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

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