Taking the Contextual Revolution Outdoor

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By Stuart Taylor, CEO of Kinetic UK

Out-of-home (OOH) is set to deliver marketers and their agencies some significant new opportunities, as digital technology improves our ability to offer contextual advertising.

This development has already transformed digital advertising. It’s no longer note-worthy to spot an ad on Facebook for a product we spent time researching online the day before. Bringing contextualisation to OOH offers similar possibilities in a slightly different way – we can use appropriate data to increase an ad's relevance, based directly on the context around the interaction between consumer and location.

Kinetic’s partnership with Exterion Media, signed earlier this year, is a landmark in this OOH revolution. The initiative will lead to beacons being sited across the UK rail, bus and Underground network, and Westfield shopping centres.

Beacons act as a digital conduit between passengers and shoppers' mobile phones and the posters they pass by, allowing us to send tailored notifications to mobiles. We could also, for example, customise the digital OOH creative depending on a passing shopper's app usage (have they downloaded vouchers, for example, or already been to a rival's store?).

It's an exciting prospect but needs testing. We want to trial the best uses of beacons and look at what works for both advertisers and consumers.

Exterion is also working with app producers Proxama and Mapway in a collaboration that will offer iOS-using bus passengers real-time travel updates and contextual in-app ads via the Bus Times London app. Android users are already able to access this.

There are also huge possibilities for using aggregated customer data to underpin the creative on OOH ads. Taxi Trails in Stockholm, for example, incorporates journey data to let passengers know of the most-visited places in the city in the form of ads in the taxi. This kind of information use offers so much potential for advertisers to incorporate into the creative of campaigns to elevate their appeal.

It's the kind of thing Google does well with the Popular Times element on its search facility. This gives people searching for info on public venues like restaurants an idea of when it is at its busiest – using location data culled from Google Maps users. It's not hard to see how this kind of anonymised data could be employed in OOH ads to show consumers other useful information relevant to their location/occasion.

Real-time social data is making an impact creatively in OOH too. Recently we worked with Unilever’s Lynx brand to drive awareness around the hugely important, but rarely mentioned issue of male suicide.

To illustrate how much society ignores the topic, we mined social media and paired the latest, comparatively trivial, trending topics with the rarely mentioned killer, distributing the content to a multitude of screens in real-time using our in house content management system D:Four. Mirroring the rate at which men in the UK commit suicide and in line with changing social trends, the data updated every two hours.

The other major way that digital contextual data is set to transform OOH is via programmatic advertising. Although this is still early days, it is already happening on a small scale. Being able to serve adds automatically informed by live audience data will transform how we buy DOOH and will have significant impact in the near future.

But amongst all this excitement about digital potential for contextualising with immediate customer data, it's important not to lose sight of established OOH. Sites don’t need to be digital to deploy beacon tech and it’s still hard to argue with the scale, reach and frequency of paper-and-paste posters.

Despite all the increasingly available technology to enhance our ability to contextualise ads, sometimes all that is needed is a clever way to tie an ad in to a relevant current or recent event. Knowing millions of commuters would be looking for alternative ways of getting home, deodorant brand Sure took advantage of a recent London Underground tube strike to promote its products on digital screens around the capital with quirky creative referencing the strike. It generated buzz on the streets and online demonstrating the power of an ad that links to the world around it.

So while context may have already made a direct impact across other advertising disciplines, it’s now OOH’s turn to embrace and exploit contextual advertising for its brands and consumers.