Marketing | 07 MIN READ

5 Reasons Why Outdoor Advertising is Coming Back

If someone asks you to remember a specific individual advert, or campaign, the chances are you’ll either recall something you saw on TV, or something that jumped out at you in the real world. Maybe some clever billboard ad, or something like the famous Marlboro Man. Conversely, it probably won’t be something you’ve seen online, like a native or banner ad, as these are seen so often but stay in the memory so rarely.

So why has non-digital outdoor advertising stagnated over the past few years, where the spend on online advertising is stratospheric? Well, a lot of this is down to a change in people’s behaviour, as more and more spend their time looking down at screens, rather than up at billboards. Also, with online advertising it’s so much easier to analyse the results, as you get pretty accurate figures on how many people have seen and clicked on your ad. It’s harder to gauge engagement with outdoor ads.

Recently, though, this trend has been changing. As screens, rather than billboards, become more commonplace and advertisers look to broaden their strategies, outdoor ads are making a comeback. Let’s take a look at why you should be considering taking your brand outside.

Room for innovation

There’s something about a physical, outdoor space that really encourages creative minds to think outside the box. With online display advertising, there’s plenty of room to innovate with huge amounts of options in terms of both native and banner advertisements, but they’re always going to lack the context and potential of a fixed outdoor ad campaign, perfectly suited to the surroundings.

There are some fantastic recent examples of this. Reebok ran a campaign here in Stockholm, where they put up a billboard on one of the busiest streets which also had a built in speedometer.

If you ran past it at over 17 kilometers an hour, you got a free pair of Reebok’s latest running trainers. It’s a simple enough concept, but it could only be done outside, and generated a huge buzz for the brand. Of course, it’s difficult to say how successful it was in terms of return on investment (ROI), but Reebok got huge brand exposure for the campaign, including a lot of coverage in advertising magazines.

In addition to this, recently brands have been using digital connected billboards with built-in tech which means they display different ads based on the actions of the local audience. The one which was most widely reported on was a Danone campaign, where the billboard changed based on the speed of the traffic and weather.

For the speed based messages, they had four different displays based on the overall speed of the traffic, so they were all hyper relevant and the drivers who were using the same route every day will have noticed the fact that they change, as although the designs are consistent, the images represented the speed brackets.

If the traffic was gridlocked, the picture would be someone waiting in traffic, looking bored. If it was going fast, the image was of someone spilling coffee on themselves in a car. Very imaginative, and directly relatable to their audience.

All of this is a great combination of using new tech, specific outdoor spaces, and creative ideas. The only minor downfall here is that it’s not really possible to gauge an accurate ROI yet, but that’s being worked on by a number of companies already. With the freedom and creative flexibility, and reliable metrics to come, it’s easy to see why more companies are looking outdoors to make a big impression.

Programmatic capabilities

In online display advertising, programmatic is a really big deal. It’s changed the way companies buy inventory, and revolutionised the way they can target campaigns. Now, it’s having a huge impact on out of home advertising as well.

As billboards become digital, connected, living things, programmatic functionality enables them to stay hyper relevant based on where they are, and what’s happening nearby.

The charity Missing People used this to great effect in the UK. Marketing Week interviewed the director of fundraising, Ross Miller, about their approach here. Essentially, they were using programmatic digital billboards in cities around the UK for targeted appeals, in order to get people to sign up to help find missing children. They saw a huge spike in sign ups over the period of the campaign, so it was a huge success.

They embraced programmatic because when it comes to missing persons, live updates and real-time localisation are essential, so it was the perfect fit. It will work for any industry, though, as both digital displays and programmatic advertising are so flexible. All it takes is one great idea, which is well executed.

Growth industry

Money isn’t everything, but it’s always a good sign when an entire industry is showing steady growth. Although the traditional, non-digital out of home advertising has been static for a few years, the use of digital has really given outdoor advertising a boost, as spend on this has been steadily increasing for a number of years. The projection for total spend on outdoor advertising is set to rise above $40 billion by 2020, which is huge.

This is partly down to outdoor digital screens becoming so much more common, and also more advanced in terms of the tech. The advent of the internet of things (IOT) means that there are so many more connected devices sending and receiving super granular info, which can then be used to help you decide where and when to place your digital billboard ad, and what to show on it. This is also how the billboards that change their message work.

So although the tech isn’t too costly, brands are spending more and more on it because it can be so effective, and get so much attention both from the audience and the press. The chances are, if you’re not investing in this, your competitors are, and you don’t want to be left behind.

Brand awareness

We’ve already touched on this a little, but some of the most famous, memorable ads have been from outdoor campaigns. There’s the infamous Marlboro Man as mentioned earlier, the ad displays in downtown Tokyo and London’s Piccadilly Circus which are synonymous with the cities, and then the more memorable, temporary ads that make a big impression. Ones like this, that really play with the format, are particularly effective.

These are the kind of ads that really capture the attention of the public, and of many media outlets. While figures on ROI might be limited at the moment, outdoor advertising is amazing for increasing brand awareness when it’s done right. Here are a few great examples in the last couple of years which also show how the digital and physical can combine to great effect, even using Augmented Reality.

When brands stand out like this, using innovative techniques and technology, they really grab the public consciousness. This is a massive bonus for any ad campaign, as people will talk about it, and share it on social media. Once you have the engagement, your chances of converting these people into customers is so much higher.

Works in harmony with digital strategy

With digital billboards being so common, it’s now simpler than ever to combine your online display advertising with your outdoor efforts. Whether this is an approach you want to take is up to you, and really depends on the aims of your campaign, but now you can create a really consistent, eye catching campaign which can be in front of your audience wherever they are.

This is particularly effective for ad campaigns where the aims are more about awareness than conversion. If you take a charity as an example, trying to raise awareness about animal cruelty. The digital billboards could show striking images or videos, and based on location too. Then the audience sees them, but maybe forgets a few minutes later. Then, later, they see the same images when browsing on their tablet, but with more info and a call to action to donate.

This triggers the earlier memory, reinforces it, and makes them much more likely to pay attention to the ad online, and more likely to engage with it. This can work with any sort of campaign. Create the curiosity and intrigue on the outdoor displays, and follow it up with your audience online when they’re at home. It means you can be in front of them at a few different points during the day, but in a more subtle, passive way.

If done well, this is a really effective way to hold your audience’s attention while being able to convert a higher number into eventual customers.


Outdoor ads may have been stagnating on the financial side for a while, but they’ve always been flourishing with creativity. Now, with digital displays, AR, and advancing tech, the spending is steadily increasing too. Taking your ads out on to the streets really broadens the possibilities for what you can do with an ad campaign, and can reignite your creative flames.

This, along with the programmatic capabilities now available for outdoor advertising, makes the amount of opportunities available to marketers almost endless.

Whether you’re tying it in with your banner ad campaigns, or doing something completely new and different, now is a good time to look into grabbing your audience’s attention when they are away from their own screens, as long as it suits the goals of your campaign.

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