Digital has teased and threatened to bring an air of much-needed sexiness to outdoor for some time now, but last week, when the Outdoor Advertising Association announced a leap in digital ad revenue of 79 per cent in the second quarter, it finally seemed to have delivered.
Although some of the big players are keen to stress that the £27.2 million spent on digital in the quarter is still only 12.8 per cent of outdoor spend, digital is by far the fastest-growing part of the sector and has the potential to offer new creative opportunities to advertisers.
The past year has seen a rapid expansion in digital, at least in part because the unorthodox formats offered by the likes of Avanti and Streetbroadcast have been supplemented by more regular sixand 48-sheets: formats that creative and media agencies are more familiar with.
Though there is still a London bias, digital opportunities outside of the capital are growing, and the Manchester and Glasgow city screens have been joined by national six-sheet networks in shopping centres and networks in petrol stations and salons.
Challengers such as Ocean Outdoor, which specialises in premium large sites, and Digicom, the sales house for Sir Alan Sugar's Amscreen, have bolstered their presence in the market and are selling campaigns to established brands.
Advertisers are starting to use digital outdoor to its full potential: a recent campaign for Ford Galaxy created by Ogilvy, with media by Kinetic and Mindshare, targeted both men and their children by splitting six-sheets at JCDecaux's shopping centres and airports. And Wieden & Kennedy worked with the digital outdoor production agency Grand Visual, Mindshare and Kinetic to serve Nike ads that reflected the result of England games during this summer's Fifa World Cup - the only hiccup being the scores.
Contractors argue that digital outdoor is a vibrant alternative that targets a young audience. But do advertisers agree that each of the larger outdoor media owners is offering much by way of innovation?
1. JCDecaux is the largest player in out-of-home in the UK and its digital footprint was recently bolstered by the addition of the assets of Titan Outdoor in January. JCDecaux offers roadside 48-sheets, more than 200 digital six-sheets in malls and train stations, 17 Transvision screens in rail stations and a wide range of digital formats in its airports. Sky News has been shown on JCDecaux's Transvision and 48-sheet roadside for more than 18 months, and in a deal with Conde Nast, content from Wired magazine will run on roadside and rail screens throughout August.
2. CBS Outdoor got off to a head start on the digital front, pioneering formats such as the digital escalator panels and digital four-sheets on the London Underground. There are now almost 2,000 digital sites on the Underground, including 48-sheet cross-track projectors.
Recent campaigns on the London Underground include Coca-Cola's Vitaminwater ads running up escalators, static ads as part of Sky's Eric Cantona-led campaign for Sky Sports and animated ads for the film Step Up 3D.
3. Clear Channel's digital offering includes 11 digital 48-sheets on London roadsides, 140 digital six-sheets in shopping centres and two digital screens at Piccadilly Circus, including the only part of the iconic Piccadilly Circus sign that can be booked on a short-term basis.
Brands such as Marks & Spencer are using Clear Channel's digital outdoor in the same way they use fashion magazines because of the high production value it offers. "We're always looking at investing in our existing portfolio and exploring new environments," Rob Atkinson, the managing director of Clear Channel UK, says.
4. Smaller players are also investing in digital. "The growth is partly because there are more networks," Chris Forrester, the managing director of sales and marketing at Digicom, says. "There's more digital out there and there's a growing awareness of the opportunities. Advertisers are looking at formats that didn't exist."
While the Amscreen format has its detractors, its point-of-sale positioning has attracted clients such as Budweiser and Kia. Ocean Outdoor and Primesight both focus on the premium end of the market and operate in several locations.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- There are examples of good use of digital, but many clients do not use it to its full potential. "Too often, I see a TV ad or a static print ad clumsily adapted to fit the digital format," Jon Forsyth, a founding partner of Adam & Eve, says.
- Although media owners have conducted research into digital - Kinetic and Clear Channel showed consumers react better to ads that have subtle movement, rather than full motion - more must be done.
- Neil Morris, the founder of Grand Visual, says: "The major media owners actually have stepped up over the past 12 months in terms of ambition for flexibility, willingness to deliver complex campaigns and ability to do so. But there is still a gap in understanding at some creative agencies."
- As an incentive to trial digital formats, Ocean Outdoor is launching a competition for creative agencies, which Tim Bleakley, its chief executive, hopes will "encourage entrants to stretch the creative boundaries of digital" in order to win £250,000 of media space.
- Digital outdoor is an expensive way to deliver posters but it allows outdoor media owners to tap into short-term ad budgets.
- While there have been technical issues on most formats, these are being ironed out, and revenue in the past three months suggests the market is confident of media owners' ability to deliver campaigns.
- It is important, however, that media owners ensure their digital outdoor revenue does not cannibalise their core income and are careful not to invest in formats and locations that cannot be monetised.
- Carolyn Nugent, the head of digital at Kinetic, says the next big thing in digital outdoor will be "augmented reality", and the independent media owner Limited Space has recently signed a deal with the US company Monster Media to offer fully interactive ads in shopping centres.