Digital outdoor now accounts for around a third of ad spend in the outdoor sector, and is set to rise to 40% next year, according to WARC’s Expenditure Report. This should be no surprise to anyone who has been outside their home recently – there are more digital panels in the ground than ever before, on roadside, rail, in malls and even in public bathrooms.

In 2016, some £95m has been invested in digital sites nationally (Kinetic), as media owners set their sights on upgrading inventory. Ocean is due to announce plans for the iconic Piccadilly Circus lights, with rumours the most famous outdoor site in the UK will become a single screen. JCDecaux and Clear Channel are battling in the capital’s 6 sheet space, with JCDecaux’s LDN screens opposed by state-of-the-art Adshel live sites set to replace old phone boxes. This month, Primesight also announced the launched of LinkUK, a small format roadside presence to be introduced in London in early 2017. Similar to a version launched in NYC, LinkUK offers high-speed WiFi as well as mobile charging outlets and information on local amenities. There is certainly the ambition to match the investment, and to offer a new ‘digital channel’ to advertisers that compares with the reach of TV giants ITV, C4 and C5. JCDecaux aims to hit one billion impressions to become the fourth largest media company.

The reason outdoor vendors are turning to digital is undoubtedly the increase in profit per site they receive, with most split between six advertisers on a loop. It also opens outdoor up to the dynamic, real-time, contextually relevant activity brands now expect their media investments to deliver.

For advertisers, however, sharing sites means sharing audience impacts. The same presence on a digital screen is, on a cost per impact basis, significantly more expensive than the paper and paste equivalent. Advertisers need to make the most of digital out of home, so that the shift does not lead to higher costs and lower reach and frequency.
The three most important considerations for advertisers are flexibility, targeting and creativity.

Flexible buying is the simplest route: whether it’s buying specific locations, days or dayparts relevant to a campaign and its audience. This increases effectiveness and minimises expensive wastage. However, whilst this is the norm in some environments, there is still reluctance from the industry to break up packs. For one, JCDecaux still only sells the LDN 6 sheets in a one week block. As conversations move to automated buying of outdoor, this will need to change.

Outdoor media owners are preparing themselves for more effective targeting by partnering with data goliaths, including Exterion’s partnership with Telefonica. Using historical O2 data, Exterion has created its Audience Behavioural Index (ABI), a tool that allows us to understand audience mobile browsing data, and therefore tap into their interests, across the underground network. Theoretically, real-time data will would theoretically allow us to understand what commuters are browsing by time and geography, and target campaigns accordingly.

Advertisers should also endeavour to send out creative messages in the right context. Working with Bauer Media, the7stars recently came up with the idea to serve meaningful content by creating a sing-along billboard to match Magic FM’s playlist – and our efforts won us an Ocean Award. Ideas such as this demonstrate how digital outdoor can facilitate a creative use of outdoor space, and an effectively targeted campaign – it’s more than just a marked-up poster site.