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Digital OOH is Reaching the Tipping Point, But No Transformation in Sight at Cannes

Dan Dawson, Chief Creative Technology Officer, Grand Visual   |   04th July 2017

This year, whilst many battled for a drink at the Gutter Bar during the world’s largest gathering of advertising professionals, I opted to review the creative, and conduct my Cannes analysis from the comfort of my own back garden, Pimms in hand.

As my major area of interest is Digital Outdoor, I was keen to check out this year’s winners and to see if the creativity festival had evolved since my less than complimentary review for 2016. This year, I was particularly interested to see if the awards would capture the creative evolution of this fast-growth medium as it continues its transformation from static branding channel, to dynamic, data-led, contextual, scalable, and interactive conduit.

Advertisers have begun to look at the medium through a new strategic lens and the last 12 months have generated a great body of work showcasing the medium’s expanding communication potential. Strong examples of creative optimisation and AI are breaking through as the medium continues to march towards a programmatic future. The needle has been moved. Technology is increasing the creative storytelling power of OOH and I was eager to see this reflected in the awards and to see the innovators leading the awards tables.

But, as I sit poring over the shortlists and winners, I am struck with a sense of déjà vu. Lots of projects look like they are ‘digital’ and ‘outdoor’, but not many are ‘digital outdoor’, as we know it. It seems there might be an issue here, that the awarding body’s understanding of ‘digital outdoor’ is wide of the mark and that shortlisted and winning work does not match the category criteria.

In fact, the Digital Outdoor category has been a bit of a mess since it was added to the festival in 2009. Since then, campaigns we’ve produced have won a total of 12 Cannes Lions. Only three of them were awarded in outdoor and only one of those was specifically for Digital Outdoor – our area of craft/labour/love. The Digital Outdoor category is in such disarray, that a couple of years ago we took the decision to stop entering the category. Our work was better understood and rewarded in Media categories particularly ‘use of screens’ and ‘data-driven targeting’.

Another issue for the category is the abundance of one-off PR stunts versus scalable, intelligent work that truly leverages the medium. This issue is endemic among all major awards programmes and needs to be addressed. For example, ‘E03 Use of Digital Outdoor’ had four shortlisted entries. One was an augmented reality mobile app, one a bespoke tech build converting payphones into micro-savings facilities, one was a staged PR stunt, and one was a virtual reality animation. None of them used Digital Outdoor media.

Don’t get me wrong, we do our fair share of one-off stunts, and they have a purpose and a place. So let’s put them in their rightful place, as special builds, PR launches, experiential events, field marketing, and bespoke art installation categories. And let’s start recognising those campaigns that utilise the scale and ubiquity of DOOH, its presence and role in modern day life, and its ability to reach national and global audiences whilst delivering local relevance and results.

Digital is revolutionising the OOH marketplace, driving growth and modernisation, and future-proofing the medium. Digital now represents 40% of total outdoor revenue in the UK and is soon to surpass 36% in the US outdoor market. So the medium deserves more consideration by Cannes organisers; the category needs a complete overhaul and jurors need to be creative champions and leaders of the medium, with considerable sector expertise and knowledge of where the medium is heading.

Or do we have to wait until digital OOH reaches the tipping point, where it commands more than 50% of the outdoor market (not long now, according to projections), before Cannes organisers take it seriously? Perhaps then definitions will be nailed, category rules upheld, and judging panels will be staffed by digital strategists, digital producers, media planners, and creatives (all essential for delivering creative excellence in DOOH).

As I write this, I see a series of tweets confirming that Publicis Groupe is pulling out of Cannes Lions next year, and Omnicom and WPP are discussing a Cannes Lions rethink, amid various other calls for reform. And it’s great to see Cannes Lions is responding with the launch of a committee to address the criticism (feel free to get in touch).

But, before you think I’m just bitter, projects we produced this year won Gold, Silver, and Bronze – all in Media Lions of course – including Data-Driven Targeting and Use of Other Screens. It was also great to see Twitter and Sport England awarded in the Static Digital Billboards category; both were worthy winners. Spotify’s ‘It’s been weird’, a traditional outdoor campaign, shortlisted across several Outdoor categories, but only picking up metal in the Promo and Activation and Innovation Lions for data storytelling, was also a great campaign, in my view. Imagine what that could have looked like as a digital execution, using live data to react throughout the day with locally relevant stats, contextualising messages on a global scale. Just saying.

To summarise, I’m more than a little jaded with writing the same old update each year for the Digital Outdoor category. The problem is not bad creative, the problem is that good work is not coming through and being recognised. And yet the Lions PR machine tells us that the festival is shifting with the market, reflecting how ‘we now work’ or ‘how wide creativity spreads’. Yes, Cannes Lions is acknowledging pretty much every advertising medium you can possibly think of – every format, craft, and category. But something shifted this year. The categories are up and the entries are down – just over 2,000 down. That’s almost 5%. Let’s hope this will be the catalyst for much-needed change.

First punlished on ExchangeWire here

"As an industry, I believe, we have forgotten the power of repetition. Effective communication isn't small. It isn't cheap. It isn't once."
"Advertising isn’t supposed to be private. It’s supposed to be overheard, shared, stumbled across and discovered."
"And then there’s advertising’s past. The intrusive, inflexibile and mute billboards. They feel like throwbacks to the old way of doing things. A flat image with an unyielding rule that the consumer can take in no more than eight words (unless they’re Economist readers). How boring. How old school. Until you remember 2015's ‘Shot on iPhone 6’ campaign. Simple, traditional and utterly un-missable pieces of art in the urban landscape."
"Out of Home is the oldest medium of all There’s still huge power in the public message – the power of the public comment. It’s a big thing – it’s why people get married in front of an audience of 150; it gives a public sense of commitment."
"We've chosen to use digital to make everything more efficient...but we've forgotten how to explore and discover. It's a loss of serendipity and we've lost a lot of the humanity. We're becoming very reliant upon digital and the internet to make us incredibly efficient and we're losing out."
"The beauty of OOH is that it can double as a TV screen, a social feed, a camera, a vending machine, a download site, or a purchase point."
"OOH is constantly evolving, and its ability to integrate so brilliantly with new technology is one of its main strengths."
"Media changes, driven by digitisation, have left consumers facing a tyranny of choice—yet OOH is a channel that can still deliver huge audiences, and can increasingly do so in creative and engaging ways."
"The Out of Home sector has been tremendously resilient throughout the recessionary years, showing consistent growth driven by its fundamental benefits. In an ever-fragmenting media landscape, you can still reach pretty much the entire population, all at the same time."
"Out of Home is booming right now: OOH is the most ubiquitous media – you can’t turn the page, change the channel or switch it off, and Out of Home continues to integrate itself brilliantly with other new and innovative technologies."
"Posters decorate the world "
"Speed of change is all around us and no more so than in the rate at which advertising investment in traditional posters is being transitioned to include a far more flexible Out of Home canvas; the digital poster."
"I love OOH because the diversity of opportunities makes it a realistic option for almost any client. Add to this the ever growing possibilities for new innovation and it’s a media channel that is truly exciting to both agencies and clients alike."
"As DOOH becomes more “digital,” it becomes more agile, richer, and better able to play its part in a big idea. As a plugged in medium, DOOH can be the active element in a multi-layered campaign. It can create buzz, break news, invite interaction, and help to drive content and discussions online. Great DOOH campaigns are ones that sit comfortably within the wider brand strategy and capture the imagination."
"By its very nature, Out of Home’s remoteness from the consumer living room, from the office, and from the home computer, has made it a natural bedfellow of mobile marketing."
"OOH inhabits a wonderful space in which we benefit from a rich heritage of memorable, iconic campaigns and a truly exciting future unfolding before us. A broadcast medium that just keeps getting better."
"DOOH is a really interesting storytelling medium, beyond advertising. It allows you to touch and feel and interact in a way no other medium does. That's the real beauty of it, and usually overlooked"
"Show me any brief, for any client and any campaign and I guarantee that OOH will be able to have a justifiable role to play as part of the media solution. That role maybe big or small; local or national, classic, digital or both, large format, small format or anything in between... but it will be justifiable and worthwhile. There isn’t any other medium that can replicate that claim, or indeed come anywhere near doing so."
"London’s very large public transport network carries a great deal of OOH advertising. As a result, London alone has 170,000 advertising sites, more than 40 per cent of the national total. This makes London the most valuable city for OOH advertising in Europe and among the most important in the world."
"Digital OOH networks are multi-sensory and with the development of touch technology things are moving fast. Stimulating the senses more creatively generates social shares, great PR and awards."
"Central London will undergo a transformation and cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds will get even brighter and more connected"
"It makes sense for the most welcomed and least intrusive media to deliver presence for brands interacting through the media"
"OOH remains the flexible canvas for which a guaranteed audience is never too far away"
"OOH may be the oldest medium, yet it has shown remarkable resilience in reinventing itself"
"Smarter brands are contextualising their ad messaging, reaching a target audience when it matters most and can change behaviour"
"Poster sites really are the last true broadcast medium capable of near universal reach"
"Immediacy, targeting and excitement are what DOOH can offer that other media can't - its just very very cool.The opportunities are endless"
"The combination of classic and DOOH should be an intoxicating mix for any marketing director"
"Out of Home is an accountable, measurable and effective media for advertisers"
"Reaching people in the right place, at the right time is still Out of Home’s biggest strength"
"Posters are the purest and most effective form of communication"
"I would advise marketers using OOH not to see a poster as a Wikipedia entry, think of it as a piece of art"
"OOH engages hard to reach audiences on the move with inspiring and innovative communications"
"Using data to plan OOH enhances campaign performance by up to 200%"
"London is the most valuable city for OOH advertising... and among the most important in the world "
"Super premium digital Out of Home is one of the quickest ways to get into the conversation and make your brand famous"
"For a brand to live, it needs to appeal not only to the people who buy it, but also to the people who know about it "
"Media isn’t about the number of impressions you make. Media is about the power of the impression you make."
"In advertising, we have the power to change minds, change beliefs and change the world"
"DOOH offers deeper engagement than other media, more of a story and feedback"