Anything seems possible in OOH…but is the work any better? 

Global and Contagious convened a group of senior marketing industry experts to talk about the future of out-of-home media at the inaugural RebOOHt roundtable

Out-of-home ads should serve the communities in which they are placed by above all being simple, beautiful and elegant.

That was one of the conclusions from the RebOOHt roundtable event, which took place on the rooftop terrace of Global’s Leicester Square offices on 19 July.

Global and Contagious had convened a group of senior marketing industry experts for the roundtable to discuss the future of outdoor and how the medium can be used to spark actions and emotional connections.

Contagious co-founder Paul Kemp-Robertson kicked off by asking the invited experts what they made of the statement, by Apple Marketing VP Tor Myhren, that outdoor ‘breaks all the rules of today’s fast and temporary and fractured digital culture’.

One attendee responded that outdoor just ‘feels instantly big’ and questioned whether David Abbott’s famous ‘I never read the Economist’ campaign would still be talked about today, if it had been a banner ad instead of a poster.

Nor has the power of outdoor media been dimmed by new technology. The experts assembled for the roundtable all seemed to recognise that OOH as a medium had been invigorated by the advent of social media, because people are motivated to share images of witty or innovative billboards with their networks, providing brands with extra reach for their work.

‘It is almost expected now that a good out-of-home campaign should be shared socially,’ said one panellist.

But the attendees were more equivocal about the usefulness and impact of technological innovations within outdoor media itself.

One the one hand, there have been triumphs. One attendee pointed out that some campaigns, like British Airways’ ‘#LookUp’ and Women’s Aid’s ‘Look at me’, were remembered precisely because of their innovative use of technology.

But another attendee argued that getting clients to buy such innovative creative concepts, which can often cost as much as the media placement itself, was a hard sell, especially when they rely on PR and online word of mouth – both of which can be fickle and hard to predict – in order to achieve scale.

The situation is not helped, added one attendee, by the fact that out-of-home advertising is often treated as one homogenised lump, from an econometric perspective. As a result, when you do interesting or new things with an out of home placement, ‘It's quite hard to drill down from a measurement perspective on what it’s actually done for the brand,’ she said.

Global’s creative solutions director, Anto Chioccarelli, then guided the discussion towards the topic of outdoor media’s impact on culture, asking how it can be used to serve communities at a local level.

One attendee said that as a creative he would think about the character and context of the community in which outdoor media sites sit, if it was information that was ever offered up in the brief.

Another attendee remarked that because out-of-home advertising is imposed on communities ‘it should be simple and beautiful and elegant’, even when it is there to do something as prosaic as sell flights.

That would be easier, pointed out some attendees, if there were more briefs built around outdoor media ideas, rather than treating OOH media as a secondary consideration, just another place to stick a hard-working ‘key visual’.

Other attendees suggested creating value for communities through things like living walls and garden installations, or useful innovations like the Volkswagen mural made with pollution-eating paint.

Similarly, the attendees were wary of OOH creative executions that utilise tracking technology. They seemed to agree that brands should instead rely on the power of a strong idea to grab people’s attention outright, rather than impress (or more likely, unsettle) them with hyper personalisation.

‘I think we're in this golden age where anything seems to be possible,’ said one attendee. ‘But is the work better? Are we doing better ads than The Economist? I don't think we are.’

Ultimately, the attendees agreed that outdoor media was ‘a great canvas’ on which to express ideas and that as much technology heralded new opportunities within the medium it was equally important to remember and cherish the opportunities and power that it already presents.

‘Out of home at its best?’ said one attendee. ‘It’s company; it’s a voice.’

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