Why Out of Home advertising needs a rethink

The world’s original ad medium needs new ideas, and the industry is stepping up to the mark

Geoff Lyons, Managing Director of PML Group

16th July 2021

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First published in the Irish Times July 16th 2021.

Following the most challenging twelve months in history for advertising, and specifically the out-of-home (OOH) sector, the growing optimism and confidence in society is reflected in increased investment as brands make a welcome return to the medium.

The Government messaging has shifted from “stay at home” to one that actively encourages the public embracing as much of an outdoor life as possible. So, with society reopening and consumers emerging with renewed hope and joy, things are looking more positive for the OOH sector.

2020 reminded us that human movement is the touchpaper of a pandemic, and it’s this very movement that is OOH’s greatest currency. As a nation paused, the industry could not. The actions and strategies implemented by the OOH industry, combined with the channel’s intrinsic strengths, will accelerate recovery, and catapult it into an exciting future.



It’s an exciting time for Outdoor advertising. Media owner investment was not curtailed by the pandemic and in the last months we have seen the launch of two exciting new digital networks – Digital Influencers from Exterion Media, which is a set of four digital bridges in high-traffic locations in Dublin city, and Adshel Live Roadside from Clear Channel.

These combine civic amenities such as public phones and wayfinding with high quality digital screens. The enduring power of classic out-of-home formats, combined with the immediacy and flexibility of digital Outdoor advertising, are driving new growth in the sector.

In an ever-evolving OOH sector, the medium is providing excellent balance and options through high-impact digital activations and long-term brand build solutions on stunning classic formats. Although both strands of the sector are flexible, this is a developing trend as to how advertisers are deploying the medium. The mix is important, both from creative and location strategies.

Agility and flexibility

More than ever we need to provide advertisers with a new level of agility and flexibility for the digital OOH medium. Speed has become such an important currency in media as it fuels agility and flexibility and it is giving out-of-home a voice in conversations that would have bypassed it in another era.

We can change a digital OOH (DOOH) display like a light switch to ensure campaigns are relevant when it’s the most important time for them. The agility of our Liveposter technology allows us to set up campaigns in advance, set data trigger(s) in place and react to live events ensuring clients are presenting the most appropriate and effective campaign.

Put simply, using context to tell the right message at the right time, not the same message all the time. This approach allows current and new clients to experience how DOOH can be a valuable medium to build fast awareness, to drive consumer response and to be agile and reactive in market.

Context, optimisation and relevance are, ultimately, a function of data. PML Group has led the way in data-led, evidence-based approaches to creating efficient OOH campaigns. Outdoor today should be less about broadcast and more about context. We see ourselves as experts in location marketing with real understanding of where consumers live, work, and play – and, more importantly, what they think and feel while doing it.

Smart, data-led planning really leverages OOH’s reach. We invest in mobility data such as Locomizer as it not only gives us vehicular and pedestrian movement data, it also allows us to build consumer profiles reflecting of lifestyles and interests. Of course, OOH is at the heart of mobility and as a nation, we are very much on the move again with multiple data sources indicating a return to pre-pandemic levels of human traffic.

Personal and relevant

Data also has a transformative ability to elevate a generic message to something far more personal and relevant. Consider how Cadbury leveraged its Premier League association via live scoring on DOOH screens, how Bank of Ireland provided local housing availability and pricing to promote its mortgage offering, or how McDonald’s and Guinness have integrated online polls to further engage customers.

Data also tells us the physical shape of society has shifted. A mixture of the changing nature of audience behaviour, clearly manifested through the pandemic over the last 12 months, and the evolution of the infrastructure of Outdoor advertising, means the traditional lines of differentiation between brand and activation on OOH are blurring.

The path to purchase is as much mental as it is physical and location marketing must reflect shifting audience behaviour. The pandemic has led to new audience behaviours relating to work, shopping and leisure.

How people live and how they interact with their local community has positive implications and opportunity for location marketing. Independent research studies carried out by Ipsos MRBI over recent months speaks to OOH’s power to build mental availability and influence consumer behaviour and, ultimately, their actions.

OOH is not just posters and screens; it is a TV, a gaming console, a content portal, a path to purchase, and much more in-between – and it is the marriage between OOH and mobile that forms the critical heartbeat of that versatility.

The computers we carry around with us enable in-the-moment response, but only if the value exchange proposition and prompt is compelling enough. By tethering our handsets to our OOH activity, we will see a continued acceleration of technologies that enable OOH advertising to be both shoppable and sharable. OOH has always been recognised for its ability to drive footfall into retail outlets, but more and more it has proven to be also exceptionally well equipped to prime digital advertising and drive customers online.

Bridging worlds

We are seeing increased interest in technologies that bridge the virtual and physical worlds via OOH, such as QR codes and AR. As consumers spend more time consuming online via mobile and the majority of mobile is consumed out and about, the opportunities for brands to drive immediate response are obvious. Furthermore, there is a renewed opportunity for special-build productions and experiential activations in the OOH space to drive brand fame across both the real and virtual world.

Out-of-home is changing and adapting technology to make better advertising for clients. And of course, great leaps in technology, societal transformation, and innovation are often borne out of crisis; so finding new ways to heal our cities and communities is needed now more than ever.

As a media channel with a tangible physical presence in public spaces, the OOH industry has a significant role to play in this. PML Group partnered with Nestlé this year to produce Ireland’s first ever OOH campaign on 100 per cent recycled paper; this is a commitment Nestlé has made for all campaigns going forward. Media owners are constantly looking to implement energy-saving measures to power new and existing formats. In 2018, JCDecaux, ESB and NTA joined forces to reduce the carbon footprint of Ireland’s bus shelters by 88 per cent. Clear Channel has successfully tested a solar bus shelter lighting solution for its shelters.

While initiatives such as these are very welcome, the commercial model for OOH advertising has contributed to the green agenda for many years in Ireland. OOH advertising of course contributes to the provision of public transport services while the NOW Dublin bikes scheme is a partnership involving OOH media owner JCDecaux and provides more than 1,600 bikes to the city.

As we enter the latter half of 2021 and into a post-pandemic era in the coming years, I truly believe out-of-home advertising has all the assets to build brands, influence consumers and drive response. It is the ultimate creative canvas, underpinned by proven classic formats such as billboards, bus shelters and T-sides.

Its ability to deliver digital innovation at scale and layer on relevance and context, and to amplify online and other media means it is delivering sophisticated mass marketing solutions for clients. OOH and its practitioners must apply the pent-up creativity of 2020 to a channel now so enhanced by data driven, dynamic solutions. We see ourselves as architects of OOH’s future, a future that will be fuelled by technology, data, collaboration, and good old-fashioned creative thinking. We can’t wait.

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