A Look Into the UK’s OOH Scene

By many global measures, the UK is one of the top-performing advertising sectors in the world. According to official UK Government data released in February 2020, advertising and marketing generate Gross Value Added (GVA) of £18.6 billion! The UK is a hub for innovative advertising, especially when it comes to Out-of-Home. Recently, UK advertising companies have been integrating a lot of digitally-driven programmatic ads into their subway ads – including audio OOH ads. In this article, we’ll take a look at what drives the UK OOH advertising scene and what innovations they’ve created that have impacted the OOH medium globally.

OOH News In Britain

It’s no surprise that consumer behaviours have changed drastically due to the pandemic. Many have decided to adapt to these changes and make them part of their everyday lives, even after the pandemic. According to Posterscope, a global location-marketing and OOH firm based in the UK, 70% of UK consumers say they now pay more attention to what is going on around them, particularly in their local areas (65%), making them value outdoor space more than before the pandemic struck. Many consumers are now hyper-aware of the changes that occur within their neighborhoods – since that’s where they’ve been spending all of their time over the past year and a half. Furthermore, two-thirds (64%) say that lockdown has made them realise the importance of their local high street, while half (50%) believe they now have a stronger emotional connection with their local community. These statistics have created a push for UK OOH advertisers to think about targeting consumers more locally. A lot more OOH advertisements have been placed around peoples local grocery stores, gas stations, and parks, in order to target people where they are. These ads are also being created to get consumers excited or engaged about localized products and services – things that consumers find important and enticing right now. According to Posterscope, this is “largely because consumers have more confidence in brands currently using the medium and being proactive in turbulent times. Simultaneously, outdoor advertising has a strong community connection”.

OOH Supports NHS Workers

Despite everyone being forced to stay indoors, OOH advertising actually ended up playing a pivotal role during the pandemic to show support for all of the healthcare workers during such crucial times. The medium “provided a platform for smart, empathetic communications to reach audiences at a time when fear and uncertainty were very real in our daily lives.” Instead of cancelling and forgetting about OOH ads and the complete shutdown of the country, UK advertisers decided to capitalize on OOH and use it to their advantage.

An image of multiple DOOH signs beside a highway created by ClearChannel.

One of the largest UK OOH advertising companies, ClearChannel, created an OOH campaign to support NHS workers. They set up signs all over the UK that read words of encouragement and thanks such as, “Key workers, thanks for keeping Britain ticking!”, and, “Give our NHS better odds, stay at home this weekend.”. The UK organization, Outsmart, created a very similar campaign creating large DOOH billboards on busy streets that read things like, “Thank you to our bin collectin’ heroes,” and, “Thank you to our patient carin’ heroes”.

An image of a large DOOH billboard made by PaddyPower. It's bright green.

Similarly, Engine UK created an OOH ad campaign called, “#WarOnCOVID19”. The campaign was made up of clever posters that included basic guidelines for handwashing and social distancing, while also reinforcing the rules around what people shouldn’t be doing during the pandemic. These designs were free to use for anyone wanting to donate screen time for an inventive take on COVID-19 PSAs.

DOOH Ads Are All The Rage

Digitally-driven OOH ads have become increasingly popular all over the world for the past few years. However, the UK has some of the leading DOOH ad companies in the world – including JCDecaux and Clearcode – which means that they’re the ones that are at the forefront of some of the most unique and inspiring DOOH ad campaigns.

A DOOH sign for McDonald's new frozen drinks with the temperature of Manchester on it.

For example, last year McDonald’s created a dynamic DOOH ad campaign in order to promote their new summertime drinks in the UK. McDonald’s placed digital signage all over the UK and when the temperature rose above 22 degrees Celsius, the relevant ad creative would play featuring their new strawberry lemonade or “millionaire’s Frappe” drinks. What’s even more impressive, is that if the temperature rose to above 25 degrees Celsius, the ad would automatically update to include the city name and current temperature in real time. Providing relevant and timely advertising like this not only makes consumers more likely to buy the product, but also provides a more personal and intuitive touch with each city name being highlighted. 

An image of a DOOH billboard for Google with a bunch of kids on it jumping into a pool with a google search on it.

Another example is the campaign that Google created a couple of summers ago in the UK in order to boost user engagement. The, “Make the Most of Summer,” campaign included DOOH ads all over Britain that centered around the experience of summer and emphasized the Google Search and Maps functions. The DOOH ads would display things like, “The best ice cream in Glasgow,” or, “Parks near me.” Each DOOH ad was customized, displaying different and unique functions for each. In places like London and Manchester, Google placed full-motion sites that featured the results for search terms, business hours, star ratings, and map directions. Some of them even changed depending on the time of day or local weather conditions. Creating a DOOH campaign that helps people to make the most of their summer months while outside is definitely something that people care about and want to engage with.

A DOOH ad for Audi that's been placed in rush hour traffic with all the sensory signs.

One last contextually-relevant DOOH ad campaign was created by Audi in order to keep people safe on the roads and to highlight the safety features of Audi vehicles. The campaign uses traffic, time, and weather data to trigger content that’s relevant at each of the 211 digital OOH locations. For example, when the weather is bad, the ads showcase messaging that displays Audi’s all-wheel drive features and capabilities. The campaign runs off of OpenLoop, a platform that analyzes UK transport API’s and weather data and then triggers the relevant creative at each location. With something like traffic, where knowing exactly what’s going on in front of you and around you, data-driven and contextually relevant advertising is extremely beneficial. Not only was this campaign successful in helping passersby drive safely, it also made them think about all the benefits that an Audi has to offer.

New and Noteworthy: Programmatic Advertising

OOH advertisers have taken the time during the pandemic to create new strategies to reach consumers. Included in these strategies, are the many technological advancements that have been made in order to target people’s behaviors, work schedules, transit usage, and more. All of these aspects of the way we live have had to be reimagined by advertisers in order to continue to reach people in the most effective way possible. In the UK, that has included programmatic advertising. According to The Creative Industries Council, the UK is the continent’s centre of mobile and app development, and a rapidly expanding hub for programmatic media trading and technologies such as virtual reality, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence. Advertisers now need ads to be highly creative, contextual, and geographically relevant in order to keep up with consumer behaviours and patterns. Things like rush hour are going to look very different, especially now that a lot of companies have adopted work-from-home attitudes. With programmatic advertising, media buyers and advertisers are able to buy Digital OOH ad placements with a click of a button, displaying contextually-relevant ads right when consumers need to see it most.

For example, Global, the leading UK outdoor advertising company, has recently significantly increased their digital inventory available to programmatic buyers. They created a digital advertising exchange, called DAX, back in 2014 and the platform has become the world’s largest programmatic trading platform for digital audio and outdoor inventory. Recently, Global has added the London Underground and National Rail to its programmatic platform, which will allow access to full-motion video through programmatic advertising, for the first time! As things begin to return to normal this summer, more commuters will be on the subways and trains, which means more eyes on the advertisements in these key locations. Brands are looking to build reach and awareness once again and the most effective way to do this going forward, is through programmatic platforms like DAX.

Wrap Up

The world around us is always rapidly changing, which means that ad companies are always having to keep up with consumers. However, the UK is somehow almost always able to stay ahead of the curve with their innovative and technologically-driven ads. A lot of UK advertising companies are beginning to see the importance of contextually relevant OOH ads in today’s society – with a high percentage of them investing in programmatic platforms. If there’s anything to take away from the expertise of the English, it’s that OOH, DOOH, and programmatic advertising is about to take off in a big way!

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