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When Covid’s treacherous waters begin to calm, OOH needs to keep on surfing…

Article by
Daniel Carey

Daniel Carey reflects on how the OOH industry adapted to the pandemic, accommodating rapidly changing audience behaviours and supporting brands to achieve results through the medium.

Agility. Its importance became abundantly clear to me as I took part in a surfing lesson whilst on holiday in Cornwall last weekend. Lining up my board to face the beach, I got ready to push myself up onto its slippery spine, confident that despite being a complete novice, I would take to the waves like Disney’s Moana. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, it only took approximately 0.3 seconds before I was tumbling through the wash with all the grace of a sock on laundry day, wondering where it all went wrong. It’s not like I was defeated by a wall of water either, as I’d seen my son send bigger waves my way from the steps at his nursery. The problem was me. My inexperience. My inability to react and adapt quickly to the challenges coming my way.

Why am I writing about this you may wonder? Well, as I drove home, my mind returned to work and the challenges that the OOH industry that I work in has faced over the last 6 months. When COVID-19 first hit back in March, we all hoped for both our lives and our livelihoods that it would be over quickly. But this first wave wasn’t the small ripple that sent me nose first into the Cornish sand a few days earlier, it was a tsunami, one that we are still feeling the effects of now and will continue to do so for some time, no doubt. 

Thankfully, unlike my rigid, sluggish attempts to surf, the OOH industry has managed to adapt and stay afloat in COVID’s treacherous waters, and I have to say I’m incredibly proud to be part of a sector that has reacted so quickly, effectively and collaboratively during these incredibly trying circumstances.  There’s been the changes to cancellation terms to reassure clients that the OOH industry will work with them in the case of a sudden lockdown or business need. Pricing has been adapted to consider current audience delivery, rather than predicted numbers through Route. Mobile data has been used to regularly provide a consistent picture of audience behaviour, keeping brands and agencies abreast of what people are doing OOH. Planning too has evolved accordingly, with real time, or near real time data more consistently underpinning recommendations based on the changing routes, and routines, of people as they head outdoors. 

Mango Bikes – Targeting audience hot spots and cycling routes across London

Our Mango Bikes ‘Commutercising’ activity with JKO and JCDecaux is one such campaign that has benefited from OOH’s agile response to the pandemic. After an initial pre-COVID proposal, we were able to re-plan and importantly, re-price the post-COVID recommendation using the latest mobile audience data to optimise the efficiency and effectiveness for the client.  Then, when the pandemic caused last minute stock delays just before launch, we were able to maximise the opportunity for the brand by moving the activity back into a period when stock levels had returned. 

These may sound like small points, but this would not have been so easily possible 6-months earlier and as an advertising channel, it cannot be underestimated how important it is that now more than ever, OOH is seen as a simple, accountable, and effective medium to invest in. The first wave of a horrible pandemic may have accelerated us getting to this point, but as things calm and we slowly return to the ‘new normal’, OOH’s flexibility and togetherness needs to remain so no matter how challenging the conditions are in the future, we’re standing tall, ready to surf.