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OOH life again, Huawei in vain, and more Brexit questions

20 Jul 2020  |  Dominic Mills 
OOH life again, Huawei in vain, and more Brexit questions

Dominic Mills notes outdoor advertising’s impact on his surroundings, questions Huawei’s bid to woo the British public and laments another Brexit slogan

It’s been really quite uplifting to see signs of life returning to the OOH market. At the weekend I clocked, among others, ads for BA, Sky F1 coverage, Cazoo, Boohoo, and Renault.

Not before time. During the pandemic I noticed how, when sites were empty or posters were out of date, it cast a blight on the immediate area. It just takes a few weeks for the industry not to function for you to realise how much it contributes to street life.

Near where I live, two 96-sheets for the launch of Mulan (release date 27 March — bad luck) were up until just recently, and it was a depressing reminder of the impact of COVID-19 every time I passed them.

But as the economy opens, so footfall and road traffic increase — check out the Clear Channel Return Audience hub — and the OOH economy rebounds.

However, the big question is this: will it return to normal or is it meaningfully different? I could go either way on this, but I’ll be turning to Mediatel’s Future of OOH event this Thursday to find out.

One thing I’m sure hasn’t changed is the impact of technology on OOH. I once heard a U.S investment banker describe OOH as the only legacy medium to which technology was a friend, not an enemy (which, by the way, I also think applies broadly to radio/audio).

He is correct, although the industry’s ability to fund ongoing digitisation and tech development will no doubt be slowed by the impact of COVID-19 on site owners’ finances for the foreseeable future.

Pre-pandemic, things had been ticking along nicely in terms of growth. According to the AA/WARC figures last year, OOH recorded adspend growth of 7.6%, and twice that — 15.1% — in digital, which now accounts for almost £700 million revenue or more than half the total.

That rate more or less continued in Q1…and then BANG…as it hit the brick wall in Q2.

Cinema apart, no medium experienced a bigger drop, although several came close. The forecast then sees that rate of decline slowing for the rest of the year, before a strong return to growth in 2021. A bit V-shaped, you might say.

Suffice to say, of course, that this is predicated on a steady return to normality. But what will this new normal for OOH look like? My own guess is that commuter and city centre footfall, which underpin many premium sites, will take a hit.

That may somewhat be compensated for by increases in suburban footfall and traffic, as people stay closer to home, shop, eat out and spend their entertainment pound locally. But to capitalise on this, OOH owners may have to redirect investment in digital and site quality to these areas - something it feels like (from hanging around suburban areas myself) they have not bothered with too much.

Longer-term, as high streets and town centres become more residential, there will be opportunities for OOH. If that is so, then the proximity argument comes into play. This has always been a strong card for OOH to play. Here’s a good piece of research from Outsmart into what it calls ‘the last window of influence’.

Meanwhile, the sector itself is seeking to polish its own influencing skills. This comes via a campaign for the global industry, under the auspices of the World Out of Home Organisation, to be created by James Murphy’s New Commercial Arts entity.

Let’s see what it has to say. Perhaps it will also claim to be the first window of influence.

Huawei ad in vain

Unless you’ve read newsbrand ads closely in the last few weeks, you may have missed this rather poignant last-ditch effort by Huawei to sway public opinion in the UK in order to save its 5G contract.

“Dear Britain” it said under the headline “Our Commitment to You”, purportedly talking to everyone although in reality addressing just a handful of MPs, before pulling hard on various emotional levers and cliches.

Thus we have references to “friends, loved ones and colleagues”, how poor connections affect working from home and running small businesses. “That’s why we’re making it easier to stay in touch.” And the final plea hits on jobs, investment in new tech and support for universities.

As for dealing with the issue that caused the row in the first place — whether Huawei is or isn’t an agent of the Chinese state — this is dealt with so perfunctorily you’d hardly know there was a problem at all. “But some now question our role in helping Britain lead the way in 5G”, is all it says. No attempt to deny the accusation or disprove it.

No wonder it didn’t work.

Check. Change. Question

One of the OOH ads with plenty of visibility currently is the government’s new effort to stir up some enthusiasm among business for the imminent post-Brexit world at a time when (and who hasn’t) they’ve got other things on their minds. Here’s the TV version.

It’s all a bit low-key and, to borrow a Johnsonian phrase, it doesn’t exactly jolt the animal spirits into life.

But what I find more puzzling is the three-word slogan — actually more like an instruction — to ‘Check. Change. Go’.

I appreciate this style of slogan is all the rage — 'Take Back Control'/'Get Brexit Done' — but at least they made sense.

Check. Check what?

Change. Change what?

Go…where? Not to China at any rate.


On July 23 Mediatel Events will be hosting The Future of OOH, a half-day digital stream dedicated to exploring the challenges and opportunities within the outdoor advertising industry. Click here to view the agenda and register for FREE here.


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.

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05 Aug 2020 

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