The outdoor industry almost ran out of superlatives last week as it basked in the afterglow of the launch of Route, its new audience research product.
This was bigger, better, faster, shinier. The project involved 28,000 people carrying GPS meters for nine days as they went about their business. A location point was logged every second, creating 19 billion data points. These were mapped against 360,000 ad sites across a range of outdoor formats, each of which had been assigned a "likelihood to see" factor.
Route is one of the most impressive pieces of media research ever undertaken – and its significance, arguably, goes beyond the outdoor advertising medium. There are those who believe this is one of the most important pieces of anthropological research ever undertaken in this country, delivering an unprecedented state-of-the-nation picture of life (and, in particular, travel patterns) in the UK.
It’s a powerful testament to the nature of our relationship with the built environment; and, even at an impressionistic level, it shows the extent to which outdoor advertising is woven into the very fabric of our everyday lives.
But will it be the "game-changer" for outdoor that some of its most ardent fans would have us believe? People have been pointing out that it offers more data than Barb or Rajar or the National Readership Survey or the ABC – as if this means that outdoor somehow now trumps these rival media.
The stat about the 19 billion data points was repeated endlessly – as if this alone was a killer fact. But, actually, the truth is surely that we’re reaching a point in some business sectors where people are realising that, when it comes to data, bigger doesn’t automatically mean better.
Academics in the number-crunching world, for instance, are becoming impatient with would-be commercial suitors – telling them that, if big data isn’t "contextualised", then it can add up to little more than a pointless exercise.
So… all those numbers may be nice, but will they actually help persuade advertisers to shift more of their spend into the medium? Which, after all, is surely more than half the point here. Or has Route been oversold?