The Great Un-Lockdown: How Digital Out Of Home Has Thrived, Despite The Pandemic

The Great Un-Lockdown: How Digital Out Of Home Has Thrived, Despite The Pandemic

Like many people with friends and family in Australia, Nigel Clarkson, Chief Revenue Officer, Hivestack (below) has been watching, via social media and the news, Australia’s protracted lockdowns. Now as we emerge as an almost entirely free country once more, he asks what lessons have been learned as consumers get back to the Great Outdoors to return to business as usual?

No other media channel (except perhaps the cinema industry) experienced the same highs and lows as OOH during the pandemic. For an industry that puts posters and screens in the busiest places possible, which are by definition outside of the home, worldwide orders for people to stay at home proved to be especially challenging. In spite of that, however, the OOH and digital out of home (DOOH) channels have, despite initially grim predictions, faced adversity as one should face any challenge – by adapting, surviving, and beginning to thrive once again.

Audiences changed, but they didn’t disappear

During lockdown, people’s behaviours changed dramatically – sometimes literally overnight – but audiences did not totally disappear. Orders were given in many countries to stay indoors, but exceptions were made for essential workers, limited daily exercise, or essential shopping.

Access to large amounts of mobile ID data told the story of people’s new travel patterns, and it became clear that local travel was relatively unaffected – and people rediscovered a love of ‘local’ once again. With travel restrictions limiting people’s usual behaviour, people shopped and ate in restaurants closer to home that they had previously overlooked in favour of venues ‘in the city’.

Not many channels do ‘local’ like OOH, and the industry was quick to recognise the need to target and engage with audiences at a ‘neighbourhood’ level as they stayed closer to home. With traditional OOH hotspots in previously high traffic areas across Australia, such as George Street, Bourke Street, or Hunter Street deserted, advertisers started seeing the need to follow in their audiences’ footsteps, and deliver local activations. People still moved, they just stayed closer to home, and the local streets and supermarkets were as busy as ever. The strength of programmatic DOOH, enabling brands to target consumers at the right time and the right place, came to the fore, and it was driven by mobile data and real-time understanding of audiences.

Audiences kept moving

Previously, the lifeblood of OOH campaigns were commuters. Train and bus terminals saw huge numbers of commuters passing through them, with 12 million Australians taking public transport regularly pre-pandemic. As governments and businesses put greater focus on working from home, and companies scrambled to establish greater flexibility, major roads and rail routes became much quieter.

During the lockdown, commuters’ movements were reduced, but they didn’t totally stop. Across many industries, working from home was either not possible or not offered – with 87% of Australian retail workers and 82% of transport and storage workers unable to work remotely. In May 2021, the Guardian reported that road traffic was already back to pre-pandemic levels, but public transport was still hit hard, mainly rail and (of course) international airports.

Essential workers came in many guises, from doctors to delivery drivers, but there were still huge numbers of people commuting or travelling to a place of work outside of their homes. The traditional travel patterns of mass transit commuting certainly changed, but travellers were still there; advertisers just had to be smart about how to reach them. For many marketers, programmatic DOOH technology provided flexibility and key insights on audiences and campaign effectiveness that they needed to keep up with changing audience behaviour.

DOOH as a force for good

In many countries, there is a DOOH audience measurement currency, like GeoPath (US), Route (UK), or MOVE (Australia), which measures the movement of huge mobile audiences at scale. But, after governments enforced lockdowns and people were told to stay at home, these became nearly obsolete overnight. Clearly, other methods of tracking audience movements were needed to understand ‘the new busy’, and using these insights to inform campaign strategy, delivery, and even creative messaging became key.

What drove many brands and advertisers to adopt programmatic DOOH specifically was the ability it provided to leverage millions of lines of mobile audience data to understand where the ‘new busy’ was. Those already using programmatic DOOH technology would have been familiar with the ability to set up, monitor, and adjust campaigns in real-time from dedicated activation dashboards. Programmatic DOOH campaigns could be set up using dedicated COVID planning dashboards to give a clear overview of new travel patterns and where audiences were.

Brands using these powerful insights continued to leverage programmatic DOOH effectively, in spite of lockdowns, with examples of effective campaigns conducted for home streaming or entertainment services, online deliveries, e-commerce, finance, home learning, and – of course – public safety and health messages.

What better way to educate citizens on the safest way to behave outside than OOH? Smart advertisers were using technology and data in order for their campaigns to hit similar target audiences to those they had pre-pandemic – they were just doing this in a very different way.

Laying the groundwork for the DOOH BOOM

OOH will come back quickly in Australia, as it has globally in places that are further along in post-pandemic recovery. What will drive it is also the same; digital screens. Many advertisers and brands saw the unique strengths of programmatic DOOH during the pandemic; the flexibility to stop, start, and pause campaigns, alongside re-allocating budgets and spend from a centralised dashboard, and many advertisers would have felt this was a long time coming.

Programmatic DOOH is now a channel that marketers can use to plan, buy, and deliver campaigns on the same day – not two months in advance, because who knows what will be happening in eight weeks time? The channel is also empowering advertisers by giving them the data needed to inform their decision making and campaign optimization; crunching millions of data points to generate impressions and audiences, and using this insight to show ads at the right time of day, rather than endlessly looping at all times of day.

As Australia exits lockdown, and vaccination levels rise, there is a definite sense of optimism through Q4 and beyond, but questions need to be answered. Who knows what the new normal will look like, and how best businesses can work to accommodate and embrace both flexible and hybrid ways of working. Who knows what new commutes will look like, and will Central Melbourne, Sydney, and Auckland be gridlocked with traffic every day, or maybe only on certain days? When will the new public transport rush hours be, or will they exist at all?

What can be said – because we have seen it outside of Australia already – is that programmatic DOOH will help to lead the recovery and help advertisers, marketers, and brands navigate the ‘new normal’. People’s joy at being allowed the freedom to get out of their homes will be immeasurable. But what will be measurable is audience behaviour patterns, with the help of OOH – a public, unmissable, unskippable channel. Now that Australians are once again allowed to move freely, all of us in OOH are excited to welcome Australia back to the Great Outdoors.

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