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While it may always be impossible to sell actual out-of-home impressions, billboard technology is evolving rapidly and creating a newly agile medium for advertisers.
Clear Channel has just bought almost 2,000 phone booths from Arqiva and is expanding its use of automated digital six-sheet screens.
These new kiosks won't just be advertisements, but will provide a host of benefits to the public as well as advertisers.
Let's look at the future of out-of-home...
Programmatic direct for the outdoors?
The two-week cycle of outdoor ads has effectively ended, with digital platforms allowing for shorter play ads.
Clear Channel has a system which 'intelligently and automatically manages our digital inventory, including booking, pricing and content management, enabling dynamic and contextual campaigns and offering real-time proof of play'.
At the moment, this system is in place for over 2,500 screens but this is set to increase with the new phone booths.
Agile or automated creative?
There's no doubt that digital out-of home now gives the opportunity to be agile with 'real life' creative.
Carlsberg provided a great example of this in 2015, responding to the furore around Protein World's 'Are you beach body ready?' poster on the London Underground with an adjacent projected placement.
Aside from a data-driven platform allowing agile placement, there's also the fairly nascent technology of AI bleeding into out-of-home.
M&C Saatchi launched an outdoor ad campaign on Oxford Street and Clapham Common in the summer of 2015 that allowed for the automated optimisation of ads based on rates of customer engagement.
The campaign was admittedly for a fictional product (a brand of coffee called Bahio), so its influence was hard to judge, but the use of a Kinect to judge how many people look at the poster was interesting.
Feedback from this system determined whether certain parts of creative were dropped or made it to the next generation.
There are questions here (do random increases in footfall correlate with 'effectiveness' of particular creative, and therefore undermine the AI experiment? Why should number of eyes on a poster tell you anything about whether the message was effectively conveyed?) but the trial is indicative of experimentation with outdoor ads.
Carlsberg's agile out-of-home placement
How creative should a digital poster be?
This is perhaps the most contentious area of out-of-home, with NFC, QR and AR regarded by many as conspicuous flops, what is the perfect balance between simply a great advert to look at and some form of interactivity?
Here are some examples of extrememly creative outdoor ads, but is there anything more effective than a traditional text and image poster?
My personal feeling is not yet, however, if Clear Channel draws attention to its new booths by offering additional benefits, this value exchange could prove effective.
If the booths are helpful, they're much more likely to be actively noticed.
Auxilliary benefits are what the customer really wants.
So, how exactly could the booths be helpful? We've already seen bus stops offer NFC rewards, as well as booths in shopping malls, with very limited success.
However, it's been mooted that the new kiosks may include beacons, Wi-Fi, mobile data services and interactive journey planners.
Though beacons haven't yet got a compelling use case, offering Wi-Fi and a journey planner could be fine ideas.
We've seen how useful and popular the TfL monoliths are (see below). Combining services with ads at premium sites is achievable, but getting the execution right is key - we all remember internet kiosks in phone booths, and how they quickly broke or were damaged.
Improving the ad model might not be Clear Channel's aim, it may simply want to add premium sites to its inventory, but I think adding a level of service is something the consumer (certainly the tourist) would welcome warmly.
A monolith on Southbank, London. Image via TfL.
Premium sites redefined with transparent pricing
As cities are redeveloped, particularly big capital cities like London, out-of-home inventory becomes more difficult to find. Bare bricks on building gables are no longer ten-a-penny, nor are giant billboards in many cases.
Kiosk style digital advertising will no doubt become more and more common, with tie-ups involving supermarkets and shopping malls already complementing more familiar bus stops and train stations.
As we've previously covered on the blog, the pricing of out-of-home media is becoming fairer and more transparent (using data collected by tracking a large sample of users).
Perhaps the medium is set to become a part of the arsenal for a wider range of businesses and marketers.