Today (12 April) is a significant date for the out-of-home advertising industry, which is primed to react to the rise in activity triggered by the reopening of outdoor hospitality and the return of non-essential retail.
Richard Bon, UK managing director of Clear Channel, told Campaign: "Non-essential retail opening will not only have a positive impact on high street footfall but on OOH audience numbers in general, as the industry continues to shift from resilience to renaissance.”
According to joint research by Clear Channel and JCDecaux, outdoor advertising audience numbers are expected to recover as a percentage of their pre-pandemic levels. From today, they are estimated to reach 68% for street furniture and 65% for malls, and from 21 June, assuming that reality matches the roadmap, they should hit 100% for street furniture and 90% for malls.
Mark Bucknell, chief commercial officer at JCDecaux, anticipates that today will be a "milestone moment" with people starting to return to doing the things that they have missed.
He added: "This is great news for Out-of-Home which continues to be the big reach medium, the powerful public screen that throughout the pandemic has brought key messaging to the public, it is the trusted medium that makes the private screen work harder. And thanks to investment in digital screens, data and delivery, it provides exciting flexible, digital capabilities that brands need as they emerge from lockdown."
Gill Reid, head of out of home at MediaCom, is also confident about the return of outdoor audiences, citing that predictions can be supported by data from previous lockdowns.
She said: "We've seen how people have acted during lockdowns and when we've emerged from lockdowns, which gives us something to base our assumptions on. As an industry, we've also started to use mobile data more significantly, which allows us to understand more about our audiences."
Reid believes the road back to normality will be all the smoother for brands having been able to plan in confidence that if there are unexpected changes the media owners have policies in place that will ensure they continue to see the same return on media investment.
European shopping centre operator Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW), which owns Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City, is expecting its UK ad sales to recover to pre-pandemic levels in Q3 and Q4 2021.
Chris Lynham, head of media and client operations UK/Europe at URW, explained: "This is in anticipation of a strong returning audience, a reflection of the craving for retail experiences in real life and the confidence in the safety measures Westfield has put in place."
Advertisers are able to link their activity on the JCDecaux-represented digital screens at Westfield to real-time footfall levels thanks to a partnership with Cloud & Compass' self-serve media buying and creative platform, StoreBoost.
The O2’s Icon Outlet is another retail destination ready to welcome shoppers back. Nathan Kosky, vice president of global partnerships at The O2, said: "We are relatively new to OOH so Covid has paused things for us like many, but now we are gearing up for a strong restart with a fresh offering of DOOH screens and we now have dedicated OOH staff to maximise what we think is a unique opportunity to capture shoppers, entertainment seekers and gig-goers all in one place and the opportunity to reach specific demographics within event periods."
Digital outdoor’s benefits have become more widespread during the pandemic, with Clear Channel for example having continued to invest in the expansion of Adshel Live, comprised of 2,500 screens within walking distance of over 50,000 high street retailers. Clear Channel's Bon claims local high streets will still be a "key battleground for brands".
Looking ahead, Reid said that the industry’s working assumption is that by June the UK’s streets will be as busy as they were before the pandemic. This will be supported by the return to work even if office attendance is on a flexible basis.
"I think that from a bad situation that OOH was in, we've exited [the lockdown] in a really positive way. We've really good data sources, great collaboration, and a feeling of renewed confidence. The fact is OOH is now back and doing what it does best."