08 The Year Ahead – Outdoor

Digital screens look set for more success as they offer greater flexibility and targeting opportunities. By Tim Bleakley, CBS Outdoor

Picturing the future of old and new outdoor ads 

Digital screens look set for more success as they offer greater flexibility and targeting opportunities. By Tim Bleakley, CBS Outdoor

This time last year I wrote in these pages about how 2006 had been a truly exciting year for outdoor, and touched on how our investment in the London Underground advertising estate looked set to introduce a new dimension to the medium through the installation of digital, out-of-home screens. 

So how does the picture look a year on? Was my optimism well-founded? Has the oldest advertising medium entered a new, high-tech era of digital- fuelled success? The short answer is a qualified yes. There’s no questioning the growth the medium as a whole has experienced this year, or the phenomenal increase in both the numbers and popularity of the new digital formats. But, while linked, the two aren’t completely interdependent. We’ve been successful, but it hasn’t solely been due to the undoubted popularity of the new screens. 

Traditional standard formats continue to deliver the rapid broadcast coverage that advertisers find increasingly hard to find elsewhere. Research shows that consumers on the move are an attractive target group due to their spending power and impulsive purchasing habits. Plus, of course, there are more of them than ever. I find it fascinating that, as an industry, we talk so much about the changing consumer and yet focus so narrowly on one aspect of their changed behaviour – their relationship with all things online. 

Web 2.0, user-generated content, behavioural targeting – I’m sure we’ve all read countless articles and listened to any number of conference presentations on the subject over the past year. And yet we seem to be ignoring another fundamental change in our behaviour every bit as significant in the analysis of how brands might capture and captivate today’s consumer. I’m talking about mobility – people are out and about more than ever and 70% of our time awake is now spent away from home.

Changing the fabric of society
In a few weeks we will reveal the findings of a significant new analysis conducted in conjunction with the Future Foundation into how changes in personal mobility have affected and will continue to affect the way we live. We’re spending more time on the move than ever and the very fabric of society is altering as a result. For example, our “Britain on the Move” study has revealed that the use of digital mobile devices out of the home has now added around 99 million working days annually to the UK economy – a genuinely significant development and one that will surely continue as technology develops. Understanding and tapping into this key aspect of the way we live today is at the heart of our business at CBS Outdoor, and it’s our job to communicate the benefits to potential advertisers.

So, traditional, static posters will undoubtedly play a key role in the media landscape of the future, but the experience of the last 12 months has reinforced my view that this landscape will also be increasingly dotted with “digital hotspots”, wherever it’s appropriate and cost-effective to install the screens.

And therein lies the key to the outdoor industry’s successful exploitation of what is arguably a brand new communications channel. This isn’t a defensive move by a medium in decline or one feeling under threat from the “online revolution”. It’s built on customer-led innovation, fuelled by new technology that genuinely aims to add a new dimension to a medium in rude health. We’re building on success, rather than bailing out a sinking ship.

It’s my view that digital screens will continue to flourish due to three key reasons. First, by maximising the potential of a location where a static poster already exists. JC Decaux’s eye-catching Torch installation on the M4 is a great example of this. A digital screen where previously there was a static poster now allows a greater range of advertisers to influence affluent consumers on the way to Heathrow airport. 

Second, by giving us access to locations where posters previously could not reach them. Digital screens in clubs and bars are a great example of this, accessing difficult to target consumers with traditional media in a potentially valuable environment.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, by using digital screens to change the way advertisers communicate with mobile consumers through the flexibility they offer for rapid and regular copy changes. Different messages may be transmitted on different days, or even at different times of day. Camelot has already exploited this to great effect on the Tube, publicising rollover jackpots, varied on a daily basis. And linking screens to GPS systems allows a digital message on a bus to be tailored to the time and location. 

At this point there’s perhaps a philosophical debate to be had about whether we are talking about moving posters, TV out of home, or even mobile online. My view is that we shouldn’t pigeon-hole ourselves at this stage by applying labels and should instead encourage advertisers to explore for themselves how best to capitalise on what is genuinely “new media”. 

Leading the change
And what a new medium it is. I’d imagine that Marketing Week would run it as the lead article if we announced the launch of a new TV channel reaching the whole of the UK for 70% of their waking hours – particularly if consumers willingly stood in front of the ads for around three minutes – as they will be with our new crosstrack screens on the London Underground. And yet this is what the outdoor industry is well on its way to delivering. 

At CBS Outdoor we’re proud to be leading the change. One year on, with an overall investment of £72m in the London Underground, we’ve introduced dry posting, increased framing, illumination and glazing, as well as stunning media walls, delivering against our gallery effect concept. We’ve also gone from 60 to nearly 1000 digital screens, creating the largest out-of-home digital network in Europe.

What a great job we have in outdoor – representing the oldest advertising medium and the newest simultaneously – and they are both going from strength to strength. 

Tim Bleakley, Managing Director, CBS Outdoor

Out of home in vogue

Outdoor and ambient media are creating new formats and adopting technology to gain from the digital revolution. By Catherine Turner

Among advertising’s oldest formats, out of home (OOH) media is no longer out of favour thanks to the exponential rise of digital. Marketers are increasingly turning to outdoor and ambient advertising to achieve cut-through and amplify the effects of other media as the industry transforms itself from a passive paper-and-paste medium. 

Investment by media owners, more sophisticated planning and buying models and a dazzling array of new formats and technology means that in 2008 outdoor stands on the cusp of a marketing revolution. 

According to a report from media agency ZenithOptimedia, outdoor is one of only three media sectors – along with cinema and digital – that globally will increase its share as well as revenues. 

Ambient media is also growing up. No longer seen as cheap tricks and stunts, its ability to garner column inches, replicate a brand’s ethos and “give back” to the consumer makes it an ever more valuable marketing tool. 

Mike Mathieson, managing director of marketing agency Cake, says clients are more willing to spend bigger budgets on ambient media, paid for by either or both marketing and communications monies. And despite the proliferation of brand-owned or brandsponsored events, he expects the trend to keep growing.

Mathieson says that despite there being, for example, more than 200 music festivals in the UK, the events still sell out and allow a brand to achieve stand-out by leveraging its values and exploiting the platform – if, of course, the “marriage” between event and brand is right.

Eager anticipation
But as MPG strategist Simon Jenkins says: “When it comes to outdoor, the buzz word on everyone’s lips is still ‘digital’. The outdoor industry has been promising digital outdoor for several years now, and the market has been in eager anticipation of its arrival.” 

In theory digital innovation will make OOH a “significantly” more flexible channel, according to Jenkins, opening up tactical day-of-week and part-of-day targeting. That would allow outdoor media to be planned and bought more like TV or radio, meaning it will start to come on an increasing number of planning radars.

Companies such as National Lottery operator Camelot stand to benefit most from such changes. Camelot has a window of about 48 hours to support a bumper Lotto jackpot. And while TV, radio, online and national press would allow it to serve impacts in this window precisely, with no waste prior to digital, outdoor would have been excluded because historically it has been bought in two-week cycles.

Yet, as Jenkins cautions: “Even though the market has been talking a big game about digital for years now, we are still not close to reaching a practical, buyable tipping point.” Digital is still very much in its infancy.

In the short term, digital remains largely a London-only proposition and the various major contractors are developing their offerings at different speeds. The market is also investing significant sums in the development and rollout of formats.

Add to that new challenges for contractors in managing their inventories and new skill sets for media agencies and specialists to plan and negotiate outdoor in a new way. Creative agencies also face new challenges, as digital outdoo demands new bespoke solutions. Jenkins says there are “great examples” out there but not everyone using digital has properly harnessed it.

Another buzz word is accountability. In an age where clients are increasingly demanding more accountability, outdoor faces an increasingly tough challenge – it is harder for planners to build watertight business cases based on return on investment than for other media. 

However, digital outdoor should help because impacts will be able to be tracked more precisely in the future, with Jenkins predicting that in several years “proper” post-campaign buying reviews where measurement of over or under delivery of impacts can be taken.

But while mobile and digital are among the areas in which media owners are investing heavily, Clear Channel marketing director Pip Hainsworth documents the increasing “sophistication” of traditional outdoor. She says: “There are a rising number of art structures, or specially designed billboards, that contrast or blend in with the surrounding environment while framing the advertising within.”

Meanwhile, other chan-ges are designed to make clients more at ease with the medium and in-keeping with consumer concerns: green is top of the agenda. “Sustainability is a huge and growing issue – and of increasing relevance to many marketers,” according to Hainsworth. 

“It has to be part of their marketing plans and part of our corporate social responsibility, as it has been for many years.” Environmentally friendlier vans, more recyclable materials – an end to that paper and paste era – along with working with The Carbon Trust to tackle energy consumption and local authorities on integrating street furniture into ad builds are ways Clear Channel is doing its bit. 

As a result, come 2008 marketers and agency executives should feel more at home than ever out of home.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email customerservices@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here