You pass them everyday: some will pique your interest, others you’ll simply ignore; out-of-home advertising can be fickle like that.
Out-of-home advertising encompasses digital billboards, street furniture like bus stops, platforms and telephone booths, transit advertising like airports, subways and underground networks.
For an industry that covers such a spectrum though and for so many years, one problem has continually irked industry insiders and media buyers: how do you measure the return on outdoor advertising?
Measuring outdoor advertising is a discussion most advertisers are trying to tackle, such as UK advertising giant Clear Channel, with increasing amounts of effort.
“Earlier this year, we commissioned a piece of research called Look Again…”
Sarah Speake, CMO of Clear Channel, thinks it’s important to understand the difference between two different marketing director communities, one out-of-home and one digital marketers.
The aim of the research program was to understand what current knowledge levels of the industry are and it led to some interesting results.
“We found fundamental differences between the marketing communities, obviously, but the interesting point was the degree to which out-of-home marketers still didn’t understand their market.”
Compared to its digital counterparts, the problems associated with measuring outdoor advertising may start to drag on as the market advances and this is one thing Clear Channel wants to avoid.
“We as an industry, therefore, have a massive education job to do it seems…we need to get better at delivering on a consistent measurement currency as a medium sector.”
That’s the clincher really: as well as having a measurable quality, the advertising and media industries would also need to standardize it to make it a recognizable and respected value.
The research also found marketers valued interesting media as environmentally responsible, those that could deliver NFC, mobile and facial recognition technology.
As a result, advertisers work together on very subjective terms.
“Inevitably, at the outset of a campaign or partnership, we agree with the advertiser in question what and how exactly they wish to measure success KPIs.”
This can complicate relationships, especially if one partnership is deemed more profitable than another, but Clear Channel is already working on ways to target that elusive singular currency.
“As an industry we have a behavioral measurement tool we invest in called Route which looks at commuter behavior and I’m conducting a pilot which overlays the root data with mobile handset data so we can measure more accurately the impact of hypergeo-locally targeted campaigns and overlaying that with commuter consumer behavior.”
Put simply, tools measuring outdoor advertising are having to become a lot more sophisticated to handle the sorts of results marketers and investors now want.
“It’s really interesting because we now, as an industry, have an opportunity to get better at driving to a more singular currency.”
That opportunity is starting to be integrated into the educational drive that Speake mentioned earlier on.
“Gaps in investors’ knowledge were stark and the research really showed that education will be key for this market and measuring outdoor advertising.”
The question however begs a reason why some out-of-home investors don’t actually know the market that well…
“Out of home [advertising] has been around for decades; there a dangerous level of supposed familiarity with it and what it delivers on.”
The problem is advertising has been modernized continually throughout the 20th century and it’s since been digitized. But if people are still approaching the industry economically through a method 50 years out of date, then it stands to reason that research like Look Again will uncover interesting data around measuring outdoor advertising.
The solution, thinks Speake, means incorporating a wider field of agencies into decision making processes to start a filter-down knowledge stream.
“We should work more closely with SMEs – I’m actually in the process of hiring an SME marketing manager because there is a lack of understanding in smaller enterprises as to what out-of-home advertising can potentially do.”
It will help Clear Channel’s local advertising campaigns too.
That being said, Clear Channel also values the role of the individual. If Speake and fellow CMOs within the advertising industry are as focused on education as they seem to promote, the next natural step is to mentor.
“We put huge amounts on people here – people come first and a lot of organizations say this but we absolutely live and die by that every day.”
So its launching a more formal mentoring scheme which Speake already has some experience with: she works with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and mentors a young tech entrepreneur based in Egypt.
“Something I think I learn as much from her as the other way round really.”
But Clear Channel as an organization also invests in its people and continues to perform with its ongoing training development.
“We have a huge digital training program rolling out online for employers – we outsourced it with a provider to give relevant modules so our staff is au fait with the relevant tech and language that obviously changes periodically.”
And those changes, if left unchecked, can rear its ugly head decades on.
Which brings us back round to the problem of measurability in this industry. Measuring outdoor advertising, according to Sarah Speake, requires a mixture of research, education and mentorship that can help allow advertisers the chance to work with that elusive measurable tool in the future.