Outdoor advertising, also known as out-of-home advertising, is a term that refers to billboards, signage, or other highly visual, highly impactful media displayed in public spaces people walk and drive by every day. It also represents one of the biggest opportunities for advertisers to connect with their audiences.
In a time when everyone is always online, outdoor advertising is sometimes treated as an afterthought by marketers looking for efficient ways to connect with their audiences. This is a mistake, especially considering big tech companies are some of the biggest buyers in the out-of-home space.
Don’t worry about missing out, though. With the help of this handy guide, you’ll be all set to start using outdoor advertising to its full potential.
What is outdoor or out-of-home advertising?
Outdoor advertising and out-of-home advertising are delivered to audiences outside of their homes via billboards, signs, and other kinds of visual or experiential media. These various formats account for thousands of locations, millions of screens, and faces worldwide.
But out-of-home advertising is also more than that. It represents the largest creative canvas around, and a chance to deliver ads with stunning visuals and bold messaging that can literally stop a person in their tracks.
More than that, an out-of-home ad carries an air of accomplishment and prestige. Pretty much anybody with a credit card can easily run an online ad campaign, but there is only a limited pool of out-of-home inventory in the world. Incorporating out-of-home into a campaign suggests that a brand is ready to make a big impact that the world can see. The first billboard campaign a person or a company runs is a significant milestone in their promotional efforts.
Why outdoor and OOH advertising work so well
“Shot on iPhone” is a long-running billboard campaign showcasing the best photographs from amateur photographers using their iPhone as a camera. And there’s a reason why Apple, one of the biggest tech companies in the world, has famously made such consistent use of outdoor ads: they work really well.
The numbers speak for themselves. In a poll of US adults conducted in 2021, 41 percent of respondents claimed that they were noticing OOH advertising more than they used to, with that number climbing to 55 percent in cities. Over 80 percent of respondents claimed that they noticed OOH advertising while driving.
Even better, many respondents reported that the ads had made an impact on them. Among city dwellers, about 34% said that “OOH influenced [their] purchase decision.” About 33% said they learned of a new brand thanks to OOH ads.
Why? Well, outdoor ads are not like digital ads, which we have trained ourselves to ignore because they negatively impact our online experience. Outdoor advertising is instead a feature of the world around us, something that jumps out at us when we go about our day. Because good outdoor ads have a visual appeal that helps them stand out from their surroundings, they invite curiosity in a way that online ads typically don’t.
Both Google and Facebook, which own the largest digital advertising platforms in the world, also make extensive use of outdoor advertising. That should tell you something.
Types of out-of-home advertising inventory
One of the fun things about outdoor and OOH advertising is the sheer variety that is found within the space. From small posters to digital screens triple the size of a regulation football field, there’s an incredible array of opportunities to connect with audiences in the OOH space.
Most traditional OOH formats have been around for decades. They involve static imagery placed in a single location for long periods of time. They’re great tools for distributing messages intended for large audiences of people. Here are some of the main kinds of traditional formats.
Bulletins are probably the first thing you think of when you think of outdoor advertising. Large-format faces that are tough to miss, you’ll typically find bulletins at the side of the road outside of town, high in the air so that they’ll catch the eye of any drivers passing by each day.
These aren’t exactly like the posters you might have had in your room growing up. Relatively large, this format is typically placed along roads inside of cities, at a height where drivers and pedestrians alike are going to see them.
Tiny for a billboard, a junior poster is relatively small and typically placed not too high above eye level. It’s really a play for local traffic, both automobile and pedestrian, and with a comparatively lower price than the larger formats.
The term “street furniture” is a bit of a catch-all for different kinds of installations made alongside streets. Benches, transit shelters, and streetside displays can all fall into this category, as well as bike stations, electric vehicle charging stations, and more.
A wallscape is a bit different from regular outdoor advertising formats. These are often painted onto the side of a building or made of a billboard produced in a size, shape, or arrangement that is out of the ordinary. Wallscapes are a distinct visual format typically used by big brands looking to make a lot of noise.
Digital outdoor advertising and out-of-home inventory
Just about any format that exists as a traditional media offering will also exist as a digital format as well. Digital displays come in all sizes, from small jr. posters to enormous spectaculars that take up nearly the entire exterior wall of enormous buildings. This presents a new kind of opportunity for buyers beyond what traditional formats offer.
The digital advantage in OOH
Digital out-of-home advertising holds a few advantages over traditional formats. The most obvious is that a digital display can show vibrant, moving imagery that can catch the eye in a way that a static image generally can’t. But there’s also the fact that digital displays are usually driven by some sort of computer operating behind the scenes, and that opens the door to some very cool kinds of campaigns.
At a fairly basic level, digital campaigns can trigger in response to all kinds of conditions – time of day, weather, sports scores, etc. This makes it easier for brands to buy up space only when it is the perfect time to reach their audience; an ad for ice cream will have a lot more appeal on a hot summer day than in the middle of winter.
But digital can also go even further than that. Connect additional technology to the display and the computer driving it, and you can produce interactive campaigns where people passing by can influence the media that appears on the screen. Or, you can produce some really interesting augmented reality experiences that are sure to leave viewers amazed.
One other major advantage worth mentioning is that it’s now easier than ever to buy digital outdoor and out-of-home ad campaigns. Tools like Broadsign Ads allow users to go in, upload their creative, select their target audience or desired displays, and launch a campaign in just a couple of hours.
The power of programmatic out-of-home advertising
Like online digital advertising, digital out-of-home advertising is now available for purchase programmatically. This means that ad slots are made available for automated purchase based on the criteria selected by the buyer. This can be used to target a specific audience demographic, or it can be used to purchase ads based on ambient conditions – such as the aforementioned weather, sports scores, time of day, etc.
There’s a lot to talk about with programmatic outdoor advertising. If you’re interested in digging into this topic more, check out our comprehensive guide to programmatic DOOH to learn all about it.
Data and targeting for OOH ad campaigns
In today’s OOH world, media planners and buyers no longer want to buy media space – they want to buy audiences. As a result, accurate audience data and measurement are more important than ever when it comes to planning and evaluating the success of a campaign. And in an increasingly cluttered media landscape, activating OOH screens at the right place and time to reach your desired demographic is key. So, what types of data allow marketers to run the most effective campaigns?
First, mobile data helps advertisers understand where audiences are most likely to be throughout the day, ensuring they’re optimizing ad spend by targeting venues with the highest concentration of desired segments. With geofencing, data like device IDs, languages, age, and gender are collected from smartphones once audiences enter a defined location boundary, like the radius surrounding a particular screen. Programmatic platforms like Broadsign Ads are then able to establish audience profiles for different venues, giving advertisers the precise audience composition of each screen.
Marketers can also combine first-party data with their OOH strategy to reach audiences with contextually relevant ads. First-party data, or data owned by the advertiser, will be increasingly important as we move into a cookieless world. Retailers, for example, often heavily invest in loyalty programs that produce key insights into their customer base. This data can be used to target specific customer segments with OOH ads across the retail trade area.
Thanks to audience measurement platforms like Quividi, many OOH screens are now equipped with cameras that capture real-time information like impressions, dwell time, gender, and age of people exposed to an ad. Independent research firms like Nielsen and GeoPath are also widely used in the OOH industry to help accurately estimate impressions, location data, and audience insights. With this information, advertisers can get better insight into ad engagement, enabling more accurate campaign analysis.
Out-of-home advertising in a post-cookie world
The alarm bells have been ringing for a while now about the death of the cookie. Though Google and other digital advertising solutions providers have promised that online ads will offer new targeting capabilities, questions remain about how easy targeting and measurement will be in just a few years.
With DOOH, however, targeting and reporting have never relied on understanding the audience down to the level of the individual. Instead, the space has grown around identifying trends in demographic groups, allowing advertisers to reach the people they want to without needing intrusive data into who they are.
By building up a strong outdoor advertising strategy now, you can access your desired audience with a powerful new channel and give yourself a head start in adopting a targeting strategy based on anonymized, group-level data that will serve you well in a cookieless world.
How to create an effective outdoor advertising campaign
Are you sold on the value of outdoor advertising but unsure of what it takes to create a successful campaign? We’ve got you covered!
We spoke to Keith Nilsen, the founder of the dynamic digital-out-of-home content production company Voodooh, to see what elements are absolutely essential to creating effective OOH ads.
The following points come straight from Keith, representing the ideal foundation for maximizing the impact of ads outside the home.
1. Use a simple design for your OOH creative
Great design in OOH is always beautifully simple, and always uncluttered.
The core ethos of simplicity in design is most eloquently summarised by some delightful advice from Coco Chanel; “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off!” The Chanel brand has adhered to this principle in their advertising ever since, leading consistently with stripped-down, understated, and entirely unfussy OOH design.
2. Employ minimal but striking copy for OOH ads
Wherever possible, aim for five words or less within the design.
The success of this principle is evidenced in almost all recent Cannes Lions Outdoor Winners, with global giants including Twitter, Nike, McDonald’s, and Apple all stripping away everything but the absolute essentials within their OOH creative. The specific example below from the Twitter campaign remains as striking and powerful as when it was run in 2017.
3. Use bold colours and high contrast to make out-of-home campaigns stand out
Use colour to distinguish between critical elements within the creative.
Be bold! Because being subtle with colour will not provide the impact you need to attract the attention of the on-the-go audience you’re trying to reach. And colour is how you highlight the key areas, elements and details that will emphasise the message, as beautifully illustrated in this McDonald’s “Lights On” campaign.
4. Make your OOH ads entertaining
Don’t underestimate the delight of clever discovery!
Often we forget that our audience loves to be entertained, and in outdoor environments, that is easily achieved by making space for the viewer to think for themselves and appreciate the details within a creative. There are many wonderful examples, but this recent one in the UK for B&Q, a home improvement retailer, is just outstanding. The value on offer from B&Q is very effectively conveyed without a single word, and the viewer is rewarded with small visual rewards within each execution of the campaign
5. Add data for more impactful outdoor ad campaigns
When using Digital OOH, explore what data could enhance the advertising concept.
The connectedness of DOOH has opened up a wealth of creative opportunities, allowing different data to be incorporated into the outdoor execution. The most complex and clever in my mind is still the brilliant British Airways “Magic of Flying” campaign, which revealed a child reacting in real-time to passing BA flights. This campaign went on to win multiple Grand Prix and Gold awards at Cannes, D&AD, Clio, Creative Circle and many more, all while keeping all the aforementioned rules of design in place!
Of course, whether you’re using data to create an impactful classic print poster or a hugely complicated dynamic concept for digital, less is still more. The elementary design principles that made outdoor advertising great in the past have not changed. They’re just as relevant today, and maybe even more so, and the advertisers that adhere to them are going to fare best in the out-of-home space.
To sum up all five points of advice: Create memorable outdoor advertising. And keep it simple.
Want to see how major brands and advertisers are integrating outdoor and out-of-home advertising into their media strategies?
Check out our collection of case studies for inspiration!