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2021 Brings New Reasons to be Excited About Out-of-Home Advertising

2020 was a rough year for out-of-home media. Granted, it was a rough year for just about everything, and everyone. As a pandemic took hold of our daily lives, trapping us inside while we awaited some sense of normalcy, the world of out-of-home (OOH) media started to contract, albeit slightly. It makes sense. Why spend money on billboards and outdoor advertising when people, by and large, are stuck indoors waiting on a vaccine or honoring shelter-in-place orders?

After a rough start to the year, however, things started to change as advertisers seemingly remembered the adaptability that billboards and other forms of OOH advertising brought with them. Budgets started to flow in that direction and firms large and small looked for ever more innovative ways to reach their audiences (and their potential audiences) in places they might otherwise miss them.

It was a year of change. Programmatic digital out-of-home (PDOOH) advertising, for example, spurred this shift in thinking. COVID-19 may have forced a change in advertiser behavior, if only to keep up with consumer movement, but PDOOH offered a sort of fluidity in where, when, and how advertisers could connect with customers. And though recent years have (incorrectly) left many with a sense that OOH advertising was a source to spend “leftover” marketing budgets, this year put its importance front and center, showcasing the adaptability and presence that made this one of the best ways to advertise for decades prior. And if the end of 2020 showed us anything, it’s that 2021 should be even better.

To deliver on the momentum of the last year, we’ll need to improve. That starts with a better understanding from those buying the ads, specifically in consideration of OOH advertising as a modern and reliable means of reaching customers, not an old standby that’s good for eating up the remains of an annual marketing budget.

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Historically, advertisers have looked at OOH as a medium that brings with it a lot of difficulties. There’s difficulty in locking up the right deals in the right places. There’s difficulty in making creatives stand out from those around them. And more importantly, in a modern sense, there was difficulty in measurability. OOH was considered more of a brand awareness play than a tactic that brings practical and measurable insight. This couldn’t be more wrong. Those who have properly utilized OOH in recent years can tell you there’s a reason it’s among the fastest-growing media spaces, and definitely one you should pay attention to moving forward.

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If nothing else, 2020 brought with it an understanding of the type of value predictability and flexibility can bring. But to deliver on the promise of last year, however, 2021 must come with improvements to real-time intelligence, audience-driven planning and activation, optimization, and measurement. It’s only then that OOH will take its rightful place as a leader in the value-driven advertising space. Quality data sources, proper curation of reliable data, and better tools and solutions for clients will lead to previously uncovered insights based on real-time observations. This alone will allow advertisers to rapidly activate or deploy media that connects with a wide range of audiences (including existing clients) at the right time and in the right place.

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It’s here that we have a grand opportunity.

OOH can, once and for all, break out of the silo it’s been held in. It can further cement its worth in a world that needs adaptable solutions. We need a pivot option, especially as advertisers face the very real possibility of stricter privacy regulations on some of their favorite web properties.

Just as advertisers made the realization in 2020 that OOH offered an adaptable — and more importantly, measurable — medium for displaying programmatic ads, 2021 could necessitate a return to form, a reliable source to reach customers with an outcome-driven approach. Scrutiny, whether in the form of legislation or a tightening of the belt before it happens, could force the change, and faster than many of the world’s larger firms could adapt.

OOH is by no means new; It’s actually one of the oldest forms of advertising. But improving on one of history’s most effective advertising channels with new tools and technology meant to increase its effectiveness could be the spark the industry at large needs. It’s these innovative techniques that could push past barriers created by the notion that these ads were immeasurable, and therefore ineffective. In a world dominated by display advertising on some of the world’s largest networks (Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc.), there’s something to be said for an approach that’s been highly effective for years.

When coupled with technological solutions meant to propel it forward, the sky is really the limit. And that makes me very excited to see what 2021 brings.

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