Programmatic And Digital Out-Of-Home: Great Potential, But Many Questions

davidson kineticWPP-owned Kinetic Worldwide accounts for the planning and buying of more than 40% of all digital out-of-home media (DOOH) around the globe.

The UK-based company contracts with more than 50 domestic, regional and global clients, including Vodafone, Molson Coors, Warner Bros. Pictures and Tesco. The Outdoor Media Center, Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and Route use Kinetic’s software.

Kinetic’s chief commercial officer, John Davidson, spoke to AdExhanger about the DOOH ecosystem’s evolution as programmatic strategies take hold.

AdExchanger: What are the challenges around incorporating programmatic with out-of-home?

JOHN DAVIDSON: The main question is can the programmatic online trading world be transferred across to out-of-home. But before we can even try to do that, we need to get our house in order around everything from the language we use right through to how we report. There’s no standardization and no third-party independent verification of digital activity that we send out that comes back to us. There’s no return path.

For the online display space, we can obviously put third-party tracking into it and we can monitor our own work. For out-of-home, there’s no way of doing that at the moment. And there may not be for quite a while. But before we can get to that, we have to work on standardizing the DOOH market and develop the best verifications that we can.

What’s the potential for programmatic trading in DOOH?

We are supportive of automated trading that will bring efficiencies to the DOOH market. However, there is much work to be done in terms of ensuring the digital copy distribution infrastructure and reporting are up to a high common standard. I guess a good analogy for the DOOH market is that the front of the house looks spectacular with increasingly high-quality and visually impactful displays. But behind the structures, the pipes and the wiring need upgrading to a common standard. Perhaps more critically, we need both accessible standard and wireless smart meters to measure use and efficiency. Kinetic is on a mission to create common DOOH standards and unlock data that will underpin future trading decisions.

Though programmatic in DOOH doesn’t exist yet, what would such a campaign look like?

It comes back to the whole debate on what is programmatic. We’d like to get some automated efficacies in market. Taking it to a programmatic level presents challenges. We’re not advertising to one, we’re advertising to many. That’s obviously the distinction between online display and DOOH.

There are some very small exceptional examples. A business called Amscreen, which is in petrol stations and small news-agent retail, is one example. They’re reading data in terms of male/female potential age and changing the copy accordingly. There is a bit of daypart scheduling happening as well. Another business is JCDecaux’s SmartScreen, and they’re changing copy in 400 testing stores based on day and dayparts. The copy is changing based on Dunnhumby retail data. They’ll know how and when cold (medicine) sales will have certain peaks or how bread sales will have certain peaks, and they’re changing to copy to market those products. It only launched a month ago so it’s still in a test phase. But the idea is that they’re modeling creative deployment on likely sales patterns.

In terms of fitting into the programmatic camp, those are the only two examples I can give you. There are a few iconic screens such as Clear Channel’s storm weather screens, which are able to put out immediate campaigns.

Where might data come from as DOOH looks to tap programmatic strategies?

The holy grail is the mobile footprint we all leave when we walk around with our handset that we look at a hundred times per day. That would be the true data. I don’t think we’ll ever get to a reasonable side of the market that’s going to be offering addressable apps to individuals.

Imagine you’ve got an outdoor shopping mall. Clearly the audience is very different at different times of the day. It could be young adults during the day, and in the evening it could be families. It could be that mobile data gives an indication that the average proportion of audience in a mall near high-quality digital units has changed, at which point the creative dynamically changes to that. It will draw on digital advertising copy to react to the mobile footprint that’s happening in real time.

That’s the only kind of future return path I can think of that would do what online display does.

Is mobile data the best option in terms of campaign measurement in the future?

I think so, yes. Within mobile, we’d be interested in top-line data. We wouldn’t use that data specifically to serve ads based on where users live, but we’d be interested in user profiles. If that data was somehow connected to DOOH and there was some sort of commercial market for doing it, you can see how that might work. But everyone has to be happy. There’d have to be enough data there to leverage statistics for DOOH and we’d have to make sure we didn’t break trust with the consumers while being sensitive to privacy laws. That’s the only data I can see that really gives us the true value of how we might trade in the future.

What can we expect to see as the industry continues to develop DOOH capabilities? 

One would hope that development of a new DOOH ecosystem would create new currencies that are aligned to other media markets and make transactions more flexible. We are already seeing positive trials in this area with nascent platforms such as JCDecaux’s Tesco SmartScreens, Clear Channel’s Storm network and niche players such as Amscreen. Critically, the introduction of live mobile data in the medium term could create more dynamic trading and further integration with other marketing comms at all levels. The logical and reasonable ambition for programmatic trading in DOOH is to grow the market through increased advertiser participation.

Will programmatic will have an impact on how brands think about OOH and media planning?

I’d like to think so. There are a lot of clients who can develop dynamic campaigns but it takes a lot of organization and you need to have the creative as well to do that. Sometimes creative for DOOH is not developed at the same time as other media creative. There’s a lot of potential there. 

What are the risks?

We have to be careful what we wish for. It wouldn’t look very good if you were outside seeing screens changing all the time. You accept that it would change a bit. We need to think about the quality. The whole thing about DOOH is that the quality of the screens is fantastic, and they have great stature. But we don’t want to dilute that stature. I can see its potential but it’s not, in immediate terms, going to become a majority in the market.

Is the industry ready to adopt programmatic for OOH media? If so, when?

I don’t think the industry is anywhere near ready to adopt programmatic. There are some companies who are trailing different platforms. But I think there’s a slight reservation from media owners who think that using the word “programmatic” means they’ll take in less revenue. It’s actually far from that. The opportunity is to grow and to actually get more premium audiences.

At the moment, because nobody uses the same system and nobody talks about it in the same currency, there’s slow progress being made. I would say some media owners would release part of their inventory in certain formats and they test that, which could be in two or three years’ time. We’re not dealing with direct business responses that are turning into commercial activity. That’s not to say that DOOH doesn’t do that from a proximity basis but we can’t directly measure it at this point. We know it has impact but we don’t have a direct correlation back for every transaction that we see.

We should learn what we can from digital online display, in terms of impressions and the quality of impressions. But we shouldn’t try to look through the same lens. It’s not the same setup. I think we’ve got a long way to go before we move into pure programmatic DOOH.

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