The OOH Recovery: As Consumers Re-emerge From Their Homes, What Will They See?

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By Jason Kiefer, Partner and Chief Commercial Officer, Billups

As many states re-open in some fashion, and COVID-19 restrictions ease, OOH will be the first “real life” advertising medium to return. No one can predict how consumers will behave during these telling weeks of freedom, but you can bet they are excitedly paying attention to the world around them. How will consumers feel and how can we “take their temperature” on what will be welcome, appropriate and effective when it comes to OOH?

Millions of people are now moving around again. With states empowered to implement their own orders, there are unique challenges for each city and market. Governors are seeking a balance on openings versus infections. The majority of the population will be hesitant to emerge all at once as they continue to social distance and wait to see what happens. The return to the office will be impacted by reduced physical employee counts on-site for a while. Mass transit, malls, and airports will see a reduced passenger count as people attempt to avoid large gatherings.

Here are three key observations of the impact on the OOH industry and how it will forge ahead to recovery:

  • Audiences – Audience behavior will be different than pre-COVID-19. Consumers are excited at the prospect of re-emerging into the public, but we can expect varying degrees of engagement and time spent based on demographics. Many will continue to stay local and keep their distance, especially those that are high risk or close to someone with a pre-existing condition. But, as the holidays approach, it’s expected that people will be traveling farther away from their homes to enjoy their new freedom. Families will have more time than ever to spend together and will take advantage of cheap fuel and vacation via road trips. Large crowds will be avoided for the balance of the year as social distancing will continue. Trip chaining, D2C, and delivery services will continue to take root as people look to reduce proximity to one another. The roadways will see an increase in traffic where people can travel safest from the virus with automobiles becoming the choice method of commutation.

  • Media placement – This will be tricky for brands to monitor and get right as cities respond in varying degrees to retail closures and social distancing, but expect to see the exposure to the traditional roadside billboards from audiences increase as people travel. Bulletins will be the OOH medium of choice for the coming months. HyperLocal, including placed-based and alternative media, will continue to be effective in reaching people in their neighborhoods and at key venues such as supermarkets and gas stations. Transit media including subway, rail, and buses will see small gradual increases in traffic and impressions, but their recovery will not be certain until riders feel safe. Venues such as airports, cinemas, malls, stadiums, arenas, and college campuses will require the longest runway to see pre-COVID-19 attendance and may not fully recover for the foreseeable future until a vaccine is available.
  • Creative – Expect to see a new style of messaging for a while. Brands need to be useful and deliver value and assistance to people to help them navigate the new reality as they emerge from their homes. Empathetic and purpose-driven marketing over hard selling will be well received for the next few months. Perhaps if we continue a slow and steady recovery we can expect traditional selling ads to re-emerge for back to school (dependent on reopening) or the holiday season in Q4. Consumers will have less money to spend and they will be looking for the best brands for their budget. Luxury retailers and products will have to work extra hard to convince consumers they are worth the premium. Brands “you can trust” and “offer the best value” will have an edge.

OOH is in a unique position to succeed as a prominent medium to welcome consumers as they emerge from being indoors and perhaps eventually spend more time than ever out of their homes. The space is there, waiting patiently to be seen and consumed. Only OOH has the ability to be viewed by the masses in an increasing era of audience fragmentation. Technological advances such as increased digitization, automation in planning/buying, and effective new methods of measurement, that can even quantify ROI for marketers, will rapidly advance and continue to create value for advertisers that in turn drives growth for the OOH Industry.

But unknown factors still lurk as we learn more about the virus. Everybody must continue to be vigilant, social distance, take the precaution of wearing a mask, washing their hands, and be respectful of one another. OOH has always recovered quickly from downturns and COVID19 will be no exception. We are on the road to recovery.


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