The Rise of “Outernet” Media

Without question, 2020 and 2021 has been a period of tremendous change. Over the past 15 months since the start of the pandemic, we witnessed centuries-old companies go under seemingly overnight, rock-solid industries that showed no signs of faltering- completely blown out of the water from shifted consumer preferences, and remote work becoming the norm. As the dust begins to settle and we start to go back to a “new normal”, we are starting to gain some visibility in terms of the lasting effects the pandemic will have on life as we know it.

Interestingly enough, we are beginning to see some major indicators that are signalling that “outernet” media is on the rise. This article will discuss what “outernet” media is, what is causing this industry’s growth, and where we see it going in the future.

What is Outernet Media?

So, what is “outernet” media? As the name suggests, “outernet” is the antithesis to “Internet”. Moving Walls defines this medium as “the physical world that ‘Moving Audiences’ interact with when they are not on The Internet”. In many ways, outernet is an umbrella term for any advertisements you see while out and about—much like, if not the same as Out-of-Home (OOH) advertisements. These can come in the form of static or digital billboards, public transport banners, truck side billboards, elevator ads, and so much more. Essentially, it’s any media not consumed on your phone or computer screen.

Across the board, outernet media has been noted as an incredibly powerful primer for mobile campaigns—otherwise categorized as omnichannel advertising. OOH campaign results can be maximized by effectively mapping out your customer’s path to purchase. Over the years, this media channel has evolved in synchronicity with the advancements in technologies and is able to understand and track your audience better than ever before in a similar way Internet analytics do (with unique, industry-specific capabilities, of course). We can see these technologies down to the way in which data and impressions are gathered, retargeting capabilities, dynamic routing in the case of moving ads, and more recently, in the advancements of programmatic digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) through artificial intelligence.

Timeline for the Pandemic’s OOH Advertising Trends

Let us now break down what we’ve seen from outernet media over the course of the pandemic because, in many ways, this has paved the way for the channel’s future opportunities. Without question, the outernet media has struggled for obvious reasons. Nation-wide lockdowns, travel restrictions, and work-from-home—these are all factors that have reduced the number of commuters and foot traffic outside. In 2020, OOH ad spending was reduced by 30% compared to the numbers of 2019.

According to the 2020 data acquired by Outfront Media, “the overall OOH pullback was hardest on Q2 ad spending”. Furthermore, they note that “travel patterns were affected during Q2 and beyond but consumers still traversed markets, staying closer to home initially and then broadening travels even as the pandemic grew leading to OOH spend increases in Q3 and Q4”. To paint the picture, the pandemic first hit in Q2 resulting in a $76 million revenue contraction (see graph below).  By Q3 and Q4, revenues began to recover modestly.

Comparatively to this year’s spending, it was predicted that 2021 would see growth in OOH spending from anywhere between 11-23%. As this article is written in mid-June 2021, OOH ad spend is tracked at a 20% growth rate thus far, compared to that of 2020.

All in all, experts predict that by 2023, OOH ad spending will be fully recovered. Seeing that we are currently in 2021, however, this leaves some glaring opportunities for advertisers looking to stand out and make an impact. This leads us to our next major point, which is the growing digital fatigue rates.

Digital Fatigue

With the onset of COVID and lockdown orders, advertisers have had to recalibrate the way they communicate with their audience. No longer are the bulk of their target audiences commuting to and from work, walking through heavy foot traffic areas daily, or hitting the malls on the weekend. Advertisers needed to reach their customers where they are the majority of their day; at home. More specifically—through their screens.

We saw one of the largest mass-strategic shifts ever with the surge in digital advertising in 2020. It’s noted that 61% of marketers altered their short-term media strategy. However, 9% are making long-term changes. The majority of these altered strategies came in the form of increased digital marketing spending beginning in 2020. According to Staista, from 2019 to 2020, the digital advertising market witnessed a 13% increase in spending. While on the surface this number doesn’t seem too large, considering most industries experienced major contractions, this is actually quite a significant growth. Furthermore, this growth is projected to grow by as big as 92% by 2024 compared to 2019’s numbers.

With this growth comes some significant caveats, albeit. Our lived experience, by and large, is now happening with a screen in front of us. While the long-term effects of what this shift may have on our lives and minds as we know it has yet to be explored, we are beginning to see the first impacts of people’s response to their screens. I’m sure we’ve all felt it! After a long day on the computer, you may start to feel that dip in your energy, hazy mental clarity, and maybe you’ve even started to feel it in your body.  All of these are signs of an increasingly widespread concept called “digital fatigue”.

In many ways, advertisers are overlooking this phenomenon as they continue to ramp up their digital marketing spend. We can actually see this getting played out in the numbers; in comparison to 2014, it takes 10 times the budget to generate 30% of the results in regard to digital advertising. On top of that, social media is seen as trustworthy by just 40% of users in contrast to OOH’s number of 57%. Furthermore, the Google algorithm updates are becoming progressively more selective with their coveted search results. Internet advertising costs are rising, and marketing automation is making brands obnoxious resulting in a compounding effect of digital fatigue.

The Foreseen Growth of Outernet Media

A recent report by the Out of Home Advertising Association of America (OAAA) and a report written by The Harris Poll titled “Consumer Insights & Intent: Q1 2021”, stated that “55% of consumers in big cities are noticing more Out-of-Home (OOH) messaging and signage, compared to the 41% of the general population, while OOH influences 34% of consumers purchasing decisions in big cities.” This presents some major solutions to the digital fatigue their audience is experiencing for advertisers.

In an Insider article, they note that “This year, digital out-of-home (DOOH) ad spending will increase by 1.6%, and in 2021 it will rise by 19.2%. We expect DOOH ad spending to increase from $2.72 billion in 2020 to $3.84 billion in 2023.” Furthermore, “By 2023, 42.0% of all US outdoor ad spending will come from DOOH.”

So why is this the case? Put simply, outernet media cuts through the noise of online marketing. Direct-to-consumer (D2C) advertisers are investing in OOH, as well as TV. This is because they need more reach than what they can get from social and other digital displays.

All this to say, these numbers are subject to change. If this past year and a half has taught us anything, it’s that consumer preferences can change overnight. A big risk in digital marketing is as more and more companies are expanding their presence, this ever-increasing surge in digital fatigue may eventually mean that their ad spend may not be going as far as they’d like—maybe even to a point where it’s almost obsolete.

Wrap Up

While the future isn’t set and there are a lot of unknowns surrounding the future post-COVID, one thing can be said for certain; outernet media is back on the rise. While advertisers are becoming increasingly more creative in their campaigns and how they get their audience’s attention, OOH provides one key feature customers are yearning for—and that is the experience. Whether an eye-catching ad is wrapped around a moving truck, the interior of a bus is displaying an encapsulating banner, or maybe that lively downtown strip is flashing their glittery digital billboards, these creatives are real and tangible.

The customer experience is an area that has left companies puzzled on how to adapt while understanding that people are at home. In a lot of ways, so many have struggled to recreate that simple, yet intrinsic feature that outernet media provides during the pandemic. That’s why we are so excited to see what’s to come for the OOH and outernet media industry in the near future!

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