What is programmatic DOOH?

May 27, 2020Rob Côté

Programmatic digital out-of-home, also known as programmatic DOOH or pDOOH, refers to the automated buying, selling, and delivery of out-of-home advertising – that’s ads on digital billboards and signage.

Sounds simple? In a way, it is. With programmatic DOOH, computers are automating the sale and delivery of ad content in a similar way to what you see with most online advertising. Buyers will set conditions under which they want to buy media, and when those conditions are met, ads are purchased automatically.

But since programmatic DOOH ads appear out in the world and not on personal devices, the way you approach building a programmatic DOOH campaign will probably be different from what you’re used to online.

Here’s a closer look at what programmatic DOOH is and how to use it to its full potential.

First, why DOOH is great in general

Programmatic DOOH is basically a more refined approach to digital out-of-home – you get all of the normal benefits of DOOH plus a little extra.

So, what’s so great about DOOH? There’s a lot to love, but here are a few standout details.

DOOH ads can offer unmatched size

Big digital screens like the billboards in Times Square, offer a lot of room to execute visually stunning ideas in a way you could never match on personal devices. Even smaller DOOH displays, like digital signage, totems, and displays on things like bus stops are going to offer a larger canvas with great visual potential.

DOOH is unskippable and ad-block-proof

If people are around a digital display, they’re going to see it – there are no ad-blockers, no below-the-fold positions, no issue of users switching over to a different app or tab.

A crowd of people walking on the street. Above and around are digital billboards. Programmatic digital out of home sales would make it much more efficient to sell inventory on these screens.
DOOH is highly visible, unblockable, and unskippable

DOOH is memorable and likeable

A study by Nielsen found that 82% of respondents recalled seeing a DOOH ad in the past month, and that a majority of them viewed DOOH in a favourable light.

(D)OOH supercharges your other channels

Yes, both digital out-of-home and traditional OOH advertising are impactful on their own, but they really shine when you pair them with other advertising channels. Research from MRI-Simmons and the Outdoor Advertising Association of America found that using OOH alongside other channels can lead to a boost in reach of as much as 100%.

Compares the weekly audience reach of different digital and traditional marketing channels with and without help from DOOH

Why programmatic DOOH is even better

Alright, so take everything great about DOOH and then layer extra data, better targeting, and easy access on top. That’s what you’re looking at with programmatic DOOH.

Let’s dig into that in a little more detail.

Programmatic DOOH is DOOH improved by data

The key to understanding programmatic DOOH is this: programmatic transactions allow you to set specific conditions, based on external data, that will trigger the purchase of a DOOH ad slot.

The fun thing is that there are virtually no limits to the kinds of data that can be used to trigger content.

There are really simple options, like just having different creative delivered based on the time of day. There are also slightly more advanced options, like the weather, daily market performance, or the ongoing results of a sporting event. You can even use live audience information to trigger content ideal for the majority of people at a location at any given time.

And, of course, you can use multiple triggers based on multiple data sources to get really granular with your targeting.

This all leads to great things. Using one or more data triggers to drive a programmatic DOOH campaign can open the door to all kinds of really creative and memorable campaigns. Better still, it helps ensure your ads get seen by your audience at the most relevant times.

Example: See how foodora used weather, time of day, and location data to drive a creative, effective, and very relevant programmatic DOOH campaign.

Programmatic DOOH is faster and more flexible

Strictly speaking, programmatic doesn’t enable anything that can’t be accomplished with a direct buy. The difference programmatic makes is in terms of speed and efficiency. You can deliver relevant messaging much more quickly, and without having to make repeated direct buys.

In the foodora example above, audiences were delivered different messages at lunch and around dinnertime. They were prompted to go for a nice walk to pick up their food if it was sunny, and to treat themselves to delivery when it was raining. The restaurants suggested to them were different depending on where they were located when seeing the ad. All of this was accomplished without any additional input from foodora once the campaign had been set up.

For whatever conditions you might want to set, programmatic can help you accomplish similar results. As soon as the time is right, you’ll be able to automatically deliver the right message to the right screen to reach your audience, whoever they are.

Demonstrates an example of targeted DOOH media
Programmatic DOOH can help you reach specific audiences more easily

Programmatic DOOH is easily accessible through leading DSPs

More and more DSPs are getting on board with programmatic DOOH. It’s making it much simpler to add DOOH to multichannel campaigns, and we’re already seeing buyers make use of this opportunity to great effect.

Example: XITE, the go-to brand for music videos in the Netherlands, used a multichannel DOOH, mobile, and online programmatic campaign through the MobPro DSP to reach 250,000 festival-goers over the course of a summer.

One of the best things about adding DOOH to a multichannel campaign is that it doesn’t have to be hard. At the end of the day, a digital out-of-home screen is essentially just that: a screen. Dynamic content, video content, interactive content – all of it can be and is played on DOOH displays around the world.

This means that existing content can often be adapted quite easily to suit a digital out-of-home display. The medium’s support for adaptive HTML5 formats, in particular, can be a big help in allowing buyers to reuse existing content from an online and/or mobile campaign in a programmatic DOOH campaign.

And as an added bonus, programmatic allows you to buy across multiple publishers at the same time. It’s much quicker and easier to build a programmatic campaign targeting screens across a variety of networks than it is to reach out to each business individually to coordinate your buy.

As more DSPs begin to support programmatic DOOH and more buyers begin incorporating the medium into their campaigns, the format will likely become an integral part of most mainstream media buys.

Demonstrates an example of DOOH advertising
Programmatic makes it easier to build targeted DOOH campaigns across multiple networks

How to get started with programmatic DOOH

If you’re convinced of the value programmatic DOOH can add to your campaigns and you’re ready to get started, it’s a good idea to test the waters with a small budget before rolling out a full-fledged programmatic DOOH strategy.

To get a quicker start, consider just reformatting existing creatives from mobile or online campaigns for your programmatic DOOH test run. You can produce some good-looking visuals this way without having to reinvent the wheel.

Once you’ve settled on the creative you want to use, you’ll need to work with a DSP that supports programmatic DOOH to get your campaign out into the world. There are a lot of DSPs that support DOOH nowadays, but if you’re not sure where to start, you can find a list of many of your options here.

Again, this is a great opportunity to look to DOOH as a tool for augmenting your other channels. Consider looking for ways to retarget mobile users, to augment existing social campaigns, or other creative ways to use DOOH to solidify the work you’re already doing elsewhere.

Helps demonstrate the idea of
To start, try using DOOH to augment your other channels

The types of programmatic DOOH buy you can do

There are actually a few different kinds of programmatic buys you can do, and they all present different advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a quick look through the options.

Open real-time bidding, aka “The Auction House”

This is probably the most commonly understood type of programmatic transaction. An open ad slot is offered to a group of buyers who automatically place bids according to how much the ad slot is worth to them. Within an instant, the system assigns the slot to the best bid, the transaction is completed, and the ad is delivered.

This is probably the most accessible type of programmatic bid, in the sense that you can throw your hat in the ring immediately, without needing to have an existing relationship with the media owner.

The only potential downside is that you may face a fair amount of competition with this model, as DOOH network owners typically only leave open a portion of their ad space to programmatic buyers.

Gives a look at an area with a high density of DOOH displays
Relying on open RTB programmatic DOOH can mean competing for very limited space

Private deal or real-time bidding, aka “The VIP Room”

DOOH media owners may offer special access to programmatic inventory to select buyers. This access is typically granted to premium buyers or to those with whom the owner has a longstanding relationship.

In this scenario, the media owner will present specific pieces of inventory to their selected buyers and give them first dibs on the opportunity to buy. If none of the buyers bid for or purchase the slot, the owner might then make it available in an open RTB setting.

If you have a good relationship with a media owner, having first crack at choice ad slots is a great way to help your DOOH advertising dollar go further.

Private programmatic deals can help you get priority access to good inventory

Programmatic guaranteed, aka “Ongoing Deals”

With a guaranteed programmatic deal, a media owner and a buyer will have an agreement: whenever the owner offers the buyer an ad slot that meets their criteria, the buyer will buy it.

This type of buy works very much like a direct sale, just for people who prefer to get things done programmatically. It can be both easier and faster to complete transactions this way, and there can also be benefits in terms of campaign reporting by choosing the programmatic route.

Ultimately, you’re probably going to start your programmatic DOOH journey with regular open RTB, but once you’ve got a taste for the medium, consider exploring your other options as well to refine your buys and the results they drive.

Guaranteed programmatic deals are a commitment, but great for snapping up important opportunities

Data sources for programmatic DOOH

Programmatic DOOH may not offer the same kind of one-to-one targeting you might be used to with online and mobile advertising, but there’s still plenty of data to work with to plan programmatic campaigns.

A couple of the key data sources for triggering programmatic DOOH are:

Mobile location data: A lot of DOOH networks integrate with mobile data providers to get a historical and real-time views of audience demographics and movement around their displays

Visual sensors: Platforms like Quividi and Admobilize let DOOH networks use camera sensors that can detect things like audience demographics, dwell times, engagement, and more.

Both of these can be drawn on in real time to target appropriate advertising to the people who are actually present in a screen’s area, providing really detailed targeting and great ways to track how many people are seeing an ad at a given time.

Mobile and visual data can be great triggers for programmatic DOOH

Understanding real views of a programmatic DOOH campaign

There’s obviously another difference between DOOH and other digital advertising, and that’s in terms of impressions. With online and mobile ads, one impression is counted when one device displays an ad. Pretty straightforward.

With DOOH, impressions need to be counted slightly differently, because the medium is what we call “one to many.” This means that one ad will likely be seen by multiple people when it is displayed, so “impression multipliers” are used to say that an impression on a given display counts for X number of impressions. Of course, it’s still a common concern as to how many people in the vicinity of a screen actually see the ads being displayed.

Impression multipliers are used to indicate the number of views a DOOH ad got

Currently, solutions include applying likelihood metrics that provide data-driven estimates of views, to aforementioned options like visual sensors, which can track when ads are being viewed in some cases. With both of these methods, provided the data is coming from a reputable source, view metrics with programmatic DOOH are quite accurate.

Learn more: This video featuring experts from Quividi and Geopath dives into data and view counts in DOOH

Measuring the effectiveness of programmatic DOOH campaigns

Since it’s difficult to attribute audience actions to advertising seen outside the home, buyers will usually measure the success of their programmatic DOOH campaigns simply by comparing their KPIs (sales, signups, downloads, etc.) before and after the launch of a campaign.

Depending on the available technology and the nature of the advertising, however, there are other ways to measure effectiveness a little more directly, should you so desire.

For example, by using mobile data, it can be possible to see when users have likely seen a DOOH ad for a retail brand and then navigate to one of its locations.

Or, by incorporating special promo or QR codes in a programmatic DOOH ad, you can track the number of users who enter or follow the code in a personal device.

There’s room for creativity with this aspect of programmatic DOOH, so don’t be afraid to explore different options until you land on something you like.

QR codes and promo codes offer interesting options for tracking programmatic DOOH campaigns

Educational resources for programmatic DOOH

Though programmatic DOOH has come a long way even in just the past couple of years, there remains some work to be done in the industry to overcome some lingering challenges.

In a study conducted by the IAB and PwC UK (and sponsored by Broadsign), media companies, technology companies, and ad agencies weighed in on what they perceived as items needing to be addressed for programmatic DOOH to continue to grow and mature.

According to the results, the primary hurdle to be cleared is a lack of education and information making clear just what is possible with programmatic DOOH.

To help meet this need, we’ve put together a number of resources that can help you learn more about programmatic DOOH. Here are a few that we think are worth checking out:

Programmatic DOOH is still a young space with a few details to work out, but it’s also an exciting playground for newcomers from the digital space. Take if for a spin, and see how it enhances your existing campaigns. You might be surprised by just how much it helps!

Learn more about programmatic DOOH with the help of our free masterclasses!

Rob Côté
Rob Côté

Demand Generation Manager