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Why Billboards and Out-of-Home Advertising Are Having a Moment

Technology is changing the advertising game. If consumers can find a way to avoid ads, they will, from downloading ad blockers to paying to avoid them (think Netflix, Hulu, and even Facebook who is proposing a subscription model for an ad-free experience). Brands need to find new alternatives to getting in front of the consumer and they’re turning to traditional old-school vehicles with a future twist.

The drive to Coachella this year was paved with billboards promoting music, brands, and even Instagram influencer the Fat Jewish. It was the ultimate mixed media—an old-school platform promoting modern brands. Upstart music act LANY encouraged people to listen to them on Spotify (see photo), while the Fat Jewish touted his eponymous Rose wine with the festival-going crowd. They brought their messages front and center to a highly targeted audience in real life (IRL!), on the go, in a way that was not to be ignored.

Out of Home Advertising (OOH) is the only traditional medium that has been growing ad sales over the last ten years and its revenue is predicted to rise by 3% to 4% per year in the next five years to reach US$33 billion by 2021, according to Magna and Rapport’s latest OOH report. In fact, OOH advertising is now a $29 billion market, responsible for approximately 6% of the $500 billion global advertising spending. And this goes well beyond billboards. Think transit signs, bench markers, integrated product placement, vending machine ad networks. Netflix too has been swooping up billboards to promote their original content—it’s almost like the new TV guide, Gino Sesto, the founder of Dash Two, a digital ad and outdoor advertising business, told Mediapost.

Here’s why it’s working—OOH is an attention-grabbing, non-invasive way of reaching consumers and new technologies like mobile tracking and data make them more relevant. OOH advertising is connecting with consumers where they are, in the places they live, work, and play, and not disrupting what they’re trying to do. As consumers become more desensitized to digital ads, OOH becomes a powerful option when done right.

First, you need to be authentic to your brand’s voice but talk like a local. When you’re in someone’s city (or on the way to a festival) you need to tap into the person’s mindset who lives, works, or visits there. The delivery service Postmates, for example, did weeks of on-the- ground research before launching a billboard campaign in NYC. Their “We Get It” tagline needed to connect with New Yorkers in a new way. Postmates knew that New Yorkers weren’t ordering any old hamburger for delivery; they wanted Shake Shack. And that vegan food was a popular search criteria. They used those learnings to bring their brand to life in a physical way. OOH was a success for Postmates because “as a tech company, Postmates has always had a very strong digital and social advertising presence, but awareness-level marketing is becoming increasingly more important as the brand matures,” Lizz Niemeyer told AdWeek.

Also, surprise people in unexpected ways. There’s always been an interesting exploration of the intersection between art and consumerism, and now experiential and multisensory OOH marketing capitalizes on the surprise and delight factor. For the launch of the Roseanne TV reboot, ABC turned a subway car into the family’s iconic living room, down to afghan-printed seats. Media brand Refinery29 created 29 Rooms, an immersive art exhibit that’s more like a please-touch museum, where visitors can get physically involved with the uniqueness of each room (and its sponsors).

Finally, embrace AI technology. As AI and digital displays get more sophisticated, interactive digital OOH has enabled brands to create personalized ad content for each user, just based on what they’re wearing or their perceived demographic. McDonald’s, MarTech reports, customized an ad display to serve an image of a Kid’s Meal when a child walks by and a burger or a salad—with a coupon code offering—for adults, if you made a purchase within fifteen minutes.

The advertising landscape is constantly changing and evolving with consumers’ habits and lifestyles. In this moment, catching that on-the-go consumer who is bored of phone scrolling is a smart strategy for any brand.

Can use the “digital disappearance” on mobile vs the large in your face of ooh – maybe in the closing. Be part of the crowd as the consumer scrolls past you or jump into real life and be part of the consumers real world.