Here’s how out-of-home advertisers are adapting to post-lockdown London

Author: Paul Rowlinson

Paul Rowlinson is managing director of GroupM Digital/Xaxis UK.

Lockdown had a huge impact on out-of-home (OOH) advertising as audiences largely disappeared and billboards, bus stops and the underground became a canvas for supportive messages for key workers.

Only a handful of astute advertisers continued to spend, with the likes of Tesco recognising the opportunity for memorable community messaging, much of which was widely shared on social media. But overall, the impact was devastating, with OOH ad spend plummeting by 60 per cent across April to June.

This has had an impact that goes far beyond the advertising industry, as data released by the UK government in February 2020 shows advertising generated £18.6bn of Gross Added Value across seven years. The millions of us who live in London or travel into the capital to work and pass OOH ads as we commute, hit the shops or eat out are contributing more than we realise to our city’s economy.

With audiences diminished, advertisers are putting more focus than ever on effective placement and fast responses to changes in audience patterns. To deliver this speed and flexibility, the industry is using sophisticated new location-based data sets, as well as technology to automate the placement of ads on digital OOH sites.

Digital technology in OOH is nothing new, with around half of London’s traditional printed posters swapped for digitised screens over the last decade. But it’s only recently that the way ads are bought and sold has begun to change. In the last two years, advertisers have begun moving to automated ad trading, cutting down the time between purchasing and placing OOH ads from two weeks to as little as 24 hours. Intensifying demands from advertisers over the last few months have accelerated that change dramatically.

Advertisers can increasingly make more intelligent, flexible and fast decisions on their digital OOH advertising, and it means people heading back to the city streets will be greeted by ads that match their immediate situation. This might be the opening hours for nearby shops, information on how businesses are adjusting to local safety measures, or the current weather and pollen count.

It’s good news for advertisers, as more sophisticated messages and more responsive placement strategies will mean they get a greater return from their OOH spend. It’s good news for the people who live and work in London too, as we’ll enjoy better and more relevant OOH advertising that will play a big part in driving economic recovery.

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