How Your Brand Can Maximize the Fast-Changing Evolution of OOH Media

times square new york lit up at night

By Hope Horner, CEO and founder, Lemonlight

Before the tumultuous events of 2020, the public’s relationship with out-of-home (OOH) media could be described in two words: “It’s complicated.”

On one hand, OOH advertising was associated with annoying, pushy lawyer billboards or bus stop posters featuring cheesy slogans. While these ads were certainly noticeable, they weren’t always welcome — especially from passersby tired of seeing the same old taglines and imagery.

However, not all OOH advertising was bad. Some was quite successful. When KitchenAid synced the changing colors of the CN Tower in Toronto with the colors of its most famous mixer on a billboard, the company earned serious kudos. Same with the Dracula billboard in the United Kingdom that turned eerier as day morphed into night. Audiences were engaged by these imaginative OOH displays, uploading smartphone videos and snaps to their social pages to share them with their networks.

Ultimately, OOH advertising has historically received mixed reactions and reviews. Then came the pandemic.

The Pandemic’s Early and Ongoing Effects on OOH Media

COVID affected OOH media in both static and dynamic ways. In many countries, people’s movement was restricted. Accordingly, brands pulled back from OOH advertising because there just wasn’t as much OOH activity.

To capitalize on what movement did exist at the start of the pandemic, advertisers greeted travelers with digital OOH displays that provided heartwarming messages of connection or shared the latest safety updates. Little by little, though, society began exploring the outside world again and people started to notice their surroundings anew. As a result, OOH got a significant bump. In one Harris survey, nearly half of all respondents admitted that they were more aware of OOH media than they had been before the pandemic.

The events of the past few years mean that we’re seeing a different type of OOH activity and different OOH advertising to boot. To meet the moment, marketers will have to revamp their OOH strategies.

Harnessing the Power of OOH in a Changing World

The first big change in OOH strategies has been cookieless tracking on digital devices. Without being able to leverage cookies, some brands are toying with OOH placements as viable substitutions. OOH ads offer remarkable tracking statistics that aren’t typically tied to an individual user. For example, a user who stands in front of a dynamic OOH billboard for 10 seconds won’t be served a similar ad later. Consequently, OOH tracking has escaped the brunt of the privacy debates surrounding tracking measures.

The second change affecting OOH involves the disregard consumers now have for other types of digital advertising. During the pandemic, consumers were so focused on their laptops, tablets and smartphone screens that, in many cases, their brains learned to tune out the constant advertising on these devices. As a result, many of those online ads don’t have the same impact. OOH media can be ignored, too, but a well-designed OOH campaign is harder to breeze past. Tokyo passersby discovered this when they found themselves gaping at a remarkable giant 3D cat billboard complete with fascinating, real-life motion.

The bottom line is that OOH still woos, still wows, and still works. In a changing society, modern marketers must refine their OOH video campaigns to appeal to an audience that’s been irreversibly transformed by the events of the past few years.

With this in mind, brands would be wise to prioritize OOH advertising and develop a deeper understanding of how it’s changed and where it’s headed. People are getting back out into the world for recreation and social gathering. Because so many took the ability to do this for granted before lockdowns, there is a real sense of joy and positivity, which makes people more open to absorbing branded content in the form of OOH media.

Now is also a great time for brands to step out as early innovators in the digital OOH space. Although digital billboards have existed for years, the format hasn’t reached full maturity. We haven’t reached the age of having “seen it all before” yet. This creates space for unparalleled experimentation, innovation and creativity. Brands that are willing to take up this challenge will be winners in the field. There are still countless opportunities for marketers to connect with people traveling outside their houses and offices. Marketing teams and the brands they serve should actively look for tapped and untapped OOH formats, like billboards and marquees featuring watchable video assets — an engaging, popular content format.

OOH offers an unprecedented opportunity to make advertising fresh and exciting. For brands ready to make their mark, now is the perfect time to begin.

About the Author 

Hope Horner is CEO and founder of Lemonlight, a video production company that produces branded video content at scale. Hope is a three-time entrepreneur who has been featured in Inc., Entrepreneur, Forbes and other publications highlighting her successes in the Silicon Beach community over the past decade.