Rethinking Out of Home: Why Digitally Native Brands Are Flocking to the Medium

And what the rise of digital OOH can do

The billboard industry thanked 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri during the film's award season run for bringing attention back to OOH. OAAA
Headshot of Kristina Monllos

In late April, Postmates became the latest digitally native brand to go big with an out-of-home campaign in New York. The first effort, from 180LA, used poppy, bright colors with clever lines tailored to grab New Yorkers’ attention—a move that recently has become increasingly popular with startups and digitally native brands like Casper and Brooklinen, which want to make a big splash in a new market.

“As a tech company, Postmates has always had a very strong digital and social advertising presence, but awareness-level marketing is becoming increasingly more important as the brand matures,” Lizz Niemeyer, director of brand marketing, Postmates, explained. “OOH is still one of the best ways to bring your brand to life in a physical way.”

Postmates is using OOH to introduce the brand to picky New Yorkers.

For outdoor media company Outfront, the interest in OOH from venture-backed startups is growing. Last year, Outfront launched campaigns with over 100 such firms, marking a 30 percent increase from the prior year, according to a company representative.

Explaining OOH’s recent spike in popularity among digital brands, Outfront chief commercial officer Andy Sriubas noted that OOH provides a great creative canvas that often over-delivers impressions relative to its cost, all without the brand safety, ad bots or viewability issues that plague many digital platforms.

Deutsch New York chief creative officer Dan Kelleher believes the rise of OOH work from digitally native brands comes from a desire to have a tangible, real-world expression of the brand that can make it stand out from its competitors. “With so many digitally native brands popping up in the same verticals, communicating in a more mass-scale medium can create immediate legitimacy for a lesser-known brand,” noted Kelleher.

"Out-of-home ads can become a touch point, giving people a space to connect with the brand when they are offline."
Dan Kelleher, Deutsch New York chief creative officer

But the trend isn’t only coming from lesser-known brands; marketers like Lyft, Spotify and WeTransfer are using the medium, too. Kelleher pointed to how these firms lack brick-and-mortar locations to help keep their brands top of mind. “Out-of-home ads can become a touch point, giving people a space to connect with the brand when they are offline,” he said.

That doesn’t mean out of home will work just because it’s out of home, cautioned Kelleher, explaining that it can be harder to capture consumers’ attention with OOH than digital. He recommended messaging be “single-minded, succinct and breakthrough—all in a span of about two seconds.”

But that could all change soon: OOH is in the midst of a digital transformation with many static billboards being switched out for digital ones that allow for quicker, more time-sensitive messages to get to eyeballs across major cities. Outfront, for example, is working to revamp the New York MTA’s out-of-home subway displays, removing vinyl posters from walls and replacing them with roughly 54,000 digital screens.

“Digital inventory [OOH] units allow brands to operate with more creative flexibility, lower production costs and without the fear of creative messaging living in perpetuity,” said Dustin Engel, head of product strategy and new ventures at digital agency PMG.

Engel explained other benefits include cycling through different messages, weaving in contextual layers like weather to increase relevancy and ending the campaign at the exact desired moment.

These Avengers ads show passersby where the nearest theatre is and showtimes.

Case in point: Late last month, for Marvel’s latest Avengers film, digital shop Intersection took over all of the LinkNYC kiosks below 125th Street in New York to drive awareness and promote ticket sales using digital OOH spots that not only told consumers to see the film, but used Moviefone’s proprietary API—a first—to tell consumers the location of the nearest theater and the next show times.

“It’s really a signal of what we’re going to see in the out-of-home space, which is thanks to this incredible proliferation of digital displays. You can do things like this for the first time that feel scalable and repeatable,” explained Dave Etherington, chief strategy officer, Intersection.

While things are sunny for OOH currently, some critics warn the market may be a bit bullish and digital transformation may have billboards go the way of the dodo. “Walk down any street and any city and people aren’t looking around anymore; they are looking down at their screens,” said Allen Adamson, co-founder and managing partner of Metaforce. “The magnetic pull of people to look at smartphone screens is more and more. Even when you are outdoors, people are not acting that way; they are on their phones. Driverless cars will make billboards irrelevant.”

This story first appeared in the May 7, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@KristinaMonllos kristina.monllos@adweek.com Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.
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