Clicking billboards

Clicking Billboards

I grew up in a developing country. The old term was “third world”. It was different to America in that supermarkets had a lot fewer choices of cheese, you needed a mortgage for a car and an overseas trip was a once in a lifetime experience.

There were much the same kinds of businesses there, except it was what clients were prepared to pay for that differed. In these kinds of places, there could be no justification for spending even a cent on anything that could not be applied to a guaranteed return.

For example, you would have a hard time selling an immersive 360° photography technology to real estate company to help them sell houses online, no matter how breathtaking or useful it was, because it would be perceived as an expensive nice-to-have, and not something that could be tied immediately back to conversion.

The impetus would fall onto entrepreneurs and businesses to provide services that could deliver real results, or bust. This thinking has been ingrained in me ever since, even as I approach my 15th year living and working in more developed markets.

But now it’s coming in real handy. That’s because the exit wounds from the financial crisis of 2008 are still open and bleeding and this ROI-driven mentality is becoming the new normal in America now too. In advertising, Outdoor media is a channel that has the most to lose from this shift in psychology – the obvious reason being that it has been the hardest to measure.

A banner can be clicked, lead to a web page and ultimately to a sale – the whole journey from start to finish fully tracked and optimized for the best return. While advertisers know that Outdoor media is effective, its measurement challenges mean that it is usually the first to be cut from the plan when budgets are inevitably constrained.

But sometimes great evolutionary progress comes about not from within, but by the fusion of once entirely separate actors. Big data has emerged that grafts the world of Outdoor and Mobile into each other so rigidly that they become practically indistinguishable from their original forms – much like Sodium and Chlorine coming together to form the ubiquitous table salt.

We have a new hybrid channel that really does allow a billboard to be clicked – and I mean really clicked, not in the metaphorical sense as with proximity enablers like NFC or Beacons that still have a big hill to climb toward genuine scale and ROI.

How, you ask, can a consumer click a billboard without an incredibly long arm and a button of some sort embedded into the canvas?

Well, the vast stores of location data, accumulating every minute of every day as people interact with their mobile devices, are not just filling up hard-drives in some gargantuan warehouse somewhere – actually we’re looking at it and drawing maps that show the movement patterns of hundreds of different audience types: moms with kids, movie goers, coffee drinkers, business professionals, you name it. We know where they go and when they are there. We also know where they go when they are finished being there.

Once that’s been mapped, we can make sure that everyone who saw the billboard gets the same ad on their phone when they next look down. With brand recall still fresh, they get the chance to act on the very same ad they saw in large format only moments ago.

With the sheer scale of data, the intelligence of queries made against that data, and the ad serving technology that can process it all – we are at last able to deliver a consumer the clickable version of the billboard they saw with satisfying accuracy.

The engagements received from this mobile advertising – over and above what would have occurred naturally without the billboard – is the tangible ROI in question that we can now measure with the same accuracy as traditional digital channels; achieving for the first time a true metric that advertisers really can use to justify their spend in Outdoor.

Will Out of Home media survive on its own? Not unless America wipes its $20 trillion in debt and discovers an island of solid gold in the middle of Lake Michigan. Until then, advertisers are going to want results from their media spend, and it’s up to us to get creative in giving it to them.

Mike Gamaroff
Twitter | Facebook | Blog | Instagram

“Second-screen” & “Cross-Screen”: there’s a difference.

Second Screen vs Cross Screen

With mobile converging with other media types so rapidly, it’s easy for new terms to spring up that are sometimes so close that they are used interchangeably. Sometimes this subtle confusion can lead to big misunderstandings about how emerging media is planned and bought.

Two such terms I’ve seen getting mixed up lately are “Second-Screen” and “Cross-Screen”. It’s no secret that mobile is now a powerful extension for online, TV and outdoor media as consumers are increasingly using their devices in almost constant conjunction with these.

Indeed, a new channel has forced its way into the media landscape by embracing mobile and outdoor and combining them to create a powerful hybrid I can only call “Location” for now. This is when mobile devices are used in conjunction with outdoor media types to produce a result that is measurably greater than the sum of the parts – not to mention a level of reporting not possible before.

So the “screens” in question are of course firstly the mobile device – and secondly then the TV, outdoor or desktop screen. “Second-screen” sounds exactly like what it is; an experience in which a consumer uses both screens together. Watching Game of Thrones while snapchatting crucial moments is increasingly commonplace. In outdoor, perhaps a mobile device is used to post an Instagram photo to a Times Square billboard.

A revolution has taken place recently with our old friend, Outdoor. I call it a re-imagination rather than a rejuvenation because the Outdoor of today is so different to what it was only 5 years ago to the point of being barely recognizable. Mobile has changed things entirely. A once almost entirely opaque channel can now be measured in great depth, sales and brand lift clearly mapped and an ongoing relationship with consumers achieved long after they have left the vicinity of the media.

So that brings me to the other one – “Cross-screen”. It is not the same thing. We now know through extensive testing that outdoor (Out Of Home) media acts as a primer for mobile media response and engagement. Folks tend to notice their mobile media more if they’ve seen a billboard beforehand. If you meet someone at an event and you’ve heard their name before, it makes for a smoother introduction. So too if you have seen a brand message in huge full color and then see its diminutive clone at the foot of your mobile app, there’s now a familiarity that we have shown leads people to interact at a higher rate.

So this means the consumer does not need to be viewing the mobile ad in the same place as the Out Of Home billboard for this phenomenon to have an effect. In fact, it can be much later that day when the consumer is in another place entirely that the combined impact of mobile and outdoor can be felt.

This is “cross-screen”: the influence that one screen has on the other. It DOES NOT require that the screens are viewed in conjunction or in the same place. But they are certainly linked, and today’s planning and serving technology can help us do everything from choosing the right audience, targeting on mobile only those who we know were near the outdoor ad and selecting the best time to retarget them.

Outdoor media no longer needs to be challenged on its lack of measurability or effectiveness. To be sure, it was never going to be able to solve its deficiencies alone, but now it has had the sense to embrace a rising titan that is mobile and the result for advertisers is truly exciting to watch.

Mike Gamaroff
Twitter | Facebook | Blog | Instagram

Enter the geo-space age

The media industry is vibrant and growing, but it is also an important driver of the economic recovery. Monthly employment figures serve as indicators of economic health, but the number that really counts is consumer spending. When consumers buy stuff, wealth is circulated and economies grow. Advertising media is the gravitational force that draws consumers still reeling from the 2008 crisis back to the high street.

A comforting term in media is “reach”. It refers to a brand’s ability to expose their message to a consumer at some point in time. Brands want reach, and agencies structure their operation towards providing it. For traditional channels, if a brand can demonstrate they reached a consumer with their message, it’s considered a job well done.

But 2008 forced upon consumers a reality check that has permanently altered their reception of traditional advertising channels, and how they then act on those brand messages. A nervous consumer is harder to persuade, and so that means in 2016 it is simply not enough to get in front of them.

For an emerging media enthusiast, 2016 is proving to be an exciting time of rapid evolution in the advertising media industry. Budding from the crevices of bloated traditional media channels are tech companies who have anticipated these shifts in consumer behavior and are bringing brands into the “geo-space age”.

Geospatial media is the blossoming love-child of established mobile and outdoor channels and is where I see the most promising developments in advertising taking place this year. This is because, as a genetically modified hybrid channel, it is able to more quickly adapt to multi-screen, multi-location behavioral patterns.

Larger agencies are having a hard time coming to grips with the geospatial proposition as it means defying their carefully engineered swim-lanes and bringing about a convergence of more established channels.

But what is becoming quickly clear is that those very demographics who are responsible for driving the economic recovery are consuming media differently and more platform-agnostically than ever, and it is they who have redefined the media industry on our behalf.

The journey of a consumer through the real world as they leave the home, go to work, go out with friends and return home now demands a completely new approach to media strategy that releases the stubborn shackles of channel-silo adherence and embraces geospatial audience data and cross-screen distribution.

Independent and emerging mobile and Out Of Home Adtech companies with an appreciation for audience mobility data are the ones to watch in 2016. These companies are connecting the pipes between channels and finally putting to use the colossal warehouses of data that mobile devices have been collecting for over a decade now.

It is they who are leading the way toward a geo-space age that consumers have been playing in for some years already, and that now awaits only the arrival of innovative brands with a burning desire to shift this improving consumer confidence in their direction.

Mike Gamaroff
Mike Gamaroff

Minority Report – Outdoor Media Tribute

It’s been nearly 14 years since Spielberg’s sci-fi blockbuster about a precognitive crime-prevention police unit burst onto theatre screens around the world. A most original plot about cops who can arrest criminals just before they commit the actual crime, saving lives and transforming law enforcement in the process. What’s not to like?

What astonishes me is just how many other passionate conversations, references and debates this storyline has ignited – which are still raging today, 14 years later. The movie became possibly the most prophetic piece of storytelling I have ever encountered – with precise correlation to the comparatively understated world of media and advertising.

Outdoor ads

The story is littered with “futuristic” outdoor ads

First of all, the whole film seems to be a shout-out to the outdoor media industry. Throughout the story, protagonist John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is constantly confronted with “space age” billboards and digital advertisements that do all kinds of futuristic things like animate, show personalized content and respond to his presence. Fast forward to 2016, well all of these things are not very futuristic at all. In fact, for a movie set in 2054, we are a whopping 38 years ahead of schedule.

Motion sensing responsive

This memorable scene was looked upon with awe in 2002, but now tech like Microsoft Kinect replicates this effect exactly.

Remember the unforgettable scenes where Tom waves his hands in the air and the digital content on the screen magically shifts and sorts – without any physical contact whatsoever. Small glowing sensors on his fingers appear to connect to the screen to allow interaction with the content – but in 2016 we’ve done one better by not even needing the sensors. With technology like Microsoft Kinect, we can achieve this with our bare hands.

Retinal Scanning

Tom has his retinas scanned and the digital screen responds accordingly

You might remember also when Tom walks by some screens, they are able to identify him by his retinas and then show content that is relevant only to him. This inspired a generation of outdoor media enthusiasts, and ever since we’ve been figuring out ways to detect the presence of a consumer and deliver them personalized content.

Contextual content

Today, it is possible to detect a user by their phone and display personalized content

In 2054, the privacy lobby has clearly lost their battle and people appear to have resigned themselves to their identity being owned by the government and corporations. In my view, current privacy sensitivities are the only reason why your retinas are not being scanned when you walk through doors – and nothing to do with lack of available technology. Don’t worry, there are beacons and other signals that can detect your identity via mobile phone and deliver personalized content to screens – we can read your retinas later. Outdoor media 1 – Privacy 0

Contextual Media

Understanding the movement of audiences in the real world allow showing ads that more contextually relevant

There’s the great scene where Tom is shown precise ads that make sense for him, and they even call him out by name. The ability to plan outdoor media based on the kinds of audiences that are present in those areas, even at different times of day, is now possible and consumers will see digital content that matters to them more and more. Relevant ads are powerful ads, and its great that we don’t need to wait another 38 years for this to become a reality.


Hologram technology became possible since the movie came out.

Don’t forget the holograms. Tom is reminded of his tragic past with home movies that come to life in his living room. This, too, has become a reality since the movie was released. In fact, today’s holograms are even better. The ones in the film are not perfectly 3D, acting rather as flat projections on an invisible plane. Today you can encircle the subject and see behind them.

So you see, Minority Report is the Godfather or Citizen Kane of the outdoor advertising industry. The ideas explored in the film probably inspired a generation of marketers to embrace the possibilities of technology and media, and may have even given rise to many of the most impressive developments we have seen in the past few years. It’s time we gave Stephen Spielberg, and more so original author Philip K. Dick, some serious kudos for their part in making outdoor advertising the most evocative, engaging and – at times – controversial medium that exists in media today.

Digital and outdoor: time to call a truce.

When judged by its modest place in the media pecking order, I have long thought outdoor advertising to be a highly underestimated channel. I say this not simply as a subjective personal preference for large colorful squares peppering the city, but rather because of what I have discovered over the years in studying the digital developments in creative, technology, automation and data that have enabled it to become infinitely more valuable in so many crucial respects.

It is through the adoption of digital techniques and technologies that the medium now has a whole new story to tell, and too few advertisers realize that it has been entirely reimagined from its humble beginnings as the first mass-media channel on Earth.

batmanBut I saw Batman vs Superman recently, and it got me to thinking about a similar worrying trend of confrontation where the outdoor community is engaging in an all-out offensive against Digital in an effort to undermine it and claw back lost dollars.

A fine recent example of this, spoken about in this MediaPost article, is when The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) went as far as releasing a scathing white paper designed intentionally to highlight the flaws and disadvantages of Online. While unapologetically self-serving, it was not a malicious smear campaign by any means and it certainly stands up to factual scrutiny – and with all of the integrity that has come to be expected from the association.

However, this rapidly metastasizing  narrative emanating from the outdoor community is a danger to all and not likely to achieve the desired effect of shifting spend away from the golden child of the past two decades and back into the pocket of the estranged ex.

There’s this belief by many traditionalists that online media represents the sexier younger model, and that it will be only a matter of time before advertisers get over their mid-life crisis and return to the only medium that could ever give them what they really need. Like the scorned ex, they have very little nice to say about the new squeeze.

In reality, fighting it will achieve more harm than good. Outdoor becomes truly valuable when it observes the successes of digital and then creatively engineers itself to encompass many of the same principles. The more it becomes a hybrid of old and new, the more it redefines itself and becomes something different altogether – neither digital or outdoor – but something even greater than the sum of the parts.

Outdoor needs digital if it hopes to succeed, and if we continue to develop the channel as the handful of innovators and engineers are doing, the lines between channels will grow increasingly blurry and advertisers will soon invest their money not in these old fashioned silos, but in a collective “solution” that encompasses shared data and insights that are channel-agnostic.

Hurting Digital media is likely to backfire since no lasting progress has ever been made in any sector through bashing the competition. If this is the outdoor industry’s strategy for gaining back its advantage, then I would caution a rethink – opting instead for embracing online and metamorphosing into a hybrid that will result ultimately in a superior medium that boasts the premium impact of traditional outdoor – and the direct response measurability and automation of digital.

It’s time to call a truce, stand down and win the right way.

Mike Gamaroff
Mike Gamaroff

The Eureka Myth Podcast

The year is around 225 BC, and an obscure scientist named Archimedes is preparing his evening bath. He places a foot into the water, and then it strikes him like a yet-to-be-invented freight train. “Eureka!“ was his famous exclamation. “I found it.”

I won’t go into what he found on that defining day for science, just to say that it laid the bedrock for centuries of discovery – and eventually gave us Newton and Einstein.

No, this passage is about “innovation”. What we think it means, what it may actually mean and then how we might achieve it…

DSE 2016 | DOOH Strategy Summit – DOOH Measurement and Interpreting Results

Out Of Home is a medium that has struggled to achieve measurement, ROI and reporting and this has prevented it from becoming a competitive direct-response channel when set against mobile and online. Thankfully, emerging technologies are intersecting with the OOH space and we’re starting to see measurement in exciting and practical new ways.

When faced with dwindling budgets and increasing pressure to prove the value of spending in OOH, we need to embrace these developments and prove how they can be valuable to our clients.

There are cameras now that can tell just how many people walked past our media, how long they spent looking at it, even their age gender and height.

There’s now the availability of mobile data, which can tell how many were exposed to our media, and how many of them went into the nearest point of interest.

OOH media, both traditional and digital, is generally loved by clients, and they’re desperate to find the commercial justification to spend more. And it is up to us as agencies and media owners to innovate and bring new solutions to clients, or face being squeezed out of the media mix.

Join me at the Digital Signage Expo 2016 to hear more about how we are measuring and proving the value of the OOH space.