” says Nettlefold.

Chris Tyquin, CEO at Queensland’s biggest outdoor company Goa, says digital represents the best opportunity for outdoor to grow its share further.

“Providing we as an industry don’t stuff it up, digital represents the greatest growth opportunity in the industry’s history,” Tyquin says.

Like Cook, he says: “Although its seven years since we launched into digital I’m actually disappointed in the level of creativity in digital OOH.

“So many digital OOH campaigns we see run the same copy they run on static, in which case the client might have well just have bought static.”


Tyquin: Disappointed in level of creativity

“There is still a lot of inertia to overcome in regards to getting agencies and advertisers to change, and we as media owners still have a lot of work to do in educating both agencies and advertisers about what digital OOH offers.”

Valente believes digital’s success and growth is not necessarily to do with the screens but rather the digital technologies embedded behind them.

“What digital has allowed us to do, or brands to do, is deliver more relevant messages and that’s essentially driven through context,” Valente says.

Adshel has been able establish audience profiles and layer movement with location through its beacon devices, which communicate with nearby smartphones.

“The big driver of growth for us is, of course, digital but it’s what fits behind that digital. It’s the digital back office and all the data that is thrown off it that allows us to give more context on the audience and the environment in which each location sits in,” she adds.

Oliver Newton, national sales director at JCDecaux, says advertisers need to ensure that what they buy is effective.

“One of the challenges is the huge amount of digital offerings across everyone but something that does happen is, is that not every campaign is being dynamic and utilising the full capabilities of digitisation,” he says.

“We see more and more digital-based businesses advertising with us and I think that’s because a lot of advertisers are thinking outdoor is mobile.”

JCDecaux: NSW Cancer Council

JCDecaux: NSW Cancer Council campaign showed pedestrians what happens inside a smoker’s body

Val Morgan Outdoor is the only out-of-home company in Australia whose assets’ are 100% digital.

Anthony Deeble, managing director at Val Morgan Outdoor, says the outdoor industry has seen an “explosion” across all categories, particularly large format screens.


Anthony Deeble says the personalisation of digital outdoor has been the game-changer

He says personalisation of digital outdoor rather than digital outdoor’s establishment has been the game-changer.

Deeble’s company  launched Dart 2.0 just one month ago which offers advertisers insights in the outdoor space through facial recognition algorithms.

Dart 2.0 uses facial recognition and algorithms to measure response

“What we can do with Dart 2.0 is highly target content towards a particular demographic group, and from an advertiser’s point of view, if you are highly targeted with dynamic content it means greater efficiency, ie, less wastage,” Deeble says.

“It’s also about providing clients with real accountability and doing that in such a way that it’s in real time and it has a very high level of accuracy.”

Outdoor and data

“Data and insights are one of the most important areas of focus for the business, moving forward, and will continue to see significant increases in investment,” Nettlefold said.

Data has been a fundamental part of the outdoor space since the launch of the OMA’s MOVE measurement system in 2010.

The MOVE system offered much better information on the number of consumers who will pass any given site.

Moldrich adds: “In 2017, MOVE will offer the ability to analyse audience data that goes beyond just audience measurement. It will be able to segment audiences better and deliver more relevant and targeted messages through the integration of MOVE and EMMA (Enhanced Media Metrics Australia).”

The OMA was due to integrate MOVE with EMMA this year. While the back end work has taken place, the product now won’t be launched until early next year.

JCDecaux’s Newton believes that the industry also has more to learn about media planning in the new environment. 

His company runs a content system that allows the company to manage ads and make them more contextually relevant to the consumer based on their location and activity.

“The key is you want the ads to be as relevant as possible for that location and time,” he says.

“It’s not just about audience numbers, it’s about taking it to the next stage and saying what’s that person doing, are they going to work?”

APN Outdoor’s Herring says the next challenge is helping advertisers work out how much of a campaign’s sales success can be attributed to the medium.

“It is very difficult for an advertiser who has a multi-channeled strategy which most do, to form accurate attribution levels for each media. I think the combination is the most important thing to look at.

“If data points improve, there is the opportunity for it, but it’s not an exact science and it will remain a difficult part but one we all need to move further down to be sure that we are extracting the best value from our media.”

Digital vs static

While technology and digital screens are driving the success of the out-of-home industry, Cook argues there is still an important place for the classic billboard.


Crown Lager launched a Christmas campaign Ooh Media’s classic billboard

Cook says the traditional billboard is still an important advertising space for smaller enterprises to promote business in their local area.

He also points out outdoor companies are not always allowed to upgrade to digital because of governmental regulations. “The old style is never going to go away because of the digital world, because there are really sound and sensible reasons why it should exist but there’s also regulatory issues why it exists as well,” he says.

Goa’s Tyquin says the static billboard would not have to reinvent itself but digital would need to reinvent and differentiate itself from the old school billboards.

“Whilst advertisers continue to run the same copy on digital as they run on static then the cannibalisation of static revenue will continue,” she says.

Tyquin believes there is a future for static with lesser known brands.

“Most of our direct client campaigns use a combination of static to underpin brand presence and digital is used as a tactical tool,” she says.

Chess also argues that outdoor is the first place a creative should be looking to test an idea, as a medium for “simple expression”.

The future

So where does the future lie?

Chess predicts the ongoing challenge between collaboration of media and creative agencies will be pertinent to the future of outdoor.

“There’s a constant challenge of, in terms of what’s driving the campaign, do you buy the media first and then create some advertising to fit that space or do you do the creative first and then seek out the media?”

Chess says while programmatic would be important he expects outdoor to become “richer” and “more seamless.”

“People very quickly cotton on to marketing tricks and, to a degree, things like over-personalisation and highly targeted communication can come off as a bit of a trick.

“The overlap between digital and the real world will become greater and greater so that rather than an ad being contained by the four sides of the screen that it’s being broadcast on, you’ll start to get really immersive experiences.”

Tyquin says Goa will begin offering creative services in 2017.


Goa is set to launch a creative offering in 2017

Creatively we have had to take matters into our own hands in part because a large part of our revenue now comes direct. We are now employing some high caliber creative people.”

The company has taken on Publicis Mojo creative, Greg Crawford, to lead the process. “By the end of 2017 we will have effectively established an internal creative offering as good as most agencies in Brisbane targeting small to medium size businesses,” she says.

Meanwhile, Cook anticipates billboards will help brands sell products based on day, time, consumer profile or even based on the weather.

AAMI's digital campaign used algorithms to trigger screen changes based on the weather.

AAMI’s digital campaign used algorithms to trigger screen changes based on the weather

“We don’t see ourselves as an out-of-home company. In a way we see ourselves as a location-based company. What we have to do is ensure we are delivering on the way we make that come to life.

“It certainly is outdoor’s opportunity to shine and certainly over the next five years it’s the industry’s chance to lose it, and it’s also the industry’s chance to make it. And we are going to make it happen.”


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