Among Other Things, 2020 Will Be Seen as The Year of Out of Home’s Digital Renaissance

In any year, the arrival of the final month spurs the usual flurry of reflections and prognostications for the year to come.

Much has been said and written about all the terribly unfortunate occurrences of 2020, and we don’t need to rehash it all here. It’s understood that the pandemic has taken – and continues to take – a massive toll on society and the economy. It’s safe to say we’ve never been more eager to bid adieu to a calendar year.

Few sectors of our lives and livelihood have been spared COVID’s wrath. The advertising industry certainly has not. When the final tally is complete, global ad spending will have decreased by more than 10% this year, according to a WARC Global Advertising Trends report, with some segments certainly taking it worse than others.

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Then there’s Out of Home (OOH) advertising. One would think that OOH, with its inventory of media intended to engage and interact with consumers while they are outside the home, would have been devastated, if not decimated. After all, when consumers are told they must stay at home, it means they are not riding transit systems, traipsing through airports, visiting the mall, commuting to work, or moving through all the places where OOH advertising is usually found.

Yes, 2020 will be a down year for OOH, no doubt. The record growth the industry had been enjoying pre-pandemic has been stymied, for now. But in the grand scheme of things, and considering all the challenges faced, the industry proved itself amazingly resilient in the face of COVID.

The reason for this can really be summed up in one word: Digital.

Let’s face it – had a pandemic with the breadth and proportion of COVID come along 10 years ago, when OOH was characterized by static messaging, inflexible contractual arrangements, and a complete absence of speed and agility, the bulk of the industry could have been hit much much harder.

OOH has made huge investments and strides in recent years to digitize. This not only includes the introduction of more and newer digital screens into the overall inventory mix, but advancements that leverage mobility and location data, enhance the ease with which inventory can be bought and activated, and enable messaging to be dynamically triggered or changed instantaneously.

The suddenness with which the lockdowns and quarantines took effect in March actually accelerated the digitization of OOH and showcased significant returns on these investments.

In the past, it might have taken weeks or longer to shift campaign content from one inventory location or type to another, or to change the message or creative display. Instead, OOH – or more aptly, Digital Out Of Home (DOOH) – marketers were able to quickly pivot from promoting products, services, and special deals to brand-enhancing messages of encouragement and support or simply suspending campaigns. Brands and agencies were able to respond to the changing environment and make adjustments quickly. And, as the initial curve flattened and traffic levels began to return, data-driven platforms helped brands and agencies understand how consumer movement and patterns had changed so their audiences could be located and targeted with greater precision.

DOOH, programmatic and omnichannel companies came together during the pandemic to actively “connect the pipes” on a global level between all sides of the demand and supply part of the ecosystem, spurring an increase in programmatic DOOH trading activity that is likely to surge in 2021.

And throughout this ordeal, OOH also reaffirmed its value as a trusted mass medium, with digitization enabling public health and government officials to disseminate critical information to the public in real-time.

While we yearn to turn the page on 2020 and look optimistically towards vaccines and a gradual return to normal, we’re unfortunately not out of the woods. Experts warn of difficult months ahead and we’re already seeing renewed restrictions and lockdowns.

Yet, eMarketer forecasts digital OOH spending to rise by 19.2% in 2021 while the same WARC report expects OOH to be the second fastest-growing advertising medium in the year to come.

In its recently published forecast, GroupM estimates that digital will account for 55% of all advertising, reaffirming that OOH’s embrace of digital will be the fastest way back to post-pandemic prosperity.

The earliest and most difficult days of the pandemic revealed that the agility of programmatic, the power of screens to share community, public service, government messages, and even art would keep OOH relevant andvalued by brands and consumers. Armed with a degree of newfound flexibility, a modernized and digitally transformed OOH industry is poised to persevereand resume the upward trajectory before something called 2020 came along.

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