OOH future is bright, fueled by programmatic, mobile, metaverse

Games played with curved sticks and a ball can be found in the histories of many cultures. In Egypt, 4000-year-old carvings feature teams with sticks and a projectile, hurling dates to before 1272 BC in Ireland, and there is a depiction from approximately 600 BC in Ancient Greece, where the game may have been called kerētízein or because it was played with a horn or horn-like stick. In Inner Mongolia, the Daur people have been playing beikou, a game similar to modern field hockey, for about 1,000 years.
Anna Bager, president and CEO at the Out of Home Advertising Association of America, joined Digital Signage Today to discuss all the ways OOH is thriving, powerful opportunities like mobile engagement and the metaverse and how OOH is forging a more collaborative path between businesses and other stakeholders in its post-pandemic renaissance.
This is Bager's fourth year with the national organization. Before heading the OAAA, Bager worked in telecoms, developing strong technical knowledge and an early appreciation for the power and potential of mobile engagement while working at Ericsson. After moving to the U.S. from Sweden 14 years ago, a career pivot led to nearly a decade working at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, where she rescued a small OOH group that was nearly shelved and nurtured it, sensing potential, especially with mobile growth. Bager estimates she and her team's (then innovative) focus on mobile helped to build mobile advertising from around half a billion in annual revenue to about $80-$90 billion when she left in 2011 to head the OAAA in a tenure inspired by early experience of the power of telecommunications and mobile strategy.
"The association (OAAA) is 130 years old, and my predecessor — who was fantastic — was there 29 years," Bager said, explaining that the OAAA board wanted to add new directions beyond lobbying when recruiting her, and she has worked to build areas like industry promotion, standards-building and promoting digital transformation in light of the growth of OOH media. Things were humming along until around March of 2020.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
"It's been a really interesting ride," Bager said. "All of a sudden it was about maintaining, protecting, proving the value of something that no one really believed in, in an industry where, honestly — in those early days of the pandemic, your revenue was down by something like 60%. It was insane."
Saving graces for the industry included seven-year contracts and the fact that parts of the country did not fully shut down, including swathes of Middle America. Issues of national import, from pandemic and social unrest to civil rights movements, all helped people understand the value of digital out of home in a new way, not just as an advertising medium but as a communications medium and a public good.
"I think the pandemic was a blessing in disguise for us, as horrible as it was, because it forced a quicker change that I think we're going to benefit from now," Bager said.
Bager and the OAAA leaned heavily into research and data to understand the new climate, both during pandemic lockdowns and the aftermath, and what could have been a catastrophe instead became a renaissance.
"The industry experienced incredible growth last year — we grew faster than any other channel, per Magna (a leading media intelligence firm), and we're going to continue to grow," Bager said, and while the OAAA is watching trends and (like the business community) has concerns about the potential for an economic recession, the industry continues its post-COVID growth streak. "We're selling we're above 2019 levels."
Looking towards 2023 and beyond, Bager believes the future is bright for several reasons.

Factors for success

"The industry is going to benefit from a few things," Bager said. "We are a one to many medium … We have incredible reach. I mean broader reach, I would say, than television or even like Facebook, we're everywhere. And you can't skip us. You can't block us ... we can get to anyone."
Additionally, the power of data and targeting has brought new life to the medium, Bager explained.
"We are contextual by nature," she said, noting that trigger- and context-based elements have transformed programmatic DOOH with almost limitless potential for targeting and relevance, all while keeping the medium unobtrusive and providing an ever-more robust set of data and analytics for marketers. "We have become a lot stronger when it comes to data," Bager said. "Programmatic is growing, we're becoming more digital." Bager noted that changes in mobile operating systems (including privacy restrictions) have made dedicated mobile channels more cumbersome for ad targeting, making OOH an even more attractive channel for businesses and marketers who want less hassle in their campaigns.
Perhaps above all, OOH can create viral moments. "We're inherently a medium where, if you do it well, we are very shareable," Bager said, "so it's a way for marketers to create a spectacle and then get free media on social because it gets shared … This whole influencer creative economy plays really nicely into what out of home does. In summary, we have a lot of things going for us."

OOH is here to stay

"We've been around since cave paintings," Bager said. "We're never going to go away. Out of home is the only media platform that only gets stronger with new technology — Rishad Tobaccowala (an industry and media thought leader) said this, and he's right — it (new technology) just amplifies and makes us better." Bager added that this pattern has held true through the rise and fall of many famous examples in history, including print, TV and Internet revolutions.
"So, out of home is always going to be around," she said. "Physical signage is always going to be needed ... We are a very cost-efficient medium, in which you can easily serve ads (in comparison to other channels), because of all the challenges around data privacy and things like that. So we're in a we're in a very good place."
What about businesses that are nervous about trying DOOH, citing worries about ROI or expense?
"CPM-wise we are very undervalued, we hear that from marketers all the time," Bager said. "We're super efficient. We're more measurable than we've ever been. You actually can now measure return on advertising spend and things like that in out of home, which we used not to be able to do ... And I think cost is the least of all concerns if you think about what you can do with other forms of media and how efficient you can be in out of home.
"We have been a really great medium at launching new brands, like the whole direct-to-consumer ... section of marketing — which is sort of the 'new marketing' — a lot of those grew because of out of home. And they started there because it was less costly and they knew they could reach people."
Digital Signage Today mentioned our recent coverage of how consumer-focused investment app Betterment adopted DOOH as an example of Bager's statement.
"Yeah, absolutely," Bager said. "Well, by the way, the biggest spenders in out of home are Apple, Google, Netflix, Hulu. Well, along with McDonald's."
While our conversation focused on DOOH, Bager wanted to emphasize that analog advertising is still enormous and powerful as well, pointing out some recent campaign examples leveraging digital or analog (or some combination of both), including campaigns from music artists like Lana Del Rey and Adele.

What about mobile, metaverse evolution?

"This small screen is driving to the big screen or to other screens," Bager said. "It's totally connected. What's really great with out of home in any form is that B2C consumers like it, they pay attention to it, and it has incredible recall and ... it sparks interest."
Mobile is constantly becoming more interactive thanks to developments like QR codes, though Bager says she would hesitate to redefine digital signage entirely.
Still, what makes DOOH special is that unlike other media like TV or newspapers, where "the consumer is being interrupted somewhat in their consumption of this media to watch this ad, and it's a value exchange — even though consumers may have forgotten about that — where this is how you get free media, or video, or whatever it is. Out of home is not that — it's monetizing a location," Bager said. "So, no matter what type of sign, you're monetizing the fact that you're in a space, there's a certain group of people there.
"It's an incredible opportunity for any marketer to take over and completely own the messaging while not interrupting someone. You can choose to look at it, or not; it's not interrupting media consumption. There's just a sign, and if you're interested in it, you will see it. It's going to drag you in. And that's the difference between our media and other forms of media. I think that's why it's so likeable, but why it's also so different."

Looking forward

Bager believes that the industry is entering a new era. Even as the metaverse breaks down old walls on the technology side, walls are being broken down between sectors, companies and even media that used to have antagonistic relationships.
Especially after the worldwide impact of the pandemic and its aftermath, businesses and advertisers are understanding interconnectedness in a whole new way, and realizing that collaboration or at least courtesy can benefit all players in OOH.
"A rising tide raises all boats," Bager said, and out of home (specifically DOOH) is, in a sense, "all in this together," especially in competing with other channels in the wake of COVID.
Bager believes she's seeing evidence of this new attitude in the annual OAAA convention, which this March will be held in Nashville, Tennessee, and she hopes to foster even more of the collaborative approach. The shift shows up in the way the industry encourages advertisers and businesses to celebrate each other's achievements, along with the power of OOH and digital, in the event's OBIE awards, which highlight achievements in various areas of OOH, including creativity. Far from pessimism over post-pandemic challenges, she sees almost unlimited potential for businesses using OOH to reach consumers.
"Audiences are still out there," she concluded. "They're just in different places."