With Mobile Growing, WPP Sees Opportunity to Make DOOH Smarter

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minority reportWe’re not quite to the eye-scanning technology of Minority Report, but the digital-out-of-home (DOOH) ecosystem is getting smarter – and more valuable to advertisers.

With over half of U.S. mobile users owning a smartphone, more and more consumers are making purchase decisions out-of-home. We’re looking up stores, researching cars, and comparing products, all on-the-go. The purchase funnel is smaller, quicker, and more nomadic than ever before.

That narrative should not come as a surprise. The growth of mobile, and particularly the mobile-local ad tech ecosystem, over the past two years is a testament to its potential. And while mobile media companies are the primary beneficiary of the trend, other channels that reach consumers outside of the home are set to benefit as well.

Enter WPP. The marketing giant has quietly built out a full-service out-of-home shop in its Tenth Avenue division that includes its mobile agency Joule, content shop Forward, out-of-home network in Kinetic, and DOOH ad network in Spafax.

Launched last year, Spafax Networks aggregates DOOH inventory — 15 or 30 second video spots served on digital screens in elevators, office building lobbies, and the like — from vendors like the Wall Street Journal and Zoom. Today the exchange announced a new partnership with PlaceIQ to bring the startup’s audience data to its DOOH buying process. Like PlaceIQ’s channel partners in the mobile space, Spafax can use the latitude-longitude data associated with its inventory to target media by audience segments like “middle aged moms” or “business travelers” in vendor and geography.

“As media consumption habits change, and more media is consumed out of the home, the need for an advertisers to deploy a message in various places — and not just to the couch — is increasing,” Patrick Bonomo, EVP at Spafax, told Street Fight. “The technology in mobile — the ability to search, check inventory etc. — means there are new opportunities for brands to intercept [consumers while out of the house.]”

It’s not as though the DOOH space is bursting at the seams. Bonomo says the industry’s rise has slowed, with a “blockbuster year” in 2011 followed by a “flat year” in 2012. But as mobile adoption continues, and measurement and reporting improve, he believes brands will start to divert local broadcast and digital video spend to DOOH in 2013.

Two big operational hurdles stand in the way of DOOH’s growth. The first is analytics. Until recently, brands could not bring the more complex, and audience-based, media buying strategies used in other digital channels to a DOOH campaign.  Partnerships with data firms like Nielsen, and now PlaceIQ, will start to enable brands to look a DOOH as an extension of their existing digital, and particularly mobile, efforts.

The second hurdle is engagement. In it’s current form, most DOOH media is asymmetrical in the sense that information only flows from advertisers to consumer. And without interaction, there are no taps, clicks, or transactions to measure conversions. But that’s changing, says Bonomo.

“As technology develops, and interactive signs become part of the landscape, these technologies are going to create an opportunity for consumers to interact with a campaign, and allow for a more performance-driven model,“ he explained, pointing to early integrations of interactive creative like scalable QR codes.

For the moment, the company is focused on messaging consumers along the path to purchase — a familiar concept to mobile marketers.  That means helping a beverage company to message consumers en route to happy hour by serving ads in the elevator, at the gas station, in the store, and then in bars after work.

DOOH offers certain advantages over mobile media — namely, that you cannot turn it off — but the two technologies are more complimentary than competitive. As the context in which we consume media continues to fragment, place-based media — whether it’s on a mobile device or digital display — will become a bigger part of brands’ media mix.

Steven Jacobs is deputy editor at Street Fight.