Olympics show digital screen making its mark

Digital out-of-home advertising is fast becoming an essential medium for clients to reach a wider audience, and will get even better with continued investment.

Digital outdoor - BP - Jess

Just as this summer’s Olympic Games saw the results of years of work and training for the athletes involved, they also marked the culmination of 18 months of progress in digital out-of-home advertising.

The Games saw blue-chip brands using digital out-of-home (DOOH) as part of their media repertoire as three key factors came together.

The first was scale – the sheer number of digital screens available following a period of intense investment by the media owners. Second was technology as the infrastructure was developed to allow screens to respond to user-generated input in real time. And the third was the Games themselves – long predicted to be a tipping point for DOOH because of people’s desire for real-time information and the location of the audience when the events were taking place.

The end result was a dramatic step up in what DOOH can deliver, and a challenge to advertisers and agencies to start finding ways to use this new capability.

Three years ago, digital screens accounted for between 6 and 7 per cent of the UK outdoor sector’s revenue. By last year that rose to 14.4 per cent, or almost £128m, according to trade body the Outdoor Media Centre (OMC). And in the first three quarters of this year advertisers have spent about £126m on the medium, or between 18 and 19 per cent of the total.

OMC chief executive Mike Baker flags up the difference in spending on digital outdoor by different verticals. Although the Nielsen figures only cover large-format digital outdoor, they show that the food, drink and telecoms sectors account for a smaller percentage of spending in digital outdoor than conventional outdoor, but the motor, travel, media, clothing and games sectors account for a bigger chunk of digital.

“What you can do with creative helps to explain the different use by category,” says Baker. “Motor and travel used to be big spenders in digital, but that spend dwindled. Now they’re coming back into digital outdoor.

“Many upmarket brands are also happy to advertise using digital when they wouldn’t use conventional outdoor, because of the superior quality of the image.”

The growth in the number of digital screens and advertisers’ enthusiasm for using them has happened in parallel with a technological shift. One of the benefits of digital outdoor is that it breaks the traditional two-week cycle of outdoor, allowing advertisers to change creative according to the time of day, or even run campaigns that last hours and days rather than weeks.

Real benefits

Work by the site owners on the back-end systems and by companies including Grand Visual and The Cloud and Compass to develop content management platforms meant that

by the time of the Olympics, digital outdoor screens could incorporate messages changing in real-time. This feature was something that brands, including BP and Heineken (see Case Study, below), capitalised on around the Games.

“There were two elements to our digital outdoor work around the Olympics,” says BP’s UK brand manager Mark Rose. “One was the link to social media and the other was the real-time messaging around individual athletes.”

BP’s aim was to boost people’s perception of the company and its support of the Games, and to reinforce the idea that the company is committed to the UK and UK communities.

BP also realised this was not a time for brands to talk about themselves. So it used digital outdoor and social media to celebrate those who had helped make the Games possible.

“We created a Facebook app that allowed people to submit their stories about how they, like BP, were helping with the Games. We took a selection of the stories and they appeared on digital screens in the London Underground,” says Rose. “The social tie-up ran from July until the end of the Paralympics. We had between 300 and 400 stories submitted and around 50 made it onto the digital outdoor screens.

“To try and cut through the busy Games environment, we realised that we needed to be relevant and of-the-moment. We were sponsoring three Olympic athletes and three Paralympians, so we mapped their schedules through the Games and created appropriate good luck and well done messages that we could trigger at the right moment. For example, the moment Jessica Ennis won gold [for the Heptathlon] we put an ad live across the network of screens we were using.”

BP’s creative agency was Ogilvy, which used Grand Visual’s OpenLoop platform to deliver the real-time content, while Mindshare booked the space.

Rose continues: “We had to go to the media owners before the Games to show them what we were going to do and the language we were going to use. We had to show them there was no risk involved and that the activity would enhance life for Londoners during the Games, which meant all of this had to be planned a couple of months in advance.”

Both the social and reactive elements were part of the original thinking for the campaign, something Rose believes was crucial.

“You need to plan how you’re going to use the space in a way that will stand out, and you need to do that in advance,” he says.

A successful racquet

IBM was another company using the real-time capabilities of DOOH in the summer but around Wimbledon rather than the Olympics. The IT giant is the long-standing technology partner of the tennis championship and, according to UK brand advertising manager and brand and identity manager Rosemary Brown, each year the company looks to raise the bar for its advertising around the event.

“We have predictive software called SlamTracker in place at Wimbledon that analyses the performance of players to predict how they’ll get on against each other and what they need to do to win,” she explains. “We wanted to show this to a business audience, to say ‘if we can do this for sport, think what we can do for your business’.”

The result was a campaign that identified the key elements of the matches played that day. Because IBM and its creative agency, again Ogilvy, were unable to film at Wimbledon, the footage had to be mocked up to look like fans cheering on their heroes using the key messages identified by the software.

“In the mornings we said what the players had to do to win, then during the matches the messages changed to reflect what the software predicted,”says Brown.

“Digital out-of-home gave us reach. Last year we just used ECNlive, which is a network of screens in office lobbies in the City, to target a business audience, but this year we wanted more of a mass audience, so we also used Transvision screens in railway stations. Play at Wimbledon takes place when people are out at work, so we used the screens to give quick updates of the scores, by adding updates into the advertising. That was a lesson from last year.”

Street wise

Marmite Christmas lights Oxford Street

Since the summer, brands have continued to experiment with linking social media and digital outdoor. The latest is Marmite, which is using the two technologies in tandem to raise awareness of the launch of its limited edition Marmite Gold. The brand has a screen outside Selfridges as part of its Oxford Street Christmas lights sponsorship and is inviting people to submit photos of themselves pulling either a ‘love’ or a ‘hate’ face to appear on the screen, via a Facebook app or a camera in an interactive bus shelter unit nearby. The images will appear on the screen for a minimum of 10 seconds, and each one will be captured by a webcam. People will be notified of the appearance of their picture and given the chance to share it on their own Facebook pages. The creative agency on the campaign was DDB, using the Grand Visual platform.

“The Oxford Street opportunity was there, then once we worked out the details of the sponsorship the creative juices started flowing and digital outdoor seemed like a great fit,” says Marmite brand manager Joanne O’Riada.

Unlike many real-time digital outdoor campaigns that have used traditional brand or social media metrics, Marmite’s campaign is focused on sales.

“The campaign is intended to drive national interest and awareness of the launch, and we’re very focused on sales of the limited edition,” says O’Riada.

Beyond the use of social media, which BP’s Rose describes as “the glue that binds everything together”, other technologies are starting to appear. Media owner Ocean is among those experimenting with facial and gender recognition to improve the targeting of ads on its sites.

The company is working with House of Fraser and media agency Starcom MediaVest to test the technology on a 12m screen at Westfield shopping centre in West London. The House of Fraser ad is one of three running on a loop and there are three versions: one focused on women’s fashion, one on men’s fashion, and one generic brand ad. When the department store’s slot comes round, three cameras mounted on the screen photograph the people walking past. The software analyses the gender breakdown and, if more than 60 per cent of the audience are of a particular gender, it screens the appropriate ad. Although the technology is still being tested, Ocean plans to roll it out across similar screens in its estate.

With the activity around the Olympics demonstrating what digital outdoor is now capable of, and with the emergence of new technologies and the introduction early next year by outdoor audience measurement body Postar of new audience data, the sector is confident of a bright future.

Investment in the digitisation of the estate continues with growing emphasis on roadside locations; media owner JCDecaux recently announced plans to digitise every site on London’s Cromwell Road.

The OMC’s Baker expects the proportion of outdoor spend on digital to reach 30 per cent in the next few years, although he also expects the pace of growth to slow.

“There will be a plateauing, because it’s easier to find the best sites to digitise at the beginning,” he says. “At the same time, the cost of the technology will continue to come down and its reliability will improve, creating a virtuous circle.

“As long as the media companies continue to invest and advertisers continue to find ways of using the medium, I think it bodes well for the future.”


Louise Dennett
Brand manager

Marketing Week (MW): What was the thinking behind the campaign and in particular the digital out-of-home element?

Louise Dennett (LD): Our London 2012 campaign was focused on a theme of ‘celebration’; in short, we wanted consumers to enjoy the world’s best athletes coming together at the Games with a cold Heineken. We set out to ensure the ‘Celebrate London 2012’ theme ran across all of our Olympic and Paralympic activity, and to provide a lens through which we could judge not only media but also our channel activations and how we operated.

We wanted to create an exciting fan experience that would encourage interaction across a number of media touchpoints that we know are used by our ‘Heineken Man of the World’. We know our audience are heavy commuters and always in search of new experiences and information. Our aim was to make our content as relevant and dynamic as possible to drive intrigue and interest, particularly as this campaign was to run across the entirety of the Olympic and Paralympic period. In order to fully leverage the Man of the World’s digital experience, we worked with our media agency MediaVest to create a campaign of activity across Yahoo.com, DOOH, Twitter and mobile.  

We knew the London 2012 Games would also present a very cluttered media environment and we therefore made choices designed to cut through the noise and create impact − selecting to go big and bold in targeted locations through our ‘station domination’ activity at London’s Charing Cross and Liverpool Street stations, which saw the Heineken Celebrate London 2012 campaign message amplified on all major media sites at these stations during the 2012 Games period.

Digital outdoor - Heineken

MW: How did the DOOH activity integrate with other activity at the time?


LD: We partnered with Yahoo! to develop a Heineken fan hub filled with celebration theme content and journalism, user-generated content and Games updates. Working with Grand Visual we used OpenLoop technology to scrape the Fan Hub content in real-time to deliver dynamic, snapshot updates throughout the day, direct to the DOOH sites across major London stations and Westfield Stratford. Consequently, our consumers had the latest information on the medals to celebrate or could see their own celebration images on the screen. We also ran geo-targeted mobile activity in proximity to our DOOH sites and activity on Twitter on key dates.

MW: What metrics were used to evaluate the activity?

LD: We commissioned bespoke research with our key media partners [JCDecaux and Yahoo!]and a broader piece with Millward Brown to measure the effect of our full multi-media campaign and sponsorship activation on our brand equity metrics, association recall with the Games and the effect of the creative itself.

MW: What did you learn about DOOH?

LD: We’ve found being selective with media placements drives impact; our station domination activity delivered cut-through and brand reconfigurability. We understand the importance of creative that’s crafted being mindful of its environment and how our consumer interacts with the space. We also know the benefit of making progressive media choices to reach our Man of the World.

Case study


Technologies such as gender and facial recognition software are starting to bring a greater level of targeting to digital outdoor. But there is another approach to the same problem that is also gaining traction – location-specific networks.

Last year, when IBM wanted to target a business audience around its partnership with Wimbledon, it went with ECNlive, a network of 200 digital screens in the lobbies and lift areas of 130 office towers. This year it wanted greater reach and added Transvision screens in railway stations, but it kept ECNlive to address the business audience.

UK brand advertising manager Rosemary Brown says IBM has had a long-term partnership with ECNlive. She says the initial appeal was that the network was

in the places the brand wanted to be seen, and had a clearly defined audience.

“They could be very specific about the audience, because they had the client lists for the buildings,” she says.

Another example of a location-specific network that targets a similar audience, this time when they are travelling, is 7 Heaven Media. It launched on 8 November to manage ad sales for a network of 250 interactive screens in 165 private jet lounges across the Emea region.

The resulting audience of business decision-makers and high net worth individuals means that the company is targeting premium and luxury brands. Clients include Swiss watch brand FP Journe and private Swiss bank Pictet & Cie.

In both cases, advertising is only part of the offering. In order to increase dwell-time, 7 Heaven splits its time 60 per cent content, 40 per cent advertising, while ECNlive provides content such as live news, stock market and sports results updates.



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