Real-time outdoor ads are key in search for missing people, says charity comms chief

Charity Missing People helps to find more than 2,000 vulnerable children and adults each year. Ross Miller, director of fundraising and communications, shares his insights on programmatic out-of-home advertising and reveals Pokémon Go could be the next tool in the search for those who go missing.

Missing People’s director of fundraising and communications Ross Miller says programmatic buying has allowed the charity to increase its impact of its out-of-home (OOH) advertising by targeting messages to relevant geographical areas at key times, and enabling ads to be updated in real-time when new information on a missing person is uncovered.

Ahead of his appearance at Marketing Week and Econsultancy’s Get With the Programmatic conference on 20 and 21 September, Miller tells us how to devise an effective and creative communications strategy, and why Pokémon Go is the next tool Missing People is using to spread its message.

Why and how have you been using programmatic advertising?

Every five minutes in the UK a child goes missing. Earlier this year, we worked with digital OOH specialist Grand Visual, trade body Outsmart and media owners including Clear Channel and JCDecaux on a creative programmatic campaign that would enable us to encourage people across the UK to sign up to ‘Child Rescue Alert’, our citizen-led system that helps to find them. These missing children are obviously extremely vulnerable and we need to find them quickly. The success of our existing partnership with the industry led us to think about how we can use OOH – and particularly programmatic – in a different way.

READ MORE: How to amplify programmatic’s new role in out-of-home advertising

Why is programmatic out-of-home particularly attractive?

In the two-week programmatic campaign in February, we were asking for a really clear direct response. We wanted as many people as possible to sign up to mobile and social media alerts via Child Rescue Alert, and had 44,000 people register across the UK. That was without doubt the greatest single driver of new sign-ups.

There is a long history of the public supporting our aim to help find people and also a huge amount of public sympathy for the issue. The real attraction of embracing programmatic is the ability to adapt our message quickly when we have new information about a missing person and their location. We know that a more targeted approach in terms of geographical area and the location of media sites within cities impacts our success rate.

What are your learnings so far from using programmatic?

Ensuring that every campaign stakeholder – from the creative to the internal team right through to the media owners donating the space – is aligned around programmatic is vital. Brands need to ask themselves if programmatic is going to help make the consumer’s life easier. Will it be a positive experience for consumers? Our use of programmatic wasn’t about interrupting our supporters’ daily lives. It was there to enable them to be local heroes and do something that they wanted to do anyway.

How creative does a programmatic strategy need to be?

With our February campaign, we were responding to how people were travelling into work. It needed to be engaging and relevant for hundreds of thousands of people making very different journeys around the country. It also needed to adapt to different times of day when key dwell points such as train stations might have a higher or lower volume.

In the future, I can see real potential for leveraging the ‘right time, right place’ attributes of programmatic when we make an alert for a high-profile child who has gone missing. With the public’s attention captured, it gives us an opportunity to tailor our message more closely. Using programmatic at that time makes sense because the issue is at the front of their minds and would get far more people involved and engaged with helping to search for that child.

What is exciting about having a programmatic version of traditional media?

Programmatic OOH still retains its high impact in terms of an advertising channel but also has that real-time potential. The really exciting opportunity is seeing which channels – both traditional and new media – can work together. There is significant capability for channels to be iterative. For example, if we knew someone was reading about a missing child on the way into work, we could use other channels during the day to communicate on how they could help in the process of finding children.

Programmatic has a vast opportunity both to be personalised and tailored, and to really embrace that shared experience that exists in many traditional channels. I remember standing in front of a huge digital screen at a railway station and seeing the impact on the faces of commuters as they looked up and saw one of our appeals for a missing person. That is incredibly powerful – you don’t want to lose that togetherness.

What are your predictions for how brands can use programmatic going forward?

Virtual reality and augmented reality are really exciting. Missing People is piloting with our agency BBH a campaign to harness Pokémon Go players in the real search for missing loved ones [by placing ads on the pavement near Pokémon hotspots to target those playing the game on their phones]. Surely, the ability for virtual reality and augmented reality to link in with other channels and for that to be a fun and rewarding experience for consumers, and for it to also make a difference to our society, is a goal that all of us want to see.

Back for a third year, Marketing Week and Econsultancy’s Get With the Programatic conference and workshop will take place in London 20 and 21 September. Ross Miller is one of the experts sharing insights into how to make the programmatic landscape work for you. Visit the website to book your place now.

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