How to plan with confidence in the recovering OOH market

Increased share of voice and significant gains in media value are likely for those who re-engage early

The impact of worldwide lockdowns on the out-of-home (OOH) media industry has been severe, as it has been in sectors such as travel, leisure, entertainment and retail, which drive significant footfall to OOH sites. Audiences vanished overnight, with any remaining volume 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. However, the COVID-19 crisis is still unfolding and far from over, so OOH’s recovery will be 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 just some of the areas where restrictions have been re-imposed.

In the face of such instability, it’s easy to understand why some brands may be nervous to include OOH media in their plans. But thanks to audience behavioural signals, we can plan OOH with confidence. Consumer behaviours around the world are united and consistent, and two simple but highly motivating human truths continue to influence the future of OOH: 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 they are recovering the fastest, as this UK data shows:

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

Planning with confidence in the recovering OOH market

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 align with the big European markets, with road and retail environments being least affected by lockdown and returning to strength quickest. In many EU countries, other environments are also 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)

Planning with confidence in the recovering OOH market

The stats from Germany, France and Italy show us what to expect when countries return to relative stability. In the meantime, despite many markets remaining under varying degrees of lockdown, advertisers are already gaining the 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 have taken 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 near 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 urban areas back to 57% of pre-lockdown by early July and more rural locations 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. As well as optimising the use of audience mapping and mobility data, the industry has responded to the crisis with the introduction of unprecedented flexibility with headline pricing, value delivery, in-flight adjustment, postponement and even cancellation terms.

Markets with access to digital inventory will especially benefit from the ability to flex campaigns around audience availability by location, environment and time of day, dialling up and down as needed. The COVID-19 crisis has prompted an upturn in brands using programmatic capabilities in OOH.

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

Planning with confidence in the recovering OOH market

So it’s not only possible to find sizable audiences within OOH right now, there are clear rewards for brands that reinvest in this recovering market. Increased share of voice and significant gains in media value are the likely outcomes for those who re-engage while others sit on the fence.

Prioritising digital inventory, data-led optimisation and residential over city centre locations is key for planning in markets where 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 – are using public transport.

It is in all our interests to ensure we emerge from this crisis with a diverse and thriving ad economy intact. Despite the current challenges, OOH is still very much a viable channel.


Clare Chapman


published on

20 August 2020



Related Topics

Consumer behaviour COVID-19 Industry insight

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