Traditionally out of home audits are complex and expensive and many markets on the African continent lack even the most basic OOH data. But a Cape Town company has come up with a solution.
Dashboard Marketing Intelligence, a market research and strategy business focusing on innovation and developing Africa-relevant solutions, presented their pilot study on Crowdsourcing OOH (out of home) audits, at the PAMRO conference in August 2016.
Peter Searll, award-winning pioneer of mobile-based market research in Southern Africa and managing partner at Dashboard, gave an overview of the study and the implications for marketers and media owners.
“Advertising in Africa can be challenging. A huge amount of budget goes into OOH media because you’re getting good reach. The ad stays up for a long period of time. But it’s a bit of a messy game when it comes to who owns what site. Is my ad actually up, do I know that my billboards have actually been placed in the first place, are they damaged? In West Africa, for example, during the rainy season, large vinyl billboards get stripped and taken down to be used as a roof. Advertisers don’t always know that they’re getting what they’ve paid for,” says Searll.
There is an enormous amount of visual marketing clutter in Africa too. “You drive around a traffic circle in Uganda and there’s a whole wall of adverts. There’s so much clutter you can’t distinguish anything, and the messaging is lost,” says Searll.
The main media in Africa is TV, radio and OOH. Broadcast media already has effective measures in place to assess their audiences with monitoring compliance processes. “With OOH the only way you can monitor compliance is by doing a visual inspection,” says Searll.
The marketing industry in South Africa is more sophisticated, compared with the rest of the continent. The Out of Home Measurement Council (OMC) in South Africa offers media owners a sophisticated measure including satellite technology. But in other countries in Africa, the only way to measure compliance is by sending trained field workers to report back from sites, which is costly and time-consuming, “In a country like Nigeria with 36 provinces, for example, this is a mammoth task and the brand owners don’t necessarily get a full perspective,” says Searll.
Difficult to measure
Traditionally OOH audits are complex and expensive and many markets on the African continent lack even the most basic OOH data. OOH in Africa has been notoriously difficult to measure due to the wide geographic spread, the variety of installations and sizes and the rise of digital displays. They often only cover larger formats and measurement is infrequent, often only once or twice a year.
Media owners only cover their own sites and do not offer an aggregated perspective including share of voice (SOV). Audits generally take place in the larger cities and towns so all areas and regions are not always included in the audit and damaged sites can be left unnoticed for months.
Dashboard recognised the need for OOH information that can be provided to marketers in a cost effective way on a monthly basis, with the idea to use crowdsourcing to conduct OOH compliance audits.
Searll refers to James Surowiecki’s book The Wisdom of Crowds, which details how crowds can be harnessed to make better decisions and accomplish more than individuals. “Research is about getting the wisdom from the crowd and speaking to lots of people and distilling the information to provide the insight,” says Searll.
Dashboard then set up an experimental pilot study to look at the feasibility of crowdsourcing OOH audits. The premise of the pilot study is that what is needed now are cost-effective, practical measurement tools that can work anywhere.
The pilot took place with a research panel in Lusaka, Zambia that consisted of a representative sample of mobile owners. The specific challenges that needed to be overcome were using non-professionals, duplicate site coverage, non-commercial sites (e.g. signage), linking back to specific media owners and traffic counts to assess reach.
“In advertising, reach and frequency are the two key criteria for media planners. But with OOH you have to put traffic count audits in place to assess what the actual reach is. That’s the expensive part of the audit, to have people doing traffic counts. How many buses, cars, taxis, pedestrians and bicycles come past each hour,” says Searll.
Dashboard then custom-built an app for the test panel to download onto their GPS enabled feature phones and smartphones on Android.
The app included instructions on how to conduct a brief site audit, with pictorial examples. Participants were required to take photos and complete some high level metrics. Of the fifteen people invited, seven actively participated and the fieldwork was completed over two months in June and July 2016.
Participants were incentivised based on the number of accepted sites. “Nothing for nothing. We rewarded participants with airtime, the currency of Africa,” says Searll. The app was gamified using a simple ranking system to make it more fun and data costs to the participants were minimised with the option to upload site data when in Wi-Fi range.
For each site, participants were required to take a clear photo, and the app automatically added GPS and a timestamp. This was an important feature to ensure that photos were only taken during the audit from within the app and external pictures could not be uploaded from the phone or other websites to limit cheating.
The audit aimed to provide the following key metrics, which have not been available to marketers before:
- Share of voice – by category and within category
- Number of sites – by type of installation
- OOH advert format: Billboard / bus shelter / lamp post /other
- Degree of clutter – How many other advertisements are visible?
- Standout / obstructions / visibility – How likely is someone passing by to see this advertisement?
- Level of damage (if any)
A total of 507 sites were audited around Lusaka, of which 109 were excluded as either signage or poor quality photos.
The participants received exact descriptions of what needed to be captured, examples and feedback were provided on rejected sites as well as verification.
The data was thoroughly cleaned to remove duplicate sites and feedback and training were given to minimise the inclusion of non-commercial sites.
A list of sites was obtained from media owners and advertisers so that sites could be linked back to owners.
Traffic counts were obtained using traffic estimates from Google Maps and Waze app using a density algorithm.
The pilot study proved conclusively that it is possible to use crowdsourcing to conduct OOH audits on a regular basis, to offer marketers intelligence that is not available from any other source. The benefits to advertisers include ensuring compliance, optimised placements (reducing cluttered site holdings), immediate notification of missing/damaged installations, immediate notification of site availability, as well as competitive intelligence that includes share of voice data (and spend depending on availability of rate cards), location and content of competitor campaigns as well as mapped locations of both own and competitor sites.
Coverage of smaller installations and regions is easily included.
The process is highly scalable and broad participation facilitates a cost-effective solution.
Benefits to the industry as a whole include independent, regular site audits for customer peace of mind, immediate notification of missing and damaged installations, a comprehensive database of all sites as well as competitive intelligence on share of sites and mapped location of own and competitor sites.