Why Programmatic And Real-Time Will Save Digital Outdoor

It's really interesting to see the advances in digital outdoor. The channel is absolutely ripe for digital innovation -- yet for years, for some reason or another, it has never quite happened. I remember being taken to a mock-up of a tube station a decade ago with digital projections of ads across platforms and escalators packed with LCD screens, all conveying a latest offer. It was a world away from posters with chewing gum stuck on models' noses, and yet it is only just starting to take shape now -- and even then, only in some stations with campaigns that simply replace posters for pixels.

When you're travelling, at an event or shopping, digital outdoor can add to the sense of occasion. It makes it all the more bewildering that it seems to be little more than a moving copy of the posters that would have previously inhabited the space now devoted to LCD screen of various sizes. Marketing Weekreports today on some of the latest technology that could change this. Trading automation is a really neat step forward so brands can buy slots automatically on a screen-by-screen basis. Rather than rely on humans to input codes and set campaigns up, creative can be sent to a screen automatically. Anyone else see a programmatic future here?

Outdoor has always lacked data in comparison to online -- however, that could change slightly with cameras that can tell brands something about the audience in front of a screen and inform advertising decisions. One can imagine the audience in front of a LCD screen at a train station or tube concourse changes somewhat after rush hour is over and commuters are replaced by shoppers and daytrippers. Well, the technology covered in Marketing Week can make these observations, it claims, and then adjust the images on the screen to the awaiting audience. It will not be as good as online data, which will include behavioural data, but it does push the technology forward and it does provide a means of backing up assumptions of who uses an area at different times of the day with more reliable data.

I hope the outdoor industry sees this as an opportunity to become more real-time. Digital screens are one thing, and so too is automated trading. It's only when the screen's creative and advertising messaging is informed in real-time that the medium will truly live up to its potential. Offers in shopping malls can be tied to stock so brands are not sending disappointed shoppers to an outlet where the reduced items have all gone, but instead flag up the next offer that can be taken advantage of. At events, messaging could relay something about what is going on. At Wembley Stadium, for example, sponsor EE splashes messages around the foyers about its coverage and love of sport. How about polls for who will be the first scorer of what the end result will be, perhaps with people entering via a hashtag? Why not use the immediacy to the action to its advantage and relay this on digital screens that can now be addresses individually in real-time?

Readers of this column will know it has always puzzled me that digital outdoor has simply replaced still images with video, which adds very little to the mix. I just have a feeling that the people who are talking up 2016 as a year when outdoor "gets it" and finally innovates to make the channel a real-time vibrant, compelling medium might just have a point. The industry has had false dawns before, but surely now it's clear that digital innovation will make people want to interact with campaigns to get the latest poll information from a brand's campaign, the best new offer at a retail outlet or whatever the latest data shows would be the most appropriate use of each screen's space.

In fact, I was talking with a company the other day that specialises in screens which display ads in restaurants in bars and restaurants near major rail stations. How do they ensure the public is glued to messaging? Part of the service puts up train running times so passengers know if they have time for one for the road (or perhaps 'for the rails) and as they find this out, they will be engaging with branded messages apt for the audience and the time of day. Genius.

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