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
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