Time To Include (Digital) Out-Of-Home In Our Definition of Programmatic Media

“Data Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Jeremy Ozen, cofounder of Vistar Media

Here’s a trivia question: When and where was the first ever display ad?

Some of you will answer 1994 on Hotwired.com.  That AT&T ad is now a digital media icon.  1994, however, would be 159 years too late.  The correct answer is 1835 in Jared Bell’s New York City office where the first advertising poster was printed.  If you’re thinking, “What!? A poster is not display advertising!” here’s my argument for why it is.

Display and digital video advertising is not confined to the web (for the purposes herein, I will refer to display, but the analogy is equally applicable to online video).  Let’s think about online display for a moment. It is simply the monetization of internet traffic.  And what are posters, billboards, screens in malls, elevators, cabs and airports?  Aren’t these displays also monetizing traffic, albeit the offline type?

So if display advertising, generally speaking, is the monetization of traffic, does it matter whether that traffic is on a website or not?  I contend no.  Until now, however, there was a divide between offline and online display.  The former was considered out-of-home, while the latter was considered digital.  Why the distinction?  Because out-of-home had long lead times and minimal reporting – it could not be efficiently activated by a digital media buyer.

But out-of-home is changing — it’s digitizing.  And with this evolution, out-of-home is morphing into a new medium: digital offline display.

“No! Outdoor media cannot be considered digital!  What self respecting digital media buyer would buy it?” Here’s my response — think about all the ways you can target and buy online display.  Compare that list with the functionality below:

  • Buy programmatically via a DSP
  • Get a campaign live in hours
  • Target days or dayparts
  • Target DMAs, Zip codes, or individual addresses
  • Target audience profiles based on first and third party data
  • Track the serving of discrete individual ad plays
  • Optimize campaigns in flight

Based on this, you would be hard pressed to explain the difference between offline and online display. Despite all the similarities, let’s investigate where things diverge:

  • Outdoor is a one to many medium whereas a computer is one to one with the user
  • Outdoor is not an inherently interactive medium, although this is likely to change over time

As a result, there is no accepted metric by which to judge a campaign’s success – however outdated, without a click through rate digital outdoor has struggled to demonstrate ROI which requires creativity and ingenuity.  And as an emerging medium, all the typical fragmentation hurdles exist: multiple video players requiring multiple video encodings, differing publisher abilities (eg. some can play audio while other cannot), and disparate media ownership,

There is one further difference to still address. As it stands today, discrete digital offline display avails are not bid on in real time.  The key here is data – the feedback loop is not (yet) in place to know who your audience is for a discrete ad. Smartphones, however, are changing the playing field.  Soon, the audience associated with individual avails will be informed by the people near a digital outdoor media property.  It is not science fiction for digital offline display to be just as addressable as online display.

While everyone focused on incremental changes to online display, a marketplace shift began in another corner of the advertising universe.  Programmatic buying, real-time reporting, audience targeting, and optimization came to out-of-home media. The oldest advertising medium in existence, a multi-billion dollar industry, entered the digital age.

Follow Vistar Media (@vistarmedia) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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