Getting Real About Out of Home

Even the shortest journey is made up of a number of short cognitive hops. There are points along every road where the traveller unconsciously clocks a landmark and is reassured that they’re still on the right path. 

On a quiet country road, in the foothills of the Serrania de Ronda, on the outskirts of the small Sevillian town of El Saucejo, you will find a mini-roundabout known locally as the Roundabout of the Olives. This poorly signposted, and incongruous, traffic calming measure features a thirty-foot wide esparto weave basket overflowing with dozens of gigantic, shiny, black, Gordal olives; a fruit traditionally associated with that part of Spain. In many ways, this bizarre installation can offer us some insight into the future of OOH.

Like any good OOH location campaign, the Roundabout of the Olives succeeds on a number of levels. It is a landmark, a visual touchstone on a long dusty road with very few distractions. Truck drivers much surely feel a sense of gratitude as the roundabout shimmers out of the heat haze, on the road ahead, for in that moment, a transaction occurs—the location is transformed into a place. A humble location, with a low cognitive or emotional resonance, is transmuted into a colourful and vibrant landmark which reminds the traveller that there is more to life than the dusty highway. It also allows the town, the brand, to start a conversation with the traveller, the customer. 

Behold! A basket of olives. Are you hungry? Here is a place to call home. Why not stop in our beautiful town and return to a simpler time and maybe, while you’re here, enjoy something to eat. Welcome to El Saucejo!

Cultural geographers, anthropologists, sociologists and urban planners have long known that certain places hold a special meaning to particular people. Locations that are said to have a “sense of place” have a strong identity that is deeply felt by inhabitants and visitors. 

In childhood we develop a special bond with our environment; it forms part of our identity and, as adults, we tend to consider new places in relation to this ‘primal landscape’.  While our sense of place develops over time and through repetition, the process can also be undermined by disruptions in routines or abrupt changes in environment; when considered in the context of OOH, this offers an interesting opportunity for brands to engage with customers on a much deeper level. Advertisers who are able to empower a sense of place in target demographics may also engender a deeper connection with a brand.

OOH is all about place, and never was this more noticeable than in the recent pandemic. When DOOH.COM launched their successful #MyHeroes campaign, as a celebration of key workers during the early stages of lockdown, they specifically targeted roadside screens and bus shelters servicing hospitals and health centres. While the connection seemed quite natural at the time, we were surprised by the outpouring of affection on social media, not only for key workers but also the Media Owners, who generously donated their space and time to the campaign. 

OOH screens are more than just screens at a fixed location, they are a part of a deeper cognitive landscape, and whether we know it or not, those screens, we pass every day of our lives, become a part of our world—our reality.  

Many of the early innovators within AR immediately recognised the importance of place, and routinely hung virtual props in real-world spaces; by attaching Geocaches or Pokemon Go stops to physical landmarks and real-world locations they could lend their ’fake’ worlds a sense of authenticity.  

The rise of augmented reality and Facebook’s staggering investment in the meta-verse embedded internet may appear to be at odds with traditional OOH but these innovations can only challenge our sense of the virtual world; OOH, in contrast, is based entirely in reality. When compared to other advertising mediums, there is less of an abstraction between an OOH advertisement and the viewer. Unlike the internet, television, or print, OOH advertising, by nature, is out and about in the real world, alongside us, as we go about our physical lives. OOH exists on the same physical plane as ourselves and as a result, our relationship with it is deeper.

OOH emerged from the pandemic and ven though high profile city-centre screens saw a decline in impressions during the lockdown, suburban and roadside locations appeared to enjoy a significant upturn in location-aware bookings. Perhaps brands are beginning to realise the benefits of empowering a sense of place and binding themselves to locations in emotionally engaging ways. 

DOOH.COM has been helping brands enable location call-outs in their OOH creative for many years but during the pandemic, we began to start thinking about locations in terms of how they might empower emotional engagement as places. 

Distributing creative across many thousands of screens, over a wide geographic area, presents some technical challenges. A single video file weighing only a few megabytes can equate to many hundreds of gigabytes of data circulating around a network. As consumers demand higher bandwidth at lower and lower data tariffs, more and more data will become available to OOH advertisers and as a result, over the coming years, without the physical constraints of limited bandwidth, we will begin to see the emergence of hyperlocal content that adapts to specific locations (and in turn places), with increasingly disruptive and emotive content that engage audiences like never before.

The shift towards location-targeted OOH campaigns has been happening quietly behind the scenes for years; it started with tentative copy lines at low point sizes but has gradually grown in boldness-of-execution as brand confidence increased. 

More recently DOOH.COM have been working with elegantly layered motion and artwork files, which beautifully combine location with creativity, in order to move beyond the staple ‘insert location here’ design brief and put high-fidelity location callouts front-and-centre across many hundreds of locations throughout the duration of a campaign.

Inevitably, the wider the distribution footprint of an OOH campaign, the harder it is to maintain consistency over such large geographical areas. In order to maintain campaign fidelity at scale, technical innovation will play a vital role in production, delivery, as well as reporting. As our understanding of how our sense of place plays to the unique strengths of OOH, we must be ready to augment location campaign creative messaging in ever smarter and more pertinent ways.

With the inevitable rise of virtual and augmented meta-verses, the ties that bind us to reality will become more and more important. Our sense of self, place and our relationship to the world around us has never been more important. 

If the pandemic taught us anything, OOH is an intrinsic part of our physical landscape; while that landscape may soon be pock-marked with digitally augmented advertising real-estate, I can confirm that, or the time being at least, the Roundabout of the Olives, halfway between Seville and Malaga, in southern Spain, does not have a Pokestop! Not yet anyway.

Leave a comment