Why clients want OOH to alter course
In an open letter to the out-of-home sector this week, a group of advertisers went public with a series of concerns about its future.
Under the banner of the ISBA Media Leaders group - which includes the likes of Vodafone, Nationwide, Tesco, L’Oreal, Samsung and HSBC UK - five areas were identified, including worries about the demise of classic paper billboards; reach outside of the main UK conurbations; the issue of reduced viewability of digital screens; and - of course - a reappraisal of funding for Outsmart, the marketing body that, just as it was gaining momentum, was stripped of its CEO and chairman and effectively neutered.
There were also concerns over digital creativity and economics - all of which you can read in more detail here.
It hasn't been easy to get the sector to formally respond.
However, a senior boss Mediatel News spoke with said this has been "simmering for some time", with the likes of Sky and Rapport setting out their passion for large-format static panels and calling for their maintenance back in 2017.
We can also see some of these issues coming from the specialist OOH agencies, who have called for a cautious rethink about the seemingly unstoppable move towards digital at the expense of well performing static poster sites.
Meanwhile, however, we were told media owners lament rising rents and poor (and diminishing) rental revenues from static panels and argue they're not economic to maintain.
What a pickle.
Mediatel did seek responses from the main players - JCDecaux and Global - but we don't have much to go on. The former said it continues to invest millions in high quality OOH sites across the UK (noting Birmingham New Street from just last week), while Global said nothing – but then again, it is a new entrant to the market and is yet to even launch its full proposition since going on an OOH buying spree last year.
However, Darren McKay, sales operations director at 8Outdoor, said he agreed with much of what the clients were saying, even if that seems strange coming from the UK’s only fully digital OOH business.
He reassures advertisers that investment is being made outside of the main conurbations, citing plenty of smaller cities and towns, while pointing out that digital OOH has a "flexibility" not found in static posters and that the industry should work closer together to fully exploit the new creative capabilities. "Advertisers should ask us what's possible," he said.
However, when it comes to the hard economics, McKay said: "I do think, however, that advertisers have to take some responsibility for the fact that classic billboard prices are now at an uneconomical point for media owners."
Meanwhile, looking beyond the money, Nicole Lonsdale, chief planning officer at Kinetic, WPP’s specialist OOH agency, said she always advocates a "blended approach" as the most effective campaigns make use of both classic and digital inventory to deliver mass reach, augmented with the flexible real-time capabilities that digital offers.
"It’s not necessarily about using one without the other," she said.
"As OOH continues to innovate and reinvent itself with digital capabilities and digital targeting, it’s important we do not lose sight of its strengths of physical scale, ubiquity and trust, derived from using classic inventory.
"Broadcast advertising - with its ability to deliver one-to-many communications and powerful shared experiences - is as relevant to brands today as ever and something that OOH continues to excel at even as it embarks on its digital journey.”
Mediatel News understands that some of the largest media owners will now engage with ISBA's members directly to seek a resolution.
In the meantime, here is what one senior source told us: "there's everything to play for - and advertisers take note, pay for - in static OOH."
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 mediatel.co.uk for more information.