Flexibility, Speed & Relevance: The new DOOH currencies

Digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising is undergoing seismic shifts across the world during these unprecedented times. As the world reacts to the challenges of Covid 19, (the media world) has realised the need to utilise existing technology in new ways. Across the world DOOH has become reactive, agile and relevant. The ability to offer relevant messages in real time through existing channels in this unparalleled time is becoming invaluable on a wide range of matters, from governmental messages and instructions, royal addresses to nations and passionate messages of thanks and support from brands. The technology that is available brings heightened flexibility, speed and agility to the medium, whether that is in a shopping mall, an iconic tourist destination like Times Square or Piccadilly Circus, an international airport and even the world’s busiest traffic routes.

Let’s go back to basics; historically the higher the footfall or traffic, the more digital screens would be in demand due to their ability to place a brand in the right place, at the right-time, in front of the right audience.

Then came the Coronavirus and, everything changed. Footfalls fell as governments worldwide appealed to the public to ‘stay at home and save lives.’ This instruction meant that everything would change instantly; managing with ‘essential shopping only’ which surpassed ‘nice-to-have’ lifestyle consumerism which we all enjoyed. Some of the busiest DOOH sites across the world saw their occupancy fall dramatically as consumers bunkered down in their own homes and the majority of brands paused their advertising campaigns.

Yet brands began to understand the worth of Digital out-of-home as a public messaging medium with its ability to ‘go live’ with incredible immediacy, to precision-target relevant audiences and to deliver value without additional print and installation expenses.

In the Covid 19 era, Digital out of Home has emerged as a key public messaging outlet that is able to access audiences even whilst they are locked down in their homes. The medium’s remarkable flexibility has allowed lightning fast turnarounds for messaging purposed for changing times. Take for instance the creativity of Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit.

Ohanian moved quickly to buy up digital space in Times Square – one of the most sought after advertising mediums in the world – to send out a powerful ‘Stay at Home’ message to the minority who insisted on wandering around Times Square in the midst of the global pandemic. The Reddit message read “Staying home means saving lives, flatten the curve.’ Ohanian knew that the only people to see the message in real time would be the minority, the aptly named “covidiots”, but his move, and his message, was lauded on social media, and viewed by millions from the comfort of their own homes. A new normal, using DOOH to appeal to the minority and gain the support of the majority.

Throughout the world DOOH has been used to impart information, to advise and to demonstrate heartfelt support for the essential workers who have kept lives on track during these challenging times. The effect is innovative and effective, a twofold approach of issuing a civil instruction whilst offering gratitude.

Other methods have been incredibly simple; with just a subtle change in lighting, the UK’s digital screens turned blue overnight in a major nationwide demonstration of appreciation for its National Health Service. Other changes coincide with the nations weekly clap of gratitude for the health service and essential workers, a routine that originated in Italy – and social media has been busy spreading this visual imagery beyond Britain’s shores.

DOOH received a near royal seal of approval when, in a ‘first’ for her 68-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II’s Covid 19 Message to the Nation was beamed on the iconic Piccadilly Lights in near real time.

What these quick-thinking examples demonstrate is the immediate power of DOOH given the speed at which it can be harnessed to deliver messaging which has urgency behind it. The fact is that DOOH is now being used in a manner that is reactive, agile and fast.

While being asked to ‘stay at home’ people across the world have relished their limited daily allowance of outside exercise. The result is a rediscovered appreciation for being outside and the benefits such a simple pleasure provides to every one of us. Not just this industry, but the world and nature will benefit from a heightened public appreciation of the great outdoors as consumers worldwide get out to enjoy the places, events and freedom of movement which have been out of reach. Conscious, relevant, sensitive and impactful social messages from brands and governments will reach out in the ‘new normal’ as a perfect balance in our rediscovered appreciation for the great outdoors.

Technological advances mean that DOOH campaigns can be adjusted in real time to respond to events. A campaign can be transformed at super speed to reflect the needs and desires of the specific environment it is addressing. The immediacy enables brands, event organisers and the public sector to consistently evolve messaging to meet changing circumstances and recalibrated consumer preferences.

The extraordinarily simple but effective Uber ad ‘stay home for everyone who can’t, thank you for not riding with us’ is a simple story highlighting the highs and lows of lockdown whilst addressing social responsibility and simply doing the right thing. It showcases how Uber is reacting to the changing circumstances with multi-faceted effect.

DOOH’s flexibility, speed, and relevance through allowing messaging to be scaled up or down will also resonate with companies, big and small, who want to appeal to a rising consumer appetite for increased trust. In these uncertain times, trust and credibility are the magic ingredients. According to research carried out by Nielsen; “consumers will be seeking greater assurance that the products they buy are free of risk and of the highest quality when it comes to safety standards and efficacy.” The research adds; “In the short term, intensified demand from consumers will require manufacturers, retailers and other related industry players to clearly communicate why their products and supply chains should be trusted. In the longer term, and dependent on the eventual scale and impact that COVID-19 has on consumer markets, it may speed up a re-think on how shoppers evaluate purchases and the benefits that they see as the key factors to consider.”

The DOOH industry has proved valuable as a medium for societal messaging in these rapidly changing and testing times. It is a high-speed responsive channel which can play an integral role in messaging campaigns and to demonstrate true purpose for brands that now, more than ever, need to show they are part of a new world. Now as consumers are reassessing, and will continue to evolve, their own priorities, it is  a newly discovered agreeable tool for governments looking to more closely engage with their public and a super-charged channel for all marketeers and communicators waking up to an era where trust and purpose are the new essentials. With highly valued currencies of flexibility, speed, cost-effectiveness, and advanced technology at its disposal, DOOH is being utilised as a palette upon which endless possibilities can be created.

The Post Covid world will be a different one of that there is no doubt. This pause button on the world, will have changed perceptions on everything and given a new meaning to all our lives…how the world will react as we enter the new normal is still the unknown. There is hope, fear, new routines, restoring forgotten routines, reaching out to all members of society, hindsight, gratitude love and a new normal. As we dust ourselves off and look towards this new reality, we see an opportunity to embrace all that we have learnt.  DOOH is visual, emotional, agile and relevant… how the world can now utilise this medium is unlimited.

By Jamie Ball, Chief Operating Officer of ELAN Media