Outdoor Advertising is often categorized as OOH – Out of Home – because it groups more than billboards and bus stops – it also covers shopping centers, gyms, taxis and an expanding array of external media points. It’s been a popular medium for a lot longer than its electronic cousins – stretching back to the mid 1800s. Since then, it’s grown steadily with the expansion of urbanization.

But then 2020 turned up and the world was forced indoors.

You’d think that would have delivered a knockout blow to OOH and the initial numbers in mid 2020 were far from encouraging. The immediate drop in revenue was swift and staggering – around 40% in Australia and more than 30% in the US. But like lots of businesses around the world that have had to pivot, OOH has changed focus to take advantage of the trend to buy local – a post pandemic behaviour shift that might be here to stay.

Dean Pearson, National Australia Bank’s Head of Behavioural Economics said new purchasing attitudes and habits that had emerged during the pandemic were lingering, including a commitment to support local businesses, with 36 per cent of Australian respondents to NAB’s Anxiety Survey saying they are now spending more locally. Similar trends are appearing in North America, with 72% of Americans saying they will frequent local businesses more often after the pandemic and 57% of Canadian buyers now seeking out local businesses to support, with 34% doing this more often than before lockdowns became part of everyday life.

As Ben Walker, CEO of Shopper Media observed, “Living Locally has become increasingly important and this trend and this shift in mindset will continue in 2021. Consumers are continuing to shop at local shopping centres for essential retail and to seek community connection.” This has presented a unique opportunity for OOH. As Tim Murphy at oOh!media said  “It’s no surprise that we saw a big increase in suburban activity, so campaigns became more weighted towards those environments. Using our data, we realised we were uniquely positioned to understand these new suburban audience movements and could still reach people who were working at home, for example, at multiple points in and around their neighbourhoods.”

 At the beginning of the pandemic, OOH was identified as a prime medium to convey Government messaging around the importance of staying at home, social distancing and handwashing. Since then, businesses have recognized that there is an opportunity to build their brand’s trust and reliability credentials at the local level. This pivot feeds into the emergence of omnichannel marketing, with outdoor messages aligned with local bricks and mortar shopping experiences, wrapping customers with a more holistic communications experience and boosting sales by up to 13%. Research demonstrates that a staggering 84% of people pay attention to billboards they go past, so the presence of OOH media in a LAM strategy is vital.

The challenge of a rapidly shifting landscape has meant that brands have had to completely reassess communications strategies to ensure they are on point with messaging. This is where the flexibility and immediacy of digital OOH ad spaces have been able to provide an edge in being able to swiftly craft relevant messages. Charmain Modrich, CEO of the Outdoor Media Association said “The significant investment by the industry into digital networks and technology of the last few years has meant that OOH has the platform from which to rebuild and recalibrate to the post-COVID world.” Such technology only accentuates the omnichannel marketing experience – giant QR codes on digital billboards encourage local buyers to capture the code to snare a discount offered at their neighbourhood bricks and mortar store. “Think of it as big screens directing people to smaller screens,” said Candice Simons, president and CEO of Brooklyn Outdoor.

OOH has had its challenges, but looks set to capitalize on a growing appreciation from marketers about how it works best – for targeted campaigns that resonate with local audiences. Yes, we’ve largely gone indoors, but we’re still out and about in our suburbs and it’s where we feel safe. Outdoor can speak to this in ways that almost no other medium can.

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