Things that make you go OOH!

As technology costs fall, innovation is inspiring ever-more adventurous digital out-of-home ad campaigns across the UK.

Targeting drivers with a digital OOH campaign proved effective for Heathrow Express
Targeting drivers with a digital OOH campaign proved effective for Heathrow Express

Out-of-home media is no longer just a case of choosing a single format to target consumers. Marketers can now take their pick from an array of technology when thinking about their campaigns, as shoppers who have just witnessed the UK’s first outdoor augmented-reality campaign to use 3D depth imaging technology can testify.

Since February, visitors to some of the country’s largest shopping centres have been invited to explore a 3D virtual model of Ford’s new seven-seat Grand C-MAX car. Digital screens, measuring approximately 40cm by 100cm, sensed movement and hand gestures, and consumers tapped virtual buttons to choose the colour of the car, open the doors and turn the vehicle around, viewing it from all angles.

The campaign shows just how digital out-of-home (OOH) technology is evolving and why more and more marketers are salivating over its possibilities. It was created by Ogilvy & Mather and digital production company Grand Visual.

What excites brands is the channel’s ability to convey a number of messages, use innovative creative and adapt both of these depending on the time of day and different audiences. This allows them to be targeted and tactical, which can reduce the cost of entry to the market.

For Ford marketing director Mark Simpson, the activity is about getting a responsive, live and interactive campaign that hands consumers control of the creative. “It’s the next best thing to customers being in a dealership with your product,” he says. “This bridges a gap between our TV and radio activity, driving people online and into our showrooms.”

The campaign ran at shopping centres across the country and provides evidence that brands are keen to run digital outdoor activity away from London if the opportunities are there. Ford bought screens at the Bullring in Birmingham and the MetroCentre in Gateshead, for example.

However, there remain a number of challenges for the industry to overcome. The sheer choice of outdoor formats, from billboards on the roadside to bus and tram shelters, retail and lifestyle sites, as well as street furniture and bus-sides can be confusing for brands. There is also a lack of standardisation in terms of the technology, file formats or how campaigns are delivered.

Mike Baker, chief executive of the Outdoor Media Centre (OMC) says the industry is addressing advertisers’ concerns, including larger brands’ frustration about a lack of national reach. He adds that airports are a key area where the technology is already in place.


“There is a lot of activity at retail while the airport sector is expanding. Elsewhere, convenience stores and forecourt stations are effectively offering a national network – and this is a medium which did not exist 18 months ago,” Baker says.

London has always been the shop window for advertisers who tend to spend more on outdoor advertising in the capital because TV viewing is less intense. Heathrow Airport, too, has been a popular digital OOH test bed for brands. Last summer IBM used digital screens at Terminal 5 to keep passengers informed right up to the boarding gate with tennis scores from Wimbledon. Roy Lee, brand manager for IBM UK and Ireland, explains that consumers connect to these posters in different ways.

“The dwell time for digital posters may be short but we have discovered people have an emotional response to digital creative and can connect that message to the IBM brand. That is powerful in the B2B market,” he says.

Heathrow Express, the train service that connects the airport to central London, used digital outdoor in January in a campaign created by agency GyroHSR.

The digital billboard near the airport – seen by 4 million drivers a week – was split into three showing the different routes out of the airport: London Underground, the Heathrow Express, and travelling by road. Video clips were swapped depending on the travel news available showing delays on the road and London Underground.

Heathrow Express’s commercial director Paul Brindley says that traditional OOH advertising can become wallpaper and digitalis a core part of his brand development strategy for 2011. He says: “We wanted people to think about trying out the service because our retention rate once they do is 96%. This live feed allowed us to communicate and engage with consumers and we saw an immediate uplift in visitors to our website.”

Another marketer to make digital OOH a key part of his strategy is Kellogg’s marketing operations manager David Walker. It is an integral ingredient for the £1m campaign for Rice Krispies Squares’ partnership with Red Nose Day, which takes place on 18 March.

Consumers interacting with a screen receive a free sample and have their photo taken, which comes out as a smiling morphed version of their face having eaten the product. “With digital you mustn’t forget the principles of outdoor advertising: simplicity of branding, clarity and a straightforward message,” he says.

Nestlé’s recent Aero Caramel relaunch applied the latest interactive screen technology
Nestlé’s recent Aero Caramel relaunch applied the latest interactive screen technology

As well as keeping things simple, the creative for this format must also be consistent and recognisable, and be aligned to the rest of the marketing activity. This will become increasingly important as digital outdoor is regarded more as a separate media channel by marketers and not just as an add-on to traditional outdoor.

It will also become easier to align and integrate outdoor campaigns with other marketing channels as more activity takes place across the country and is not restricted to the high-profile digital sites in and around London.

Selina Sykes, brand manager for Unilever’s Lynx, says integration throughout the marketing plan is vital regardless of how exciting the technology may appear. Indeed, the danger comes if a brand and its agencies lose sight of how consumers behave differently when viewing a digital poster compared to a website, or how they act in-store.

Unilever used bespoke ’digi walls’ in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds to promote Lynx Rise Morning Shower Gel earlier this year featuring women holding name cards with a question about them posed on the final screen. After each question the screens synchronised to hose down the viewer and display the message ’Wake up and stay alert’.

“Outdoor works for us because our target market is out and about and digital takes engagement to another level,” says Sykes. “As a brand, Lynx wants to be a leader as new marketing technology comes along, but there must be integration. We had simultaneous activity on Facebook and in Boots stores.”

Nicola Wilkinson, marketing manager, biscuits, at Kraft Foods UK, says its recent digital OOH campaign ran alongside and complemented traditional posters and TV to raise awareness for Belvita Breakfast Biscuits. Digital screens at London rail stations conveyed real-time humorous messages to morning commuters. “We will move more from traditional media to digital outdoor to hit our awareness numbers and develop what is a new brand,” she says.

Digital has rejuvenated the outdoor medium but marketers will look for even more added value in 2011. Many advertisers using digital outdoor ads are already experimenting with QR (quick response) codes and barcodes to allow consumers to discover more about a brand or to be taken straight to online shops.

Marketers will also want to see more robust measurement of this channel before significantly increasing their budgets for digital OOH, but judging by the campaigns around at the moment, grabbing people’s attention won’t be a problem.

figure focus

  • The digital outdoor revenue for the calendar year 2010, growing by 37.3% on 2009.
  • The revenue for the medium in the final quarter of 2010, up almost 17% on the last quarter of 2009.
  • The share that digital has of all outdoor revenue.
  • The number of digital sites in the UK. This is a rise of about 15,000 in one year.


brand in the spotlight – Q&A



Q&AHow have you recently used digital outdoor media?
From 24 January for six weeks we ran a set of mini guides on the London Underground featuring inspirational content from destinations in six Pocket Rough Guides. These form part of our multimedia ’Make the most of your city break’ campaign. The call to action within the ads was a competition on the website where people were asked to sign up to our newsletter.

Why digital?
We wanted to go beyond the ’flat’ ad and offer inspirational content in an engaging way as well as showcase our travel imagery. The digital ads showed that our brand is about adventure, inspiration and innovation.

The Tube mini guides had an estimated reach of 5.2m people over the period and 7.6m opportunities to view. The ads reached a captive and possibly uninspired, tired and deflated audience, who had the time to engage with more than just a static ad.

Has it been easy to measure the success of this campaign?
The digital ads have given us great exposure and we have seen the Pocket Rough Guides enter our retail sales charts, which is a key measure of success. Outdoor advertising also places us alongside other great brands and shows potential partners and third parties the breadth of possibility of working with our content.

Are there any limitations with using digital outdoor advertising?
This is a brilliant medium but there are some limitations. For example, the Tube ads are London-centric but we deliberately chose stations that were connections for overground regional train lines and airports to target as many commuters and travellers as possible. There is also a lot of advertising noise on the Tube so you have to fight hard to be heard.

What about the future?
The opportunities for outdoor advertising will grow as the technology evolves. The interactive possibilities of screens, particularly in venues where people have time to kill are limitless. I am thinking about touch-screen technology which allows users to engage with a brand rather than just being an onlooker. They can be a real part of the experience. We haven’t experimented yet with QR codes and barcodes that take consumers straight to online shops because we need to be confident there are enough users with smartphones to do this.



Jeremy Male
Chief executive UK &
Northern Europe

I was recently listening to the head of a large agency who used the term “digital iceberg” to describe digital outdoor. It struck me as a great analogy: we know digital outdoor has huge capabilities, but as he put it: “we are only using 10% of its potential”.

Over the past year there have been some highly creative uses of digital outdoor. I’m thinking in particular of work linked to the World Cup, for example McDonald’s 4-4-2 creative, WKD’s countdowns and Nike’s time-sensitive messaging, but in the main 65% of the copy we run is standard posters – a new medium being used like the old.

What excites me is that the Olympics are coming to London. This will be a global centrepiece of excellence for the medium.

Digital comes into its own during national events as it can respond to the latest news, celebrate success and capture the public’s mood with time-sensitive messaging. The Olympics will be a spur to creativity, but the outdoor industry must show brands the whole of the iceberg if the use of this new channel is to be maximised.

At a recent client meeting, we discussed how digital outdoor can help with three trends for marketers: connectivity, event-centred marketing and localisation of creativity. A campaign from Nestlé’s Aero Caramel linked results from a survey on bus shelter interactive screens to NestlŽ’s Facebook site. When Suzuki ran an event at Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush, London, we broadcast it live across station screens, amplifying the event and taking it to millions nationwide.

Digital outdoor can localise marketing too. For TomTom, roadside screens showed location-specific traffic advice, for example.

The huge investment means that digital outdoor will reach more people on a daily basis than the quality and mid-market national press put together and more than radio over a two-week campaign.

Digital outdoor has become part of the media mainstream and with the Olympics approaching, £1 in every £5 allocated to outdoor could be spent on digital by 2012.

There has never been a greater opportunity for brands to capitalise on the opportunities provided by the medium, to connect with audiences in exciting new ways and to uncover and harness the remaining portion of the digital ’iceberg’.

top trends 2011 predictions


David Walker

Marketing operations manager

My first prediction is that we are going to see a lot more integration with outdoor and mobile phone execution to create standout advertising campaigns. We’ll also see the quality of creative used in digital outdoor improve.


Roy Lee

Brand manager
IBM UK and Ireland

This year will continue to drive a fundamental change in how we communicate, because of the impact of social media. Outdoor will provide enhanced interaction with an audience and customised content. Like a TV channel, the content will be controlled by the viewer, but the channel will be owned by the publisher.


Liz Statham

Marketing director
Rough Guides

I can see more use of the medium for PR and tactical one-day campaigns around key events. There will also be more sponsored editorial and
branded content rather than straight advertising.


Paul Brindley

Commercial director
Heathrow Express

The digital element of the OOH market is undoubtedly the fastest growing sector, which has been driven in part by an explosion of investment in new screens. So a significant proportion of any future growth will be driven by increases in the digital estate. Already in excess of 55% of our revenue is delivered on digital screens across all our environments.

fact focus

  • Digital out-of-home allows brands to vary the messages they convey outdoors, based on the time of day and different audiences.
  • This makes it a flexible alternative to traditional out-of-home.
  • The channel has been heavily London centric but brands are now looking to run campaigns nationally as the number of digital sites increases, particularly on the roadside and in the retail and airport sectors.
  • Brands are producing innovative creative for digital OOH and are working hard to make sure the messaging is consistent and aligned with other marketing.
  • Marketers want the digital outdoor industry to simplify its offer and make it less technically complicated to run campaigns.



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