How Out of Home emerges stronger from the pandemic

OOH Post-Pandemic: Emerging Stronger with New Opportunities

This first appeared in MediaTel on 22nd July 2020.

I’ve just read an excellent article from Anna Bager, president and CEO of the OAAA in the US, on how OOH creative has stood out so successfully during the COVID-19 experience and lockdown. It reflects on some bold, nimble, innovative and standout OOH advertising that has reached, unified and spoken for a nation in crisis. Some amazing work in the face of those challenging times.

I’ve been thinking how in a time of extreme challenge, uncertainty and business decline – especially for the out of home industry, but for many others, including the advertiser brands that fuel the sector – we can take positives from the unique experience of the past 100 days plus.

With people often physically prevented from being outside, things looked bleak, and many campaigns were cancelled in the absence of audiences. However, reflecting on the period we’ve been through, several creative, data, brand, collaborative and industry support initiatives stand out as we begin recovery and get all our amazing industries and businesses back on their feet.

So, instead of letting our voices go quiet, the UK OOH industry has stood up, been counted and kept its place in the spotlight. Here’s how, in our own themes that typify a real spirit of collaboration

Ensuring safety

In order to combat the virus, the Government needed to make sure that its important messages and updates were being communicated to all. With people still shopping for groceries, key workers on the move, joggers and walkers getting an hour’s exercise and some people being where they shouldn’t have been, out of home was a crucial element of any instruction messaging.

The public was targeted throughout lockdown with key messages in areas with footfall – around communities, on roadsides and at supermarkets. From “Stay Home, Save Lives” to “Enjoy Summer Safely” the out of home environment has been a crucial arena for announcement messaging in context.

Giving thanks

The NHS has had a good lockdown on many levels, but unimaginable are the difficulties faced by its staff and frontline workers. The weekly applause brought communities and a nation together. And numerous public messages across OOH screens amplified and supported people through the difficult times, day in, day out.

From the Rainbow trail and Clap for Carers messaging to Rankin’s NHS staff portraits, OOH encapsulated and magnified the positivity we lived through as a nation at the height of the pandemic.

Iconic sites

Well known for showcasing luxury brands and celebrities, the Piccadilly Lights screen has now done so much more than simply “putting your name in lights”.

The Queen’s inaugural appearance on the screen gave an intensity and reassurance to the new and uncertain situation we endured in April. And then, when a certain 99 year old former British army officer made headlines through his amazing efforts to support NHS charities, he was rightly honored – as a suitable addition to a knighthood and a number one single – with a special place on OOH’s iconic Piccadilly screen. Further suitable messaging and the return of brands followed.

Global impact

As the gravity of events unfolded, isolation and distance came into focus, and a sense of being in it together – whilst missing loved ones around the world – particularly apparent. In partnership with the World Out of Home Organization we launched the #SendingLove initiative, sending user-generated messages to screens around the world.

Powered by Grand Visual’s technical expertise, the campaign reached 178 cities and showcased how true collaboration among 68 media owners can inspire the right response to a crisis. It was the biggest user-generated-content campaign ever to run on digital OOH.

The power of data

The upheaval in consumer behaviour has been unparalleled. COVID-19 dramatically changed the way we all acted, but having the data to track new behaviours and, from an out of home perspective, audience movements, has been of crucial importance to our clients and the industry in tracking real world developments.

Our device-led intelligent data management platform Ada was repurposed to track the audience trends emerging from the pandemic and changing weekly.

From a postcode level population density heat map, to tracking audience footfall and areas rapidly returning to ‘normal’, these data insights have enabled us to plan more flexibly in this crucial recovery period. Data has coped, informed, educated and led change and will continue to do so in OOH.

Brands adapting

The best laid advertising plans were ripped up by many and the economic fallout is still dominating headlines. Some brands held their nerve and took advantage of our limited but essential out of home activity – even if it was just a quick trip to the shops or walk around the block – using careful planning and clever contextual creative copy.

Hun Wine used OOH to launch with a contextual campaign that tapped into both our sense of humour and latent need to drink through incredibly difficult times. The ad asked if you saw the campaign and referenced firing their ad agency for an OOH placement.

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Other brands like Emily Snacks also took a creative-led approach (“Our first ever poster, seen by a runner and one pigeon. Typical.”). Contextual successes showing a level of creative bravery many brands have long resisted.

Big brands advertising through

Many brands less affected by the immediate economic impact chose to advertise through, using well researched facts around the benefits of brand advertising in a downturn and adapting quickly to the new dynamic.

O2, Disney+, the BBC, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Paddy Power and many others persisted with messaging, seeing the value of communication to consumers in environments where normal had gone out of the window. Adapted messaging and responsible tones will last long in the memory of consumers.

Collaboration and the front foot

Working at home in lockdown has presented its challenges to many, but my personal experience of connecting with colleagues, clients and partners has been one of closer engagement and a rewriting of relationship rules. Many for the better.

In the OOH space, data reappraisal and campaigns like #SendingLove have showcased the screens, locations, relevance and creative canvas of OOH brilliantly. Our media owner partners, from JCDecaux, Clear Channel and Ocean to the likes of Limited Space and Open Media, have hosted events, charity campaigns, insights and inspirational initiatives that highlight where we left off at the turn of 2020 – full of pride and expectation of an industry delivering high-quality, effective and creative advertising.

Collaboration, communication and insights will bring us closer together, make us stronger, and as recovery begins to kick in, will illustrate an industry truly progressing despite difficult times.

Charting recovery and a return to OOH

Things will no doubt be very different going forward, but we’re seeing recovery in OOH as brands seek to reconnect with audiences and consumers. An initial wave of brands jumped straight back into OOH to announce re-openings, resume brand messaging across channels and encourage the breadth of economic recovery, as we returned to pubs and drove to reconnect with friends and family.

McCain, McDonald’s, HSBC, Vauxhall, Starbucks, Sky, Guinness, easyJet, eBay and many more are among the repertoire of brands and categories using OOH and other media channels to welcome back their customer base. Things may be different now, but bold and brave brands will not only survive, but get stronger.

In recent research by OnDevice and Talon, consumers told us that OOH communication is more valuable and more trusted than they thought. This is particularly true of younger people, perhaps most eager to return to normality and break free of lockdown activities.

One brand, dating app Bumble, bounced back in spectacular fashion across formats and environments and dominated screens with dramatic effect, referencing our limited lockdown social contact and injecting humour in the copy.

Industry support

The Advertising Association has long championed the economic contribution made by the industry through its Advertising Pays series. With the severity of lockdown social measures affecting all walks of life, the AA was quick to engage all parts of the sector, offering much valued shared experiences, as well as advice and guidance on people, financial and regulatory solutions to particularly difficult times.

Regular calls, seminars and moments of inspiration have shown that the media industry is genuinely in this together. They will help lead the sector to recovery, but some highly effective measures have made things navigable and collective.

Out of home for its part has shown it can not only communicate effectively to the nation but adapt, inspire and collaborate.

As we enter the next challenging phase, at Talon we are proud to be part of a sector going places, ready for a new narrative that continues to focus on growth, effectiveness, transformative technological advances and harnessing the power of data.

But also, one that takes more leadership and less direction in opening creative communication possibilities for progressive brands.

Nick Mawditt is managing partner at Talon