The Pandemic Prompted a Programmatic DOOH Revolution. Here’s What Comes Next

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The lockdowns of 2020 dealt an understandable blow to the digital out-of-home (DOOH) category’s growth last year, with DOOH spending climbing a modest 1.6% during the year. But rather than stunting long-term growth in this emerging category, the pandemic instead led to DOOH becoming a more nimble and integrated part of advertisers’ overall media mixes. A big part of that has to do with the accelerated transition to programmatic DOOH buying. 

Despite the ongoing pandemic, DOOH spend in 2021 is expected to rise by 19.2% in 2021. The portion of DOOH ad sales that is transacted programmatically is also growing rapidly, from 6.7% last year to 10.8% this year and 14.8% in 2022 — and that’s likely a conservative estimate. Let’s take a deeper dive into how the opportunity for programmatic DOOH has been reframed for 2021 and beyond.  

DOOH in the Pandemic: Reaction and Reinvention

Early last year, as communities locked down and people stayed home, the DOOH market felt the effects of knee-jerk advertising pullbacks in public spaces. Since then, the market has picked back up, particularly as today’s brands and businesses have found ways to update their messages to stay relevant. Restaurants and supermarkets have pivoted to emphasize delivery and curbside pickup options. Healthcare and other brands have pivoted to pandemic-aware messaging. And, of course, public safety messages — from companies and local authorities alike — abound in DOOH right now. 

Overall, the pandemic prompted many advertisers and agencies to demand more responsiveness within their DOOH efforts, and that’s why we saw a surge in interest related to programmatic DOOH advertising — and that interest isn’t going away. Even as organizations revert to more standard branding and advertising efforts within their OOH campaigns, they’re fundamentally thinking differently about the opportunity when it comes to reflecting current events and conditions within their campaigns. 

OOH has long been a part of companies’ broader media mixes due to its viewability, high impact, and brand safety. Programmatic DOOH allows brands to layer a greater level of speed and flexibility on top of those strengths. In 2021, advertisers are aiming to be even more cost-efficient with their media buying, and they’re looking to get their messages to market quickly, making programmatic DOOH particularly attractive. In 2020, a lot of advertisers were able to take advantage of programmatic DOOH’s ability to let them pause or pivot campaigns in the event of new curfews or lockdowns. Now, with a greater understanding of the medium’s nimbleness, more advertisers are exploring options for activating and adjusting campaigns based on weather and traffic conditions as well. 

Overcoming the Remaining Hurdles in Programmatic DOOH

Even as advertisers begin to push the boundaries of what’s possible in the world of programmatic DOOH, there are still noteworthy hurdles that this nascent channel is looking to address, not to mention considerations that advertisers should keep in mind as they plan their campaigns. 

Today’s DOOH campaigns can be structured to include dynamic creative capabilities as well as mobile targeting, through which advertisers can show mobile display and video ads to users in the vicinity of their OOH assets. Given the multi-screen nature of these campaigns, it’s important that advertisers plan for creative versioning for different situations and formats, ideally making use of HTML5 creatives for use of real-time messages in the designs. In addition to obvious screen size discrepancies, CTAs from other ad formats often don’t translate from small to large DOOH screens, and the 5–10-second limit on rotating DOOH displays also needs to be considered when crafting appropriately simple messaging. Thus, while DOOH and mobile pairings make sense, advertisers must be vigilant when thinking through their creative assets for each component of the campaign. 

In addition, measurement still represents a challenge for DOOH, as the technology to effectively measure viewability in real-time is still quite new. Without a doubt, to continue its growth, the industry requires a reliable standardized measurement for DOOH. Until then, many advertisers prefer to focus on buys that are triggered by car traffic or run during particular hours that they know are busy, rather than concerning themselves with the specific number of people exposed to their ads. In time, we’re going to see demands for better accountability grow, and the technology to deliver that accountability — which does exist — will be more widely employed. 

Over time, DOOH will continue to evolve into a medium that — like other programmatic channels — offers a wide variety of targeting opportunities. In some markets, advertisers are already employing sophisticated audience targeting for their DOOH buys, leveraging data coming from mobile location data providers that have their privacy processes in order. But while audiences will be the priority for some campaigns, others will continue to focus on time of day, road conditions, and other contextual situations as their most important considerations.   

As these opportunities come into greater focus, advertisers will continue to experiment with and optimize their efforts in the programmatic DOOH space, pushing the channel to new heights in terms of flexibility and responsiveness. As the pandemic has demonstrated, there’s greater versatility to be unlocked in DOOH than we’ve appreciated to date, and programmatic pipes can help unlock it.

Alp Ayhan is a DOOH Specialist at Platform161, part of Verve Group.