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Ideas Media planning

Planning with confidence in the recovering OOH market

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Clare Chapman

Alongside sectors such as travel, leisure, entertainment and retail - categories that drive significant  footfall to its sites - the impact of worldwide lockdowns on the Out of Home (OOH) media industry has been severe. Audiences vanished overnight, with what volume remained largely made up of key workers and nerve-wracked food shoppers on infrequent trips.

As lockdowns lift, populations are encouraged to return to workplaces, and leisure activities are made available again, advertisers are seeking to understand the best ways to re-engage with OOH. The challenge we face is that the Covid-19 crisis is still unfolding and far from over, meaning OOH’s recovery is inconsistent and subject to major setbacks. Around the globe we’ve seen geographies of varying size and population density return to lockdown after fleeting periods of freedom; the Australian state of Victoria, Spain’s Catalonia region and the US city of Los Angeles are some of the areas where restrictions of differing degrees and time lengths have been reimposed. In the face of such instability, it’s easy to understand why some brands may be nervous to include OOH media on their plans.

It’s reassuring to note, therefore, the audience behavioural signals that allow us to plan OOH with confidence. Encouragingly, consumer behaviours around the world have coalesced and proven reliably consistent. Two simple but highly motivating human truths continue to influence the future of OOH audience impacts: people need to eat, and they feel safe in their cars.

For these reasons, grocery and roadside proved the most resilient environments during lockdown and are recovering the fastest, as this data from the UK illustrates:

UK footfall to OOH environments vs. pre-lockdown baseline (Kinetic/Google)

In the US, roadside audiences returned particularly swiftly, with daily distances travelled by car in the first week of June back to 91% of those observed for the first week of March. These trends are aligned across the big European markets, with road and retail environments least affected by lockdown and returning to strength quickest. In many EU countries, other environments are regaining health as workers return to their offices. Commuters in France, Germany and Italy are leading the way, boosting rail audiences to 75-95% of pre-lockdown levels by early July. Leisure environments have bounced back too, with footfall to Italian cinemas almost fully recovered.

EU countries footfall to OOH retail environments vs. pre-lockdown baseline (Kinetic/Google)

The stats from Germany, France and Italy show us what can be expected when countries return to relative stability. In the meantime, despite many markets remaining under varying degrees of lockdown, advertisers are already gaining confidence to reinvest in OOH. Restrictions on movement in India, for instance, began to be eased in June, but were quickly reinstated in many areas. Despite this setback, 145 brands took the opportunity to activate out of home campaigns since that time. Their campaigns were carefully built to prioritise digital inventory, main arterial routes and sites in proximity to grocery, residential and workplace environments. They largely avoid the major metropolitan areas such as Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore, which remain badly affected by the crisis.

Advertisers in other markets will do well to follow this blueprint. In the UK, for example, audience growth is strongest outside the capital, with aggregate impacts across regional conurbations back to 57% of pre-lockdown by early July and non-conurbation geographies slightly ahead. In stark contrast, a London Underground campaign optimised to the top 25% of panels will currently deliver just 41% of pre-Covid impacts. Without optimisation, a general distribution buy would stretch to a mere 22% of its previous performance.

Media owners and OOH industry specialists, such as our GroupM partners, Kinetic, are working hard to help brands take advantage of the available audiences and to mitigate nervousness about the possibility of them suddenly disappearing again. In addition to using a wealth of audience mapping and mobility data to make the kind of optimisations described above, the market has responded to the crisis with the introduction of unprecedented flexibility over headline pricing, value delivery, in-flight adjustment, postponement and even cancellation terms.

Markets benefiting from high availability of digital inventory are especially well-placed to benefit from the ability to flex campaigns around audience availability by location, environment and time of day, dialling up and down as quickly as may be necessary. In the US especially, the Covid-19 crisis prompted an upturn in brands taking advantage of programmatic capabilities in OOH.

Global OOH markets ranked by % share of revenue from digital inventory

In conclusion, it’s not only possible to find sizable audiences within OOH at this time, there are clear rewards for brands confident to reinvest in this recovering market. While others sit on the fence, increased share of voice and significant gains in media value are the likely outcomes for those who re-engage early.

Prioritising digital inventory, data-led optimisation and residential over city centre locations is key for planning in markets where the progress of recovery from the Covid-19 crisis is slower or non-linear. Roadside and road-based (e.g. bus) sites, local high street and grocery environments are the go-tos for reaching a broad spectrum of audiences. Young adults are the easiest to find, proving most keen to resume normal patterns of leisure and social activities. Key workers and lower-income audiences - who are less likely to be able to work from home - can be readily found across public transport.

It is in all our interests to ensure we emerge from this crisis with a diverse, thriving ad economy still intact. Despite the current challenges, we recommend considering OOH as a viable channel, to be leveraged for the benefit of our plans and our partners alike.