Fast forward – Adshel boss explores the future of tech and out-of-home

 In Technology

Once limited to the realms of science fiction, smart tech developments in the out-of-home sector are already driving groundbreaking campaigns around the world. Mike Tyquin on the sector’s future.

Out-of-home (OOH), like other media, is transforming in response to digitisation, data and the changing expectations of advertisers. Digital screens supported by ad servers that update content in response to real-time triggers are already here. Innovative campaigns, too, are also already using rudimentary face recognition, QR codes and image scanning, beacons and citizen wayfinding.

There’s plenty of evidence of forward thinking happening in out-of-home (OOH). But what about the future?

Ten years from now, which trends may have the biggest impact on how marketers use OOH?
It’s likely to go beyond digital screens, flexible trading, and better verification and reporting. The trends that will play out in the next decade will make the most of internet connectivity, data and mobile communications capabilities.

Outdoor won’t evolve in isolation, it will respond to the same trends in the advertising, social media, mobile technology and content consumption that impact the whole media sector. What is unique to the future of this medium though is its audience growth.

Unlike other media, recent digitisation has not resulted in audience fragmentation; in fact, increasing urbanisation means more people are out and about consuming content. The challenges facing outdoor will instead focus on the management of digital technology, new business models, and educating brands and agencies about the creative possibilities.

No matter what form outdoor media’s future takes, data is going to be a big part of it. Both the scale of data and how useful it is will take centre stage.

A key, and somewhat unanswered, question is: what are we going to use data for?

Will it be more suited to insight led solutions, or precision targeting? Ideally, if the data is good enough and big enough it should be able to do both. Good quality data will enable marketers to specifically target audiences. The data feedback loop will increase measurability, making OOH campaigns more powerful than ever before, generating better reports and more meaningful analytics. Today, location profiling is used to build target audiences based on postcodes and suburbs.

In the future, as capability increases to collect and process offline and online audience information, data will become richer, higher quality and more scalable. That means marketers will no longer be targeting audiences via the area where they are located, but instead will be targeting audiences on their behaviour. For example, putting a geofence around a supermarket’s customer footprint and then identifying devices that visit that supermarket more than three times a week enables marketers to build a custom audience of regular grocery shoppers.

This evolution from location profiling to building custom audiences means better targeting and more effective marketing. It’s not just campaign and audience data sources to consider. The addition of data from mobiles, smartwatches and other wearables will change the way OOH is targeted and deployed to create contextually relevant ads. Interactive experiences and instantaneous delivery will increasingly feature in OOH. Retargeting will become a possibility with ads seemingly following you as you move around.

An ad on a train will pop up on the street as you exit the station, you’ll see it again on a digital screen at your favourite café and it will seem to travel with you as you move around the shopping centre. OgilvyOne’s 2015 Battersea Dogs Home campaign is an early example of how radio frequency ID can be used to have ads ‘follow’ people. Like the Battersea Dogs Home campaign shows, as creatives develop their approach to the future possibilities of digital OOH, they will adjust the broadcast messaging so it connects with audiences in specific locations – and do so at scale.

A media buy of 2000 panels could potentially deliver 2000 contextually relevant messages. The rollout of innovations like these will challenge the way creatives build campaigns. Technology-enabled screens able to intelligently deliver relevant messages – by recognising a single consumer, knowing how many people are standing in front of it, what time of day it is and what the weather is like – are likely to become widespread in high-frequency areas.

Personalised posters featured in the sci-fi film Minority Report set in 2054, but posters with advertising pitched at an individual are almost with us now.

For instance, IBM has publicised development work on its facial recognition systems. NEC has run trials in Japan using posters that can calculate the gender and age of an individual. Pedestrians don’t have to stop and look at the screen; they only need to pass by to be recognised, so smart posters will be ideal executions for heavy foot traffic areas. Technology-enabled screens will also have the potential to cultivate a second sector for OOH advertising.

Out-of-home will continue to deliver broadcast advertising and brand building; it may also develop a parallel capability that moves beyond targeting to personalisation – advertising delivered for a specific individual. The rollout of tech-supported digital screens will be expensive to build and install. They will only become commonplace if the development of technology aligns with consumer privacy and individual data protection trends.

Brands will need to unambiguously communicate to consumers their ability to control and opt-out of personalised advertising. The high penetration of smart devices, and increased phone functionality, combined with improved outdoor data supply, are key trends that will influence how out-of-home connects with audiences on the move. Tech supported screens like the ones described above also open up the possibilities of interactive out-of-home (IOOH) – advertising that can jump off the screen to a mobile, continuing the conversation. Interactivity between digital screens and smart devices may well prove to be one of the biggest opportunities for OOH in the coming years because of how impactful it will be.

At the moment there is no technology that can unlock mass market interactivity between smartphones and posters, so it is less developed than facial recognition. Questions are yet to be answered about where and when consumers will be willing to interact with posters, and whether that be passive (perhaps by receiving mobile content simply by walking past a poster) or whether interaction will work only when a decision to download is made.

The expenditure required to make this sort of tech widespread will be influenced by identifying locations with significant dwell time and engagement. Bus shelters, train stations and shopping areas have higher dwell-times, while some retail and airports have greater engagement levels.

The other factor that needs to be solved is the speed at which an outdoor device can connect with a smart device.

To be effective, connection will need to happen instantaneously. Delivering data as consumers pass a screen is more viable in low-dwell time locations. Interaction that requires stopping or a more time-consuming action like touching a device to a screen will only make sense in high engagement locations.

Outdoor media will increasingly work with councils to play a role in delivering smart cities. A smart city integrates technology into the lives of residents to make them safer, more efficient and easier. The Internet of Things (IoT) will connect OOH screens with mobile phones and buses and trains. Conceivably, you could be notified by your phone that your bus is running late and it could then suggest nearby cafés to visit while you wait or, if it’s raining, suggest a walking route to your destination with the most shelter.

Outdoor screens and street furniture will be connected to a city’s lighting grid. City infrastructure will recognise patterns of low pedestrian traffic and send a signal to street lights, wayfinding and ad screens to turn off when they’re not needed.

In New York City, LinkNYC has delivered public Wi-Fi hubs that combine digital ad screens with superfast Wi-Fi, charging ports and a tablet giving access to local maps and other points of interest. In Paris, 100 of the city’s iconic newspaper kiosks will be upgraded next year with OOH touch screens, offering digital self-service, event ticket sales and device-charging.

Only in its infancy, wayfinding and other citizen services will grow to better integrate OOH advertising assets with useful functionality for residents. It is this theme of connectivity that best captures the direction of OOH in the next 10 years. Out-of-home will be better integrated, with the internet, mobile devices and city infrastructure. And it won’t just be about pushing out messages; it will be about meaningful enhancement of audiences’ lives as advertisers connect to audiences.

Mike Tyquin is Adshel CEO.

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