Joining the dots in the digital outdoor picture

As new technologies arrive the digital outdoor sector is growing rapidly. It will be well worth learning to use this evolving medium

The outdoor medium is on the cusp of significant change as we experience the coming of age of digital outdoor advertising. A sector entirely separate to, but spun off from, that of traditional outdoor and ambient, digital outdoor has brought us new platforms such as plasma screens, LED’s and projections in recent years. Innovation continues apace with the latest formats including ATM advertising, 3D-image advertising, payphone screens and even the introduction of SMS text campaigns tied to traditional outdoor formats.

This plethora of new opportunities makes digital the most vibrant element of outdoor. The convergence of other media with outdoor will challenge both planners and creatives to adopt fresh thinking in their approach.

A perfect example of this is Viacom Outdoor’s cross-track projection format (XTP), which launched last week (MW last week). This groundbreaking technology can project moving digital images onto the walls, across the tracks of the London Underground. For the first time outdoor planners will be able to buy time slots (as opposed to blocks) on an outdoor medium that has critical mass. With a range of different creative applications, it will challenge agencies to produce ads for a totally new format – different to outdoor or TV.

It is Outdoor Connection’s belief that, once established, the digital outdoor sector will increase the overall interactivity and responsiveness of the outdoor medium. Some new digital platforms will offer direct response attributes in their own right. Others will help drive direct and brand response when coupled with existing ambient formats. This new sector will also undoubtedly enhance the already strong point-of-sale and “call-to-action” credentials of outdoor.

As with all fledgling markets, critical mass is still to be attained in most of the digital outdoor locations. The sector must mature before confidence can be consolidated, and while some formats will take off, others will undoubtedly falter. Just as the mainstream ambient sector has addressed issues of accountability, so digital outdoor will also need to provide credible audience measurement and campaign effectiveness criteria.

It is my belief that, within a surprisingly short time-frame, the visual impact of the new developments in out-of-home locations will be significant. Evidence indicates that the digital outdoor sector is growing quickly. Outdoor Connection’s estimate of the market value last year is &£5.4m, growing to &£9.5m this year, and set to double to &£20m in 2002.

Because digital outdoor is so different, it will require a reassessment of our approach to the planning, buying and creation of outdoor campaigns. This may involve a steep learning curve for the industry – one that requires the acquisition of new skills – but without doubt it will prove fruitful.

Andrew Allerton is joint managing director of Outdoor Connection

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