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COVID-19 Transforms Out-Of-Home Advertising Economic crisis and pandemics like these breed incredible opportunities and this is one such opportunity for the OOH advertising industry to relearn and transform.

By Gautam Bhirani

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Wojtek Witkowski on Unsplash

Who would have thought while welcoming 2020 that it would change the definition of life, from fighting the daily rat race, combatting Monday blues to being confined in our homes with our families having real conversations, and cherishing those little things that we all took for granted in a free world. The ongoing pandemic has slowed us down, given us time to introspect on a lot of things and re-imagine our lives and businesses.

Looking back at my 12 years of entrepreneurship in the out-of-home (OOH) advertising industry, reading well-articulated pieces on digital transformation and its impact across various sectors and our daily lives, as Reliance says "JIO Digital Life", I feel it's time when technology is going to transform old businesses and give life to new innovations creating a world which is more digital and connected than ever before.

OOH: threat or opportunity?

With social distancing and self-quarantine being the new normal, impacting traffic and mobility, one of the most affected industries is OOH advertising. Known as the oldest form of advertising and the only form of traditional advertising which maintained a steady growth curve despite the constantly evolving media landscape, fuelled by advancements in technology and changing consumer behaviour at a rapid pace, this crisis will have a huge impact on OOH advertising globally.

Being an optimist, as I watch the world implode right now, there has to be some good that can come out of this pandemic once the dust settles. Economic crisis and pandemics like these breed incredible opportunities and this is one such opportunity for the OOH advertising industry to relearn and transform how the medium is perceived, seen and bought.

DOOH 2020: utility & societal messaging

With DOOH (digital OOH) predicted to be the key growth driver for OOH advertising, the industry was already in the mid of digital transformation before the pandemic hit us. Over the last 18-24 months, the number of digital displays increased at a rapid pace in controlled environments such as airports, business hubs, railways, malls and F&B, among others, and municipal corporations seemed receptive and proactive more than ever before in making cities neater and smarter with modern digital infrastructure.

This pandemic and economic crisis has halted the digitization drive for sure, but it has also opened doors for introduction of new technologies and displays. Keeping public safety in mind, as we move towards more relaxed restrictions with social distancing and hygiene being the order of the day, more smart utility-digital displays are likely to emerge out of this emergency in public places delivering safety guidelines equipped with facial-identity scanners, thermal detectors, automatic sanitizers, cue management platforms across congregation points such as retail, transit, hospitality, banking and education sectors. This influx of DOOH-utility infrastructure could help boost the digitization drive in the country and create a new opportunity for the OOH Industry.

OOH will bounce back smarter with data, technology and DOOH

With restricted movement and a life far from social in an intra-Covid world, as malls, high-street, office, pub and restaurant gates out of bounds, our lives out of home will not be the same for a while. Furthermore, the market uncertainty and debilitating economic crisis due to the pandemic have complicated the estimations and future for the OOH advertising industry. However, unprecedented times like these call for stop-gap measures and this crisis will in fact bring that much-awaited data driven technological shift in the OOH advertising ecosystem, making it even more powerful as a medium and more effective for marketers in the long run.

Audience: the new currency

OOH advertising has always been pitched and sold on very different rationales like sq. ft and preferred media formats typically based on a sheer volume of impressions which has led to questions on its effectiveness, measurability, and return on investment, especially in recent times as new media channels evolve. Amid the pandemic-induced restrictions, both traffic and footfalls will surely dip considerably, but there will be an audience out of home to reach out to even if it is 15-25 per cent or a 40 per cent. This is a great opportunity for the industry to regroup and move possibly two years ahead and in the right direction by adapting an 'audience-first' approach by providing cost effective impression-based solutions to marketers complimenting digital advertising parameters with actionable audience insights using audience measurement technology available at large today. This will require a complete restructuring of both planning-buying methodology and embark OOH's new journey where planning starts with the audience as basis.

Unlocking the new consumer with data & technology

Fuelled by technological advancements as more devices connect with the power of Internet-of-things, location-based mobile data can bridge the gap between digital-physical worlds and converging them can give us holistic consumer insights. As we adapt to the pandemic induced lifestyle changes often termed as "The New Normal', it is constantly impacting consumer behaviour, sentiment and journey which makes it imperative for us to learn and integrate these learnings in OOH planning. Detailed analysis of mobile data that determine brand affinity, interests, preferences, income size, gender, commute patterns, dwell time in the online and offline world can help identify locations for OOH placement and mobile device IDs can be used to retarget the consumer.

Flexibility, speed and context with DOOH

With global industry leaders and marketers so bullish on DOOH, what makes it so powerful that it is considered as one of the most powerful advertising mediums? It is the ability of DOOH to broadcast content digitally like mobile using multiple parameters in a real-world context to a larger audience. DOOH being the only form of digital advertising that is beyond a consumer's personal devices bridges an important gap in brand engagement across multiple channels and devices.

DOOH is likely to emerge as the biggest disruptor and will help the OOH advertising community in times like these. As lockdown eases out in phases with more people stepping out of home curious, anxious and cautious DOOH will play a very big role in keeping the public aware and informed by broadcasting public safety measures and defining the 'new normal' across congregation touch points. Globally this trend has picked up where governments are embracing the power of DOOH, driving social initiatives keeping its public aware, informed and connected. Trump's Death Clock Tower at Times Square in New York, Queens address at Piccadilly Square in London, Sending Love, Salute The Heroes are some of the initiatives that have brought DOOH into the spotlight making it more powerful connecting with urban populations like never before. This will bring context to the medium transforming it into a highly valuable content marketing platform, flexibility factor of DOOH will further add value as campaigns can be switched on and off at any given point of time, messages can change dynamically and broadcasted during specific hours when audiences are likely to be out of home making it cost effective – measurable with zero spill over. With both DSP's and SSP'S investing heavily in making DOOH more connected and available online through programmatic buying platforms this will further enhance omnichannel audience targeting opportunities in a measurable and an effective way.

The New Normal

Advertising's relationship with GDP is strong, but a slowdown in economic output as a result of the virus will not necessarily translate into no advertising. With changing consumer behaviour new advertiser categories will emerge, brands will invest and look at long term impact but moving forward marketers will be more watchful than ever before accounting for every dollar spent. Media channels that can provide flexibility, accountability and connect with audiences in context will sail through this crisis. In the case of Traditional OOH, transforming from square feet-media format cost methodology to audience-location driven price model backed by actionable audience insights and adapting DOOH in collaboration with digital specialists is going to be the need of the hour, with "quantify to qualify' being the New Normal.

Gautam Bhirani

Managing Director, Eyetalk Media Ventures

An ex sportsman and a college dropout who left home at the age of 18, Gautam Bhirani made headlines with his maiden venture at 23, hit rock bottom at 27 and ended up building one of India’s largest and most talked about integrated digital media companies of the country.

A marketer at heart and an Entrepreneur by choice, Gautam Bhirani is a well-established Out of Home advertising specialist. Starting out young at the age of 23, in his 12 years long journey in the advertising industry he has established his presence in India’s flourishing media & advertising industry with his leadership roles & award-winning innovative platforms. A 40 under 40 & Youth Icon awardee, Gautam is recognized as one of the Most Influential Leaders in the OOH Advertising Industry and his contributions have been extensively appreciated by leading Indian and international business media journals.

Using his deep understanding of OOH landscape, evolving technology and its implications on consumers in digital world, Gautam launched Eyetalk Media Ventures in 2016-17 which also marked his foray as an investor. With over 2,000 content driven live displays, reaching 3 million urban Indians daily with socially connected DOOH - TagTalk and real-time business network Biztalk, EMV is India's largest integrated DOOH media companies today providing consumer engagement platforms to urban ecosystems. Leading India’s OOH digital transformation journey from the front, Eyetalk Media Ventures with its disruptive platforms has enabled convergence of both digital and physical worlds using IoT driven state of the art tech infrastructure.

As a strategic advisor, he has closely worked with organizations from India, Europe and South Asia including top corporates like Reliance Industries. He has been actively involved in contractual consulting and been a trusted counsel for media start-ups in the country.

Being an animal lover, Gautam is actively involved in animal welfare and has been supporting various NGOs and Animal Shelters providing medical aid, food and boarding. When he is not wracking his brain over work, Gautam enjoys reliving his passion for cricket, an ex-sportsman he keeps himself fit by practicing calisthenics and unwinds his day on the piano.


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