AI applications for digital out of home advertising

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The growing sophistication of digital out of home (DOOH) infrastructure, the explosion of data, and the continued expansion of 5G networks means the industry is in an excellent position to continue to innovate and evolve with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML).

Whilst I truly believe that it’s the creative idea behind an execution that brings its success, advancements in AI applications for DOOH will enable more intelligent, targeted, data-led campaigns with a multitude of possibilities for intuitive and seamless interaction.

The major applications and benefits of AI for DOOH are outlined below, with some cutting-edge examples to demonstrate their impact and memorability.  

Dynamic, data-driven, automated creative

Agile, data-driven campaigns can be triggered across the year promoting different brands or products when the conditions suit.

The use of data to contextualize campaigns to the “here and now” means messages can be aligned with consumer mindset in the moment and become useful and relevant.

McDonald’s used weather data and time of day data to run tactical messages reminding consumers ‘how long until breakfast finishes’ in the mornings, or to promote ice-cream sundaes when the sun was shining.

Coca-cola, on the other hand, pushed Smart Water on hot days when temperatures exceeded 21 degrees on the London Underground. Virgin Trains used real-time traffic data to let motorists know how much quicker their journey would have been by train.

By maximizing contextual relevance, such as time of day, weather, or traffic, the brand owner can manage the brand architecture to maximize media value. This means that AI and Automation can optimize adverts during campaigns, referring to data and updating creative accordingly.

The process referred to as Dynamic Creative Optimization, joins the dots between data driven media planning and the mindset of a consumer at a given time, in a given place.

Predictive analytics & audience targeting

One of the primary benefits of AI in DOOH is the unlocking of predictive analytics to allow us to make better decisions on-the-fly.

Advancements in real-time audience targeting allow huge amounts of data to be crunched and processed to inform the creative process and help optimize both the media and the message whilst the campaign is running.

Displays can be informed by and interact with other mobile devices, applications, cameras, and wearables to gather and process data and deliver more useful and targeted experiences.

Dynamic Creative joins the dots between data-driven media planning and the mindset of a consumer at a given time, in a given place, making the medium truly reactive, and much more intelligent, as well as driving efficiencies.

With a high proportion of McDonald’s sales driven by spontaneous visits and a short path to purchase, maintaining top of mind awareness and nudging people into purchase is key.

By using Ada, Talon’s data management platform, McDonald’s were able to identify audience segments based on people’s real and recent behaviors, predicting buying patterns and in turn optimize the OOH plan.

Instead of broad demographic buying McDonald’s used data intelligence to target those people who weren’t considering McDonald’s for a specific occasion, for example a morning coffee, to push a more contextual creative message to demonstrate how McDonald’s could satisfy that particular need-state.

Real-time interactive & AR experiences

Interactive experiences will be much more unique and tailored to each user by sparking conversations. Imagine an augmented reality campaign that could reflect the current weather conditions.

Or perhaps a virtual brand ambassador, such as Gary Linekar for Walkers, powered by AI to engage and answer questions about their products.

Advances in technology will allow us to hold a true interaction with the consumer, using deep fake technology in real time. Currently it’s a resource intensive task that requires content to be rendered ahead of time but with faster machines this can happen in real time.

High impact, standalone executions that create a real buzz amongst users are a great way to create longer lasting memories and drive brand affinity.

No wonder then, that the genuinely immersive experiences offered by AR technologies are gaining momentum across the DOOH landscape.

AR is at the heart of some of our best interactive campaigns. Whether it’s a dance-off with Mickey Mouse in Times Square, or a live portal between London and LA, we can’t wait to see these interactions continue and evolve.

Facial recognition

AI has been assisting dynamic digital OOH campaigns in a variety of ways for a few years now.

It can be used with facial recognition technology to detect how much a person likes an advert by their facial expression and creative can be tweaked and updated depending on gender and age demographics in real time.

There are many examples where this has been employed with various levels of success and acceptance.

There have been some stellar examples of this technology in action including a vending machine for Coca-Cola that dispensed drinks when the consumer smiled or a Sony Pictures AR promotion for The Emoji Movie which tracked the faces of passers-by and superimposed different emoji characters onto their heads, according to the participant’s gender and mood.

Vehicle recognition

Other applications include the use of AI in roadside DOOH campaigns to facilitate vehicle recognition.

Since the DVLA do not allow their number plate database information to be used for advertising purposes, it’s been necessary to use machine learning to recognize the model and color of cars passing by billboards, in order to target that specific driver.

Creative can then be tailored to each driver, whether that is serving adverts for a new model of the same car or promoting new products that are relevant to that particular driver demographic, the possibilities are endless.

Post-match sports analysis

Another very popular AI usage trend particularly in America, is AI generated post-match analysis pieces for various sports. It’s only a matter of time before you’ll be seeing automatically generated copy lines appearing on the adverts that you see, without you even realizing it!

The future

The future uses for AI and ML are proliferating across all industries and markets. We are just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of AI’s potential applications in OOH, and we expect to see some incredible leaps in the coming 6-12 months.

Our ability to accumulate, calculate, interrogate, dissect, analyse and disseminate, large amounts of data on the fly is increasing, whether that be for a data driven dynamic campaign or for an interactive campaign where applications learn behaviors to improve the user journey.

The added benefits of 5G connectivity will only help to accelerate our ability to utilize AI across the OOH technical landscape. However, it could be a case of ‘all the gear, no idea’, so we really need the creative community to come along on this journey, with ideas, concepts and ‘moonshot’ thinking.

As an industry we have a responsibility to educate peers in the ideation world, showcasing the potential for this technology to creative directors, copywriters, art directors, strategists as well as clients in marketing departments.

Dan Dawson is the Chief Creative Officer at Grand Visual. As one of the founders of Grand Visual in 2005, Dan has designed, developed and directed thousands of Out of Home projects that have been seen by hundreds of millions of people around the world. Dan has delivered award winning interactive and data-driven digital Out of Home concepts for brands such as Google, Disney, Pepsi and McDonald’s.


Dan Dawson


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