News & Views

Opinion / Back to the Future for Out of Home Advertising?

by Contagious Contributor
Sarah Villegas, head of marketing and business development at Exterion Media looks at how the wonderful world of outdoor advertising stands up to the (surprisingly accurate) predictions of Back to the Future II's cityscapes

As I’m sure you’re aware, 2015 is the year depicted in the 1989 fantasy film, Back to the Future II. As a fan, I’ve been pouring over the articles that have drawn comparisons between today’s world and the technology which the film predicted. However, no one has yet explored the film’s fairly accurate portrayal of Digital Out of Home (DOOH) advertising. So here’s my take:

When Marty McFly returns to Hill Valley, he is confronted with a projected video ad for a ‘Hover Convertor’ to make your car fly.

While the technology being advertised certainly isn’t available yet, digital outdoor video projection is a common sight.

In fact, this format has moved beyond pure video projection and is now used by some brands to respond in real-time to events and information. For instance, the Pride in London Festival encouraged members of the public to submit their personal messages and photos via social networks. The best were shown on Exterion’s XTP (Cross Track Projection) screens on the London Underground, allowing the public to shape the content on these very prominent screens.

On a more visionary note, Marty is confronted by a giant virtual reality shark leaping out at him from a cinema billboard advertising Jaws 19.

While not quite the same, augmented reality has already seen some creative outdoor use. This technology superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, enhancing people’s perception of the reality. However, fully immersive virtual reality experiences are yet to make it into mainstream advertising, suggesting the film was slightly ahead of its time on this one.

However, at another point in the film, the World Series results are broadcast on an outdoor screen, giving Marty the idea to buy the fateful Sports Almanac for a money making scheme. This again ties it back to everyday DOOH today, where live sports broadcasts are frequently shown on digital screens.

So, what’s next for the format?

While virtual reality in advertising is still in its infancy, the urban environment and consumers are, of course, becoming increasingly connected. This means brands can explore DOOH’s potential for engagement with even more playful, interactive and informative campaigns.

Google Outside is a great example of this. Last autumn Google took over 175 DOOH displays to offer mini-guides to pockets of cities, showcasing its Search app and voice control. So it is no surprise that the total inventory of DOOH sites in the UK is set to grow more than 40 percent between now and 2020, according to Kinetic Worldwide.

But while all this technical wizardry stimulates creativity and looks great, DOOH isn’t about technology for technology’s sake. For DOOH to be successful, brands must understand how to engage with consumers in a way that suits the audience and their needs. It is all about offering meaningful, targeted consumer experiences.

Increasingly, our customers are planning campaigns by audience, rather than by format, to ensure their campaigns work more effectively. Out of Home enables contextual audience targeting, and the level of data available about who can be reached where is growing. The industry in the UK now has Route, an audience research body, which covers all possible frames in Great Britain and acts as a common platform for audience data. It’s all part of ensuring brands reach the right audience in the right way.

So there we have it. Just as we see in Back to the Future, DOOH advertising in 2015 is more than a luminescent board attached to a landmark. The combination of tech, connectivity, the smart use of content and a sophisticated approach to audience targeting have changed what is possible on our streets today. Now, if only I could find myself a Hover Board…