The trouble with measuring outdoor audiences

Measuring the effectiveness of an out of home campaign remains a challenge. Running Boards' Charles Tremlett discusses the challenges for media buyers and brands looking for standardised data sets to guide their marketing spend.

It’s not uncommon that my company meets with a media buyer to discuss a potential campaign and we end up not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

The all-too-familiar conversation goes something like this. They explain that their client wants to share their message with a specific outdoor audience. We detail how Running Boards can put that message in the right place at the right time on a three-dimensional, moveable digital billboard which they don’t have to share with any other advertisers. They say the concept sounds great and we say that’s because it is.

It’s then that we sometimes hit a snag because the media buyer will say they just need to present their client with data that reflects the reach and frequency of the billboards.

At this point we reveal that won’t be possible because every campaign we work on is unique – a new message at a new place at a new time – and it’s fraught to apply a set of numbers to something that is literally being done for the first time.

Upon learning we haven’t made up algorithm to tell them want they want to hear, media buyers can break out in a cold sweat, especially newcomers to the industry. There are some who won’t even put forward our proposal if they know their client is particularly data-driven.

To be fair, this doesn’t always happen. There are more seasoned players who have been around the traps long enough to know that what we are offering delivers impact, efficacy and represents value. They are confident in their ability to express that to their clients. Consider it a win for common sense over computing.

However, I am increasingly concerned by advertisers being sold a furphy that unless an outdoor billboard’s effectiveness can be measured by a number, it’s a billboard not worth considering.

While the Outdoor Media Association (OMA) uses words like ‘integrity’ and ‘accuracy’ when discussing its MOVE planning tool and measurements such as Opportunity To See and Likelihood To See, the reality is somewhat different.

With the rise of programmatic advertising, the OMA’s membership base – the likes of APN Outdoor and Ooh – needed to come up with a system that would allow their inventory to be traded programmatically. They needed numbers to put into the machine and MOVE was their solution.

The problem is it is a subjective tool that very much suits their own purposes.

While clients may be impressed by a term such as Opportunities To See, many factors can impact one’s ability to receive what they’ve actually paid for. What about the fact the billboard has been covered by graffiti or damaged? When do you think they will work out that the billboard isn’t lit up at night? Just how long has it been obscured by that overgrown tree or seen reduced traffic due to roadworks?

Out of home media providers have rolled out their digital networks at a furious rate over the past few years. They love the higher margins that flow from selling the same space multiple times. Advertisers on digital billboards are forced to share their valuable real estate with eight or more other brands – all of them stacked and racked but seemingly wowed by the homemade data they’ve been handed that tells them they’re on a winner.

Fortunately for us, many buyers and advertisers continue to trust their gut feeling rather than blindly putting their faith in a computer and a list of numbers.

Charles Tremlett is the managing director at Running Boards


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.