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The future of OOH; why now is the time to really start thinking about data in out-of-home advertising

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(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/mtkang)

The impact of data can be felt across every industry. Whether it’s researchers using data to teach AI algorithms how to detect cancer more effectively than doctors currently can, or power companies using Big Data from sensors to reduce energy waste and tackle climate change, companies are increasingly turning to technology for valuable business insights.

As a result, the amount of data generated each year is sharply rising with no signs of slowing down. In 2018, 33 zettabytes of data were used, but by 2025 this is expected to rise to an enormous 175 zettabytes, an increase of more than fivefold. To give you a sense of the scale of this, if one person was to download the world’s data in 2025 it would take them around 1.8 billion years.

One of the areas where this digital shift can be seen most clearly is advertising. For an industry that is built on understanding its customers, the insights that data can provide are invaluable. They allow brands to measure and enhance the impact of ads and better understand their audiences to ensure they’re reaching the right people, with the right messages, at the right time.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe estimates data-driven advertising is more than 500 percent more effective than advertising without data, and increases the value of advertising units by as much as 300 percent. Furthermore, over two thirds (68 percent) of marketers consider measurement and analytics tools to be investment priorities. Simply put, data in advertising works. Yet whilst digital advertising has led the way in using data for measurement and targeting, more traditional mediums like out-of-home (OOH) have seen slower adoption.

Putting data at the core of OOH unlocks new possibilities, making it more effective and efficient. It’s a natural evolution for the medium, as the sector has been transforming digitally at great speed over the last few years – with the growth of Digital OOH even outpacing that of online advertising. While the most visible digital transformation in OOH is the screens people can now see walking down the street, there’s an even bigger transformation going on behind the scenes.

Change is coming

This is an area I expect to see huge change over the coming years, with Clear Channel’s GDPR-compliant data-driven OOH tool RADAR at the forefront. OOH is a broad reach medium, and because of this has certain inherent benefits. OOH also holds a large audience reach – which cannot be ad-skipped or ad-blocked - and is seen by a constant moving flow of people on a daily basis. By using data, this traditional advertising format can be used to connect the real world with the digital world, which ultimately modernizes and future-proofs OOH by providing more effective and measurable solutions.

By using responsibly sourced data and providing smart analytics tools, OOH will help advertisers, alongside the media and creative agencies they work with, to enhance measurability, make ads more relevant, and show the impact of their OOH campaigns. With OOH reaching an enormous 98 percent of UK adults every week, the importance of using valuable data insights responsibly cannot be overstated. For example, third-party aggregated geolocation information from a sample of about 10 percent of the population can be used to understand the profiles of audiences that pass OOH advertising sites located in specific areas each day. It can provide details such as how many people pass the advert, their average age bracket, and average gender proportions. These insights can then be used to make sure that only the most relevant messages for that group are being delivered, at the right time and on the right panels.

We’re now bringing our powerful RADAR technology to Clear Channel Europe, with Spain, the UK and Sweden as the first countries to launch. Using a virtual map of all of our OOH inventory online, RADAR overlays aggregated and anonymous third-party mobile data onto the map. This helps brands to better understand the audiences walking past our bus shelters, billboards and street furniture, giving them the insights they need to find the right panels to connect with their audience groups. Groups could, for example, include 18-34-year olds who shop at high-street fashion brands, or parents who recently visited a supermarket. However, it’s important to note that we never identify individuals. If any audience is too small (fewer than 25 people) and therefore there is a risk of de-anonymization, we don’t receive the data. OOH is a broad reach channel best at engaging mass audiences, and we’re not in the business of targeting individuals.

Putting privacy first

By providing valuable audience insights and information about the impact of an ad, OOH gives advertisers a clear measure of their ROI by highlighting its importance and proving the effectiveness of OOH in the campaign mix – something that’s more important than ever as companies navigate new patterns of consumer behavior post-Covid.  The result is that advertisers are increasingly reassessing their media strategies, and we’re already seeing a shift in spend from other media into OOH.

It is crucial to make sure that privacy is at the very center of the discussion. While brands value the insights that data can provide, protecting customers must always be front of mind. Europe led the way in data privacy, with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws that ensure a high level of consumer protection across all industries, including advertising. The US is now moving in the same direction, with the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) which came into effect this year. This wave of privacy regulation highlights a key issue – while data give advertisers valuable customer insights, it is imperative to put consumer privacy first. In OOH, data protection goes beyond meeting the legal requirements. Responsible use of data is core to our values, and at Clear Channel we make a point to never target individual people, nor do we have the ability to ever see individual device level data as all insights are aggregated and anonymized.

Responsibly used, these capabilities help us to build the most engaging campaigns, as well as providing the information needed to develop a more detailed understanding of the audiences that brands want to reach in order to deliver effective and measurable results. As this data-driven approach becomes increasingly core to OOH’s proposition, the industry must also ensure this is done responsibly while respecting individuals’ privacy rights. GDPR-compliant data insights have the potential to add a completely new dimension to OOH, combining the reach of this medium with the tech and data-led approach of other formats.

I believe that any advertiser who currently buys geo-targeted mobile ads should also seriously consider investing in OOH. With data, we can now offer the same degree of targeting and measurement, but with a much larger creative format.

Andy Stevens, Commercial Innovation Director, Clear Channel International