Rapid and accurate audience measurement is the gold standard of accountability for any medium or media owner -- but how possible is it?
One of the reasons for the seemingly irresistible surge of digital is the rapidity of its measurement, essentially in real-time. One might quibble about its accuracy in certain contexts -- Google and Facebook marking their own homework via the data in their so-called “walled gardens” -- but it’s certainly quick, and that’s a huge advantage.
Out-of-home may be bouncing back strongly from the COVID-19 pandemic -- it is set to overtake print as the biggest ad medium after digital and TV -- but its precipitous fall as the pandemic struck has left scars too.
And with urban behavior changing in terms of frequency, locations, time of travel and new journey forms, better audience measurement is surely needed to increase the relevance and competitiveness of OOH in our multi-comms-channel world.
Existing OOH measurement varies by company and by country. Some countries have worked hard and spent heavily to create their own systems -- Route in the UK, Geopath in the USA, MOVE in Australia, for example -- while others have virtually none.
Historically there are a lot of reasons for this: expense, agreement, just the sheer difficulty of gaining an accurate snapshot of the medium in vast countries where paper and paste is still by far the dominant variant.
But a snapshot of past behavior is not enough, we need to work toward a system which is comparable to other media (omnichannel marketing being one of today’s key issues), accurate and quick.
Disruption has been a communication planning strategy in recent years, in terms of ads challenging the status quo and breaking through all the noise, but the global pandemic has been the biggest disrupter of OOH audience measurement.
Lockdowns created a break in travel patterns within countries and between countries and while the roads are again filled with vehicles, trains, buses, and planes still operate, is it exactly the same as we measured the OOH audience pre pandemic?
For the planning agencies, post-pandemic is an opportunity to reinvent their approach to campaign planning and channel choice, and advertisers expect and demand fewer but more encompassing and robust metrics.
In essence, for OOH, we need to be looking at the present and future rather than relying on past behavior, and we need to build far more flexibility in data gathering and reporting.
Various studies are being conducted in search of this holy grail -- and key to all of them is the ubiquitous mobile device, with most of the world constantly scanning mobile screens we know where the people are and their actual journeys giving their potential exposure to OOH inventory static and digital.
There are layers of research to apply to the mobile data to get to an eyes-on impact, but this fundamental bedrock of travel data is available in all markets providing the opportunity for consistency in how OOH is measured.
In China, technology drives the relevance and integration of OOH media communication with the digital channels enhancing the consumer experience. We see this with the latest 3D screens that require no special eyewear to see the advertising, and the spectacular and new nature of the experience means it is snapped, filmed and shared across social media.
This is exciting, and the success of the OOH event or technology can be measured by this ripple across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other platforms.
This is only the tip of an OOH advertising campaign. The brand message will be on the side of a bus, a screen in a shopping mall, a small poster in a supermarket carpark, a large billboard on the highway, a screen in a railway station and many more environments that form the daily opportunities for a brand to connect with consumers.
It is understanding what these deliver individually and collectively through audience measurement that improves the odds for OOH media being considered and selected to deliver the campaign objectives.
If the OOH industry wants control of how its audience is measured, it must mobilize and invest in measurement technology or it will be assigned a blunt value in channel planning that will not necessarily reflect its true contribution -- and then it would be very difficult for OOH to re-engage and change the way OOH is analyzed.