Out of Home and Out of This World: The Science Fiction Future of OOH

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Out of Home (OOH) has a lot to live up to. Thanks to the sweeping, cinematic landscapes that have been relayed from the minds of science fiction writers and etched into film history, OOH advertising forms as much a part of society’s collective vision of the future as robots and flying cars.

Over the years, cinema has projected and predicted a time when we will move through increasingly connected smart cities that form a living canvas for ever-more sophisticated, engaging and dramatic digital brand messages.

Arguably the most iconic and enduring of these visions is the one created in 1982 by Ridley Scott in Blade Runner. Set in a dystopian Los Angeles in 2019, bounty hunter Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, is tasked with hunting down replicants in a high-tech world where boundaries between human and machine have blurred, calling into question the very nature of reality and our perception of it.

We may not have the replicants – yet – but there are clear parallels between life today and Deckard’s world as emerging technologies add new layers to the way we interact with the world around us. Digitisation, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and robotics are all making their mark on many aspects of our lives.

As we hurtle towards 2019, the impact of these emerging technologies has the potential to take us much closer to Blade Runner territory in Out-of-Home (OOH) advertising, with the film’s pervading atmosphere of oppression replaced by a sense of excited anticipation at the new and improved opportunities for brands to create ‘other-worldly’ experiences and interactions with consumers on the move.

It is already happening today. The sector is investing in the latest digital screen technology, with the iconic Piccadilly Lights in London recently renovated to replace the original patchwork of screens with a single state-of-the-art 4K LED digital screen that can react to external factors, such as the weather or temperature. By drawing on live data in this way, the traditional reach and engagement of OOH can be augmented with additional contextually-relevant content.

But new technologies are taking this further, changing how people can engage with advertising in physical world. From the end of this month, for example, advertisers will be able to tap into the potential to project large-scale images from the buildings around us to create a digital ‘poster’ that appears to be projected into the sky but is actually only visible in the eye of the beholder. The technology, developed by British start-up Lightvert and backed by Kinetic’s start-up incubator KineticX, is based on ‘persistence of vision effect’, where images are fleetingly visible exclusively to the viewer, so it blends mass reach with personal engagement in a futuristic format.

Another example of the crossover between the physical and digital worlds in OOH is Voyager, the world’s first full-motion cinematic Virtual Reality chair. It has been designed to deliver immersive, sensory VR experiences through the combination of HD visual content, motion, audio and even scent, meaning consumers are able to properly suspend all disbelief and be transported to an entirely new world. Achieving full submersion – actually making audiences sink into the virtual world behind the headset – is something VR itself has struggled to achieve through existing platforms but experiences delivered by products such as Voyager, demonstrate how it is possible to shift consumer expectation in this space.

Alone, technologies such as AR and Lightvert’s ECHO are unlikely to immediately replace the digital screens and poster sites that OOH is known for, but the introduction of such innovations, that have previously been the reserve of science fiction, is pushing OOH boldly into new territory. By looking to the future, OOH is expanding the sector’s armoury for advertisers to create deeper – and different – levels of engagement with consumers in the physical world, and redefining what it means to connect with audiences on the move.

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