Media Week Essay - Digital Out-of-home

LONDON - A new "third space" has emerged in which advertisers can target consumers. So how can brands effectively engage with this digital out-of-home audience during their valuable downtime?

Nicky Cheshire: sales director of Alive division at CBS Outdoor
Nicky Cheshire: sales director of Alive division at CBS Outdoor

Time to kill? You've got to be joking. Maybe consumers had time to kill 20 years ago, when work, rest and play were assigned a proper time and a place.

Today, however, we all work longer hours and new technology makes us on call 24 hours a day. If there's a nine-to-five job out there, then please can I have it.

Time spent out of home has doubled since the 1960s, as rising house prices in city centres have forced people to move further out, and time spent commuting has increased. The average UK commute is now 45 minutes, which represents a rise of 20% in the past decade.

With this in mind, a new "third space" is fast emerging alongside the home and the workplace - a space that is home to the mobile consumer. Not only is this mobile audience growing significantly, but time spent within this space is used in a far more productive manner.

The daily commute used to be considered downtime - a chance to relax, read a book or a paper, or just navel gaze.

But now, thanks to global internet penetration and devices such as the BlackBerry and iPhone, we answer e-mails, finish reports, or indulge in a spot of online shopping or socialising in our favourite chatroom.

Effective engagement

We know that highly mobile people are 30% more likely to shop spontaneously. But consider this new economic truth: if all the time spent thinking about work while travelling were taken into account, it would equate to 99 million working days a year. Based on the average UK salary, this represents more than £9bn a year.

Effectively engaging with consumers in this new "third space" presents a great opportunity for a host of different brands.

The new digital technologies offer great scope for targeting specific audiences in a world where the lines between media have blurred and is harder to engage the empowered consumer.

It is also difficult to define when we are working and when we are at leisure, when we are alone and when we are sharing time with others, and what media we are consuming and how.

As we move from push to pull advertising - as consumers define the content they want and when they want to access it - we must deliver greater relevance. A simple broadcast message will not always be enough.

So, how can we achieve this? First of all, by offering greater flexibility through messages that can be changed almost instantly. Camelot exploits this for its rollover weeks, which can't be predicted, but always deliver a huge spike in ticket sales.

Camelot buys into the medium at short notice and the ad comes down as soon as the draw has taken place.

The immediacy of the medium makes digital out-of-home a perfect choice, particularly as it reaches people in an environment where they can act on their impulse and purchase a ticket at their nearest newsagent.

Retailers such as B&Q, Starbucks and Currys are also using digital out-of-home to promote short-term offers and drive footfall over the critical weekend period. And sponsored content such as news headlines, sports results and weather reports - delivered in a timely fashion - will always be valued by people going about their busy lives.

We are also able to offer more intelligent targeting options that allow brands to pinpoint audiences by mindset, not just by location or socio-demographic. On the Underground, for example, you can target your message to engage with the hectic commuter or reach that same commuter in a more relaxed state of mind as they contemplate a bit of shopping or a night out in the West End.

So, what are our predictions for the future growth of digital out-of-home? Well, changing consumer behaviour should lead to greater convergence as people increasingly access information and entertainment via hand-held devices.

High correlation

The mobile internet is now accessed by about 25% of all mobile owners and recent research by a leading poster specialist shows a high degree of correlation between out-of-home advertising and search.

The results are amplified when digital out-of-home is used to tap into likely mindsets to provoke a response or a click-through.

For example, a recent campaign for Intel used digital posters on the Tube to encourage people to go online and vote for their favourite musician, while live feeds to the screens via HTML links broadcast a changing chart to people throughout the day.

This was consumer-generated content broadcast on a grand scale.

Media owners must educate and excite planning and creative agencies on the huge potential of this sector. Research concluded with the University College of London showed that consumers are engaged by the "reality-ness" of digital screens.

Moving image broadcast to high-definition standard has the ability to transport consumers into another world, whether a visually stunning execution for the New Zealand Tourist Board or high-end graphics for the latest gaming console.

However, the research also showed that poor content will fail to live up to high consumer expectation, no matter how strong the context.

The new "third space" does not represent time to kill and the brands that will prove most successful in engaging the mobile consumer are those that recognise it is now time to thrill.

Nicky Cheshire, sales director, Alive division, CBS Outdoor.

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