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Review, assess, change: OOH remains relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic

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It is not uncommon to hear that the medium of outdoor advertising is possibly the oldest form of communication. Evidence pointing to this has been found from when humans lived in caves and created ancient rock art to capture their activities and communicate their achievements.

In its formal capacity, out of home (OOH) advertising can trace its lineage back to the 15th century when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type printing in 1450, and advertising in the modern era was launched in the form of the handbill circa 1477.

The lithographic process was improved upon in 1796, which transitioned into an illustrated poster. This means that OOH has survived world pandemics that have changed the face of history and still stood the test of time.

OOH as we know it today has diversified its offering immensely but still bears the blueprint to engage a guaranteed audience of commuters and road-users.

The OOH advertising world depends on traffic movement to deliver its core value and function. If that traffic drops, its advertising reach weakens. This has been true in the last nine weeks, and the effects have been seen with clients cancelling or postponing campaigns, and shifting budgets to other media types.

OOH has been one of the worst hit in the media mix, even as the coronavirus pandemic caused a considerable drop in advertising spending overall.

COVID-19 is changing consumer behaviour – and this in turn is affecting advertising and how brands speak to audiences. The effects of the pandemic has seen some brands are experiencing record revenue months while others have suffered significant losses and are on the verge of shutting down operations.

The COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving, and we are making decisions by the day or week and marketing media plans are continuously being reviewed, assessed, and altered as marketers are needing to understand a new framework for engagement with audiences.

For some brands this this is a time to pause and refine or develop new strategies. OOH media owners are creating new revenue streams and offering special COVID deals to attract clients who will hopefully consider it in their marketing plans.

The predictions that we made earlier in the year on the future of OOH have been put on hold and 2020 has thrown a curveball that no one anticipated. We therefore need to re-look and innovate on how OOH will grow in the face of the pandemic, which is not going away any time soon.

So, when will the pandemic end? Using the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic as a model, experts suggested the COVID-19 outbreak will last between 18 and 24 months. How, then, do brands respond while remaining relevant and maintaining a certain degree of sensitivity during this time? COVID-19 brings new challenges on how to advertise using the medium of OOH.

Some of the predictions made earlier in the year by experts are still relevant and need to be fast-tracked to ensure relevance for the OOH industry.

More focused reach, less wastage

As we move from Level 4 to 3 there has been increase activity and vehicular traffic specifically in residential areas as people have changed their pattens and they now go shopping within their residential surroundings. OOH becomes more targeted to specific audiences and deliveries focused messaging. We are seeing media owners coming up with OOH solutions that target audiences within close proximity to their homes.

Location will play an important role

Will consumer patterns of OOH consumption change in the present and post Covid era? Locations being visited by consumers becomes more important rather than the location of the media. OOH becomes more audience-centric rather than media-centric.

The growing integration of mobile into OOH advertising

This one is a no brainer, OOH drives mobile engagement, OOH therefore drives relevancy, creates reinforcement and delivers extended reach. Consumers use their smartphones to connect with brands directly. OOH will increase interaction with brands, and this has been proven by research. What are the opportunities to amplify OOH in an intelligent and streamlined way through mobile?

Omni channel integration

The pandemic has presented an opportune time for OOH to integrate with digital, social and television. The rise of big data and the ability of OOH to be measured and targeted, campaigns can now be planned with a higher level of accuracy. OOH helps break the barriers between the online and offline channels creating seamless integration across all channels – becoming the cornerstone of any omnichannel marketing strategy.

The rise of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence has the ability to assist advertisers enhance message-persuasion by tailoring it to their particular audience. DOOH saw its biggest growth in over a decade as AI enabled hyper-targeted advertising. Brands incorporating AI-processed data are able to deliver more engaging and relevant content directly to the right customer, at the right time. There is definitely scope for growth in this area and this is where DOOH needs to leverage.

There is no doubt the coronavirus pandemic will dramatically change the world as we know it, and this will undoubtedly change the face of OOH. It may be too early to tell but permanent changes in consumer behaviour and advertising as a result of this global pandemic are certain. If there is one take out for brands during this time, this would be the message: –

“Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does.

Traffic tracker is reporting a sharp increase in activity on South African roads as the lockdown restrictions are eased and consumers are returning to key environments. This is great news for OOH as confidence can be restored again and we will see OOH making a comeback. The OOH industry is looking forward to bouncing back stronger than ever!

Source: Ellah Ndlovu


Ellah Ndlovu is the client service manager for In Touch Media, and is based in Johannesburg.  She joined the business last year after a four-year stint at Posterscope as accounts director.  She has been in the industry for 12 years, with expertise in client management and strategy, and a vast knowledge of the OOH landscape.  She is currently busy with her Master’s in Marketing.

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