Offering the ability to roll out adaptable campaigns with a laser-sharp focus, programmatic offers a wealth of new opportunities for outdoor advertising.
Just as with many other businesses and sectors reliant on consumer movement, outdoor media took a sucker punch from the initial hard lockdown. After all, what good is out of home (OOH) when consumers are firmly ensconced within their homes?
Cut to two years later, and the picture we see in South Africa is a very different one. People have returned to the metros, cities are buzzing, and festivals and sporting events are back on. For the outdoor industry, this means that our billboards and screens are once again attracting the gaze of consumers.
Throughout the pandemic, several central themes emerged that came to dominate the media and marketing arena.
The first was digital transformation, which accelerated at a massive pace as consumers turned to their cellphones and laptops for information and entertainment while stuck at home.
The second was flexibility, facilitated by this growing digitalisation. Particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, South Africans were required to abide by stringent rules, and marketers found themselves needing to adjust their campaigns at the drop of a hat in accordance with this rapidly shifting landscape.
Finally, we saw a new thirst for information emerge. Why? Simply put, in uncertain times clarity is always needed, and with this came a growing demand for data that would inform and support decisions.
And so the stage was set
Given these three core themes, it should then come as no surprise that digital OOH (DOOH), and specifically programmatic DOOH (pDOOH), stepped into the spotlight. “Programmatic” refers to the automation of DOOH, leveraging machine learning to plan, buy, target, sell, deliver and measure advertisements on digital screens. This sees a shift towards audience-centric buys, using data to reach specific groups of consumers in real time.
In our world, we saw that DOOH advertisers needed the flexibility to step in and out of agreements when the situation on the ground changed. They also required the flexibility to change their flighting schedules on a day-to-day basis. Information was key, and we quickly realised that we needed real-time data to assist our clients in their decision-making.
Programmatic OOH has existed for many years but the global uptake has been limited. Historically, mature markets such as the UK and US have been slower to adopt. On the other hand, regions that are famed for their efficiency and embracing of cutting-edge technologies, such as the Netherlands, Germany, and Japan, are leading the way for the rest of the world.
I believe this disparity between developed markets has something to do with the way agencies are structured around the world. Many agencies, particularly those belonging to large global groups, are bound by red tape and subject to onerous procurement processes, which prescribe (and often limit) the way things are done and the technologies that are engaged.
While the pandemic has ignited interest and growth in pDOOH worldwide, it is fascinating to see that despite our country’s patchy internet penetration, South Africa is ahead of many developed markets in terms of realising the benefits it can bring to the marketing table. Consider that in South Africa, DOOH currently accounts for around 20% of total OOH spend and is experiencing 25% year-on-year growth, while the first programmatic campaigns were rolled out in 2020 – and the current spend is expected to at least double over the coming year.
South Africa among the fastest-growing pDOOH regions
Moreover, our global neighbours are watching and treating South Africa as a remarkable case study and success story, based on how rapidly we have embraced programmatic. Our rapid adoption and adaptation can likely be attributed to our innate agility and resilience, a serendipitous side effect of the hurdles we have had to face over the past few years, load shedding, political and civil unrest, and a water crisis.
The key advantage of pDOOH from a media owner or marketer’s perspective is the optimised planning it enables. We talk about DOOH as a “one-to-many” medium, which refers to the large audience size it can potentially reach. With the new tools and technologies available, we can be far more granular in terms of who that “many” is, thanks to the new layers of data integrated within these platforms.
We can prove, with laser precision, whether someone came into contact with your campaign and subsequently walked into your store. Or if you’re an e-commerce business without a brick-and-mortar shopfront, we can track whether people visited your website or downloaded your app after being exposed to your ad.
Programmatic platforms have advanced significantly, allowing deep omnichannel integrations with other digital mediums. Some can integrate cellphone tracking data, meaning it is now possible to serve an advert on a billboard and have that same ad displayed on someone’s phone when they open up their social media pages.
These new platforms allow advertisers and marketers to access billboards across a country and activate a campaign within hours, something that would historically have taken weeks of planning, with cumbersome coordination between hundreds of screen suppliers.
Programmatic also enables dynamic advertising
Dynamic advertising enables an advertiser to be more contextually relevant by serving adverts only when certain events occur. For example, a weather trigger could activate an advert for a coffee shop when it starts to rain. The possibilities are endless – anything that has a digital footprint can be integrated into a campaign, creating another layer of relevance and excitement.
However, we need to be wary of the issues that plagued the traditional digital industry when it first introduced programmatic advertising.
Some misused programmatic buying as an opportunity to sell remnant inventory, which ultimately drove the price of internet advertising into the ground. While this has since recovered, it would be wise to learn from these mistakes.
Another threat is the lack of standardisation around audience verification. However, there are emerging technologies and integrations that could start moving us towards a global benchmark.
Slow-paced adoption could be seen as a threat too. If we miss the boat, it will set sail without us. Adoption will only rise once planners are more comfortable using the platforms, with a better understanding of when and how programmatic can be used.
Education is crucial to ensuring the future of pDOOH, and I would like to invite all stakeholders to take on a degree of responsibility in driving this. As media owners, we need to educate clients so that they understand how it works and the benefit it brings to their campaigns. We need to educate marketers on how to engage programmatic strategically and creatively to its full potential, either as a stand-alone channel or seamlessly integrated into omnichannel roll-outs. We need to understand how we can best use programmatic to deliver truly impactful campaigns that demonstrate real return for our clients.
Remi du Preez is an integral part of Tractor Outdoor’s leadership team, occupying the role of commercial director. As one of the first individuals to introduce pDOOH to the local outdoor market, he cites his mission as making OOH “more accountable” through the use of innovative technology.