Programmatic OOH Is Real. Why Isn’t Your Agency Using It More?

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In the advertising industry, and specifically within ad tech, we’re used to hearing a lot of overstated and exaggerated claims. How many times did you hear, “This is the year of mobile!”? Or, “Company X solves all attribution problems!” So, it’s understandable that many are skeptical of new entrants into the space.

The problem is that the industry’s state of flux and disarray spurs confusion and buyer skepticism of real innovation. This is particularly prevalent in rapidly evolving areas like programmatic that also contend with existing legacy trust issues. I come across this every day, as there seems to be a persistent rumor that programmatic Out of Home (OOH) is “fake,” and that, when looking under the hood, programmatic OOH is merely an automated process for reserving and purchasing inventory. This misconception results in missed opportunities for marketers.

Programmatic OOH is real, it is here today, and it is more than just automation. Digital Out of Home (DOOH) can be purchased via a biddable auction, one of the cornerstones of programmatic marketplaces. Marketers can use data to inform their strategies and their bidding, both in planning and for campaign optimization. Finally, campaigns can be measured to understand the impact of DOOH on real-world metrics that marketers care about.

The introduction of mobile location data has accelerated the adoption of programmatic technology in OOH thanks to its ability to provide buyers and advertisers with actionable audience insights. Location data has been paramount, as it allows us to leverage the tools we have built for other channels and apply them to DOOH.

Mobile location is also the “glue” that brings DOOH into the omni-channel mix, as it allows DOOH to be measured alongside its sister media channels instead of in a silo, creating budget fluidity that ultimately leads to an increase in OOH investment.

Today, less than 5% of DOOH is bought programmatically, yet soon this medium will follow the path of all other channels to become majority-programmatic. Just as online display advertising publishers are no longer selling 300x250s via an IO, there is no question that standard DOOH placements will be transacted in a similar way in the future.

The belief that programmatic OOH is bogus is perhaps tied to the broader ad industry’s low awareness and adoption of programmatic OOH, as well as differing expectations of how programmatic tactics should be applied to OOH.

When it comes to tactical application, programmatic OOH should (and will) never be a replacement for the traditional site selection process (just as programmatic should not be used for all digital site selection). To illustrate this notion, consider this example: There’s a big billboard near my apartment in Brooklyn. This billboard has a big pointed finger on it, pointing down to the Home Depot underneath. The billboard copy says, “Great prices start here.” I would never advise Home Depot to use programmatic in place of selecting that relevant and well-situated piece of OOH inventory. Right? It is a finger that points at their store, and it makes obvious sense. Instead, programmatic DOOH can complement traditional site selection in that it allows us to look at consumers’ habitual movement patterns. We can review visits to competitive home improvement stores and look at where else those people spend time; then, we can activate DOOH screens in the right places and times to bring consumers to that finger on the billboard and those great prices.

Today, programmatic OOH is still a relatively new innovation for agencies and advertisers. But I have seen that the digital buyers who have leaned in to learn and understand how to capitalize on this new innovation are seeing great success with clients.

As buying OOH programmatically becomes more common, the OOH medium will have a re-emergence as a cornerstone of every great media plan. And it’s worth getting in early. With finite available inventory, the increase in buyer sets (digital and programmatic) will drive competition and increase pricing in this space. For example, most of my clients have never bought OOH before. These marketers are coming because they are data-driven advertisers who are now able to apply their data assets and understand the ROI of OOH. Today, they know that they can leverage consumer insights to reach their audience as they move throughout their day with digital out-of-home and mobile media, engaging at exactly the right place and time to make the greatest impact.

Dave Rivera is the Director of Platform Partnerships at Vistar Media, a programmatic technology company for digital out-of-home. He and his team are experts in the programmatic out of home space.  Through application of data targeting and measurement, they educate clients on how the use of this innovative new technology drives real business results.