Commentary

The Dead Billboard Era Is Over

You have probably seen the video of a one-year-old trying to work a magazine as though it were an iPad. She taps, swipes, pinches -- and nothing happens; it doesn’t work. She must wonder, in her youthful way, why anyone would take the time and trouble to produce this interesting object but then provide no means for interacting with it -- what a missed opportunity!

A similar thought occurs to me, in my less youthful way, when I walk past most posters, billboards, and other Out-of-Home vehicles: Why doesn’t that advertiser want me to interact with this thing? Does the company have nothing further to say? Why did they bother getting my attention if they had no intention of following through -- what a tease! Are they fearful of what I might discover if I scratched beneath the surface? How thin-skinned and inconsiderate of them!

We are now coming up on 20 years since interactive advertising became widespread, since the first ad banners appeared on Hotwired.com. Initially, people clicked on those banners for their novelty, or even in the hope that they could shut off the blinking, distracting animations. Subsequently, we have discovered that with banners, search results, and pretty much anything on the Web, when people are interested, they click for more. In other words: Duh!

Oh, and those people who choose to click? They also happen to be our best customer prospects. Double duh!

Sociologists who study this sort of behavior have noted that the relatively recent ability to interact immediately and receive instant gratification has transformed us into (or maybe resulted from our being) an impatient, I-want-it-now, on-demand society. Love it or hate it, that’s how we are.

In the TV world, it took a while to figure out what to do about this evolution. I can still recall the titanic ‘90s struggle between digital creative people and TV creative people -- the former demanding commercials be tagged with a URL to drive traffic to their sites, the latter arguing that the alphabet soup of wwws and dots and slashes sullied the Zen beauty of the end frame and distracted from the spot’s purpose.

Fast forward to today and we’re accustomed to seeing commercials sporting URLs, hashtags, Zoove numbers, and more. Why? Because people still want it now, it costs nothing extra to give it to them, and if we don’t give it to them, those fickle consumers will move right on to a competitor that will.

Which brings me back to those OOH ad units I was walking past a moment ago.

Today if you’re a savvy advertiser you no longer think simply in terms of impressions. You plan holistically around a customer journey -- a series of touches that coax your target audience ineluctably toward the pointy end of the purchase funnel. In the OOH space you can even think in terms of an actual physical journey -- e.g., how you reach your customer on the way to work, at the office, at lunch, in the gym, or at home in the evening. Given what you know or can infer about where that person is in the journey (literal or figurative), you have the ability to engage in more relevant dialog with that customer. Relevance leads to meaningfulness, meaningfulness leads to effectiveness, and that leads to ka-ching!

Mobile -- because it’s location-aware, always on, and highly personal -- allows us to deliver extremely relevant content, messages, and offers to individuals in our target audience. Which makes the customer want to engage. This is why OOH needs, whenever possible, to be mOOH -- a medium designed to stimulate and facilitate the engagement that the best customer prospects demand.

In other words, OOH alone: great. Mobile alone: great. Mobile + OOH: greater than the sum of its parts.

After all, the point of advertising is not just to communicate a message or fill space on the sides of buildings; it’s to provoke a response. If an OOH campaign doesn’t do that -- and doesn’t facilitate that response -- well, then we’ve allowed a chance for meaningful engagement quite literally to pass us by.

Back in the day, we used to repeat as a mantra that “Everything that can be digital will be.” Today we could update this to “Everything that can be mobilized will be.” And nothing cries out for mobilization like OOH.

So next time you happen to be planning an OOH campaign, take a look at the proposed creative and ask yourself, as any one-year-old would: How do I interact with this thing? 

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1 comment about "The Dead Billboard Era Is Over".
  1. Tim Garcia from Moasis Global , December 5, 2012 at 12:24 p.m.
    Few, if any companies are focusing on the hyper local targeting of mobile and DOOH in one platform. Moasis provides the ability for advertisers-of all sizes- to pick and choose their audience and locations to deliver relevant messaging, and it's device agnostic. Moasis is liquid across all screens (mobile, DOOH, Transit displays, etc.) and gives the flexibility, in a self-service engine, to create campaigns based on the device or screen format.