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Chris Ladd 

Clients deliver unified call for change in OOH

Clients deliver unified call for change in OOH

From the demise of classic billboards, to funding for Outsmart, Nationwide's Chris Ladd voices client concerns about the changing landscape of the outdoor market

Swindon is on the rise.

By train, it’s only an hour from London and having lived near, and worked in, the town for the past decade, its growing population pushing past 200,000 should be a target market for advertisers using the outdoor medium to build a brand. New housing is springing up all over the town, and planning permission has even been granted for a Snowdome – heady days indeed.

Yet how, as a brand, do you reach the people of Swindon through large format out of home? I’ve noticed that the town – like other towns and small cities across the UK - is losing large format paper & paste poster sites, with no suitable replacement.

It’s not entirely scientific but as I’ve driven around the town, I’ve found myself counting the number of digital formats on one hand.  The sole large digital screen in the town overlooks our famous Magic Roundabout, thanks to 8 Outdoor who upgraded the long-standing paper & paste 48 sheet poster site a couple of years ago.

I might be slightly obsessed by events in Wiltshire’s largest town, but I would be very surprised if advertisers wanting to reach consumers in other small cities, or large towns, didn’t have a similar challenge.

The football season is over, but look at the 92 League Clubs in England & Wales and note how many of them are in towns and cities outside the big conurbations.  The same will be true in Scotland and Northern Ireland too. 

A recent Route report talks of ‘urban clustering’ of digital out of home, but it feels like ‘major conurbation clustering’ to me. 

In London, this clustering has become an epidemic as I’ve often heard media folk talk of over-supply of the format in the capital.  If this out of home digitisation trend continues, we may find ourselves in a position where advertisers can’t reach audiences outside of the major cities. 

Route suggests 68% of Britons will see any sort of digital poster at least once a week.  But what percentage of that sees large format digital, and will that headline figure grow any further?

Ironically, it’s an exciting time for outdoor thanks to the potential of digital and Global Outdoor’s dramatic entry into the market. However, the rush to digitise the sector should not come at all costs.

Many of my peers at the ISBA Media Leaders group share my concerns about the changing landscape of the outdoor market, and the demise of paper & paste sites.  So why are we making this public? 

On a personal level, Lisa Walker from Vodafone and I agreed to co-chair the group with the clear objective of making clear and impactful changes to how advertisers, media owners, agencies and consultants operate.  We want to support the advertising eco-system for advertisers both large and small. 

But we also want to be visible as a collective group on issues that worry us, supported by the team at ISBA led by Phil Smith, their marvellously vocal Director General.

With outdoor in mind, there are five key areas we want to focus attention on:

Broadcast reach outside of the main conurbations in the UK

With paper & paste sites either being removed or left to rot, the supply and quality of large format inventory outside the big cities is a major concern. 

Demand is still there.  Data from Kinetic suggests that an advertiser would be lucky to find much large format paper & paste inventory available to buy before October of this year.

Viewability of Digital outdoor

Yes, the screen resolution makes it more visible, but an advertiser is often 1 in 4 or 5 or 6 or more depending on the format – and with no category exclusivity either.  Compare this to 100% viewability and exclusivity on a lit paper & paste poster, and 100% during daylight hours for an unlit one.


The ISBA Media Leaders never debate specific commercials for obvious reasons, but it is well known that digital inventory is sold at a premium against paper & paste despite its lower visibility.  I’ve also heard that it is now uneconomical to continue with paper & paste sites due to the costs involved, and the prices advertisers are willing to pay. 

My A-Level in Economics was a very long time ago, but will supply and demand find a happy medium?  At the moment, something doesn’t quite stack up.  Building on the economic argument, has anyone done an environmental comparison between a digital and paper & paste site?


From what I see and hear, very few advertisers take advantage of the dynamism of digital.  Most are using simple images or text creative for their out of home message, thereby transposing their paper & paste creative to digital screens.

How the industry markets itself

We strongly urge JCDecaux, the new entrants Global Outdoor, and other stakeholders to fund Outsmart appropriately, so they can regain the influence and momentum it had a couple of years ago.  With the might of Route data behind them, an influential marketing body would help address some of these issues.

There’s a lot of ground to cover so we are reaching out to the key outdoor media owners to ask them to come to ISBA to discuss with us, and hopefully they will.  The individual media owners all market the medium in some way, but the power of the collective would surely be more effective? 

Those advertisers who share my concern are also agitating with their agency partners, outdoor specialists, and consultants to get perspectives on the challenge.

My Media Leader peers - Tesco, L’Oreal, Samsung, HSBC UK, to name a few - would welcome an outdoor market that drives business outcomes at an effective cost, creatively pushes boundaries, and gives us the potential to reach audiences young and old throughout the whole of the urbanised  UK.  

Outdoor’s future should be seen from a national perspective - it’s not only about London. Nor is it only about Swindon either!

Outdoor is the oldest broadcast medium. Let’s ensure it has a bright future too.

Chris Ladd is co-chair of ISBA’s Media Leaders Group. He also has a day job as Head of Media at Nationwide Building Society.

The ISBA Media Leaders Group is also co-chaired by Lisa Walker, Head of Media and Sponsorship, Vodafone.

Mediatel operate two essential services for the OOH industry. SPACE is a collaboration between IPAO and Outsmart and is the most comprehensive and up-to-date list of inventory in the UK. The RouteAPI is a SaaS solution that enables easy integration of Route audience data into client's systems. See for more information.

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