There is a billboard along a highway west of Chicago that is just as smart as any online ad, if not smarter. Motorists behind the wheels of a Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata or Ford Fusion might even get the feeling that they are being watched. They'd be right.
The sign has "eyes" that belong to General Motors, part of an outdoor campaign using cameras on billboards to identify passing vehicles by their grilles. When Camrys, Altimas, Sonatas and Fusions go by, the system tells a digital billboard 1,000 feet down the road just what to tell drivers about why their cars are inferior to GM's Chevy Malibu. Some will learn, for example, that the Malibu has "more available safety features than your Hyundai Sonata."
"Their branding is to 'Find New Roads' and they really challenged us to find new roads with out-of-home and push the envelope," said Helma Larkin, CEO of Dentsu Aegis-owned Posterscope USA, which created the effort in partnership with outdoor ad company Lamar Advertising as well as Carat and Commonwealth McCann.
The campaign, also rolling out in Dallas and New Jersey, exemplifies just one way that technology is fueling a renaissance in out-of-home advertising. Marketers are linking online data to digital billboards, producing ads that bridge the digital and real worlds. And audience-measurement techniques relying on mobile devices are giving brands a better grasp on what types of people encounter their signs every day. As a result, out-of-home advertising is drawing a steady stream of marketing dollars even as other forms of traditional advertising lose ground to digital. It doesn't hurt that consumers are encountering more signs and out-of-home video while online ads and TV commercials get easier to avoid.
Out-of-home advertising was the only traditional media business to grow last year, Magna Global said in its ad revenue forecast last December, citing "the superior yield brought in by digital panels as well as better measurement and trading metrics allowing OOH and cinema to tap into branding budgets and TV budgets."
Spending on out-of-home ads in the U.S. grew to $7.3 billion last year from $7 billion in 2014, according to the forecast, which groups cinema and outdoor advertising together. The sector still accounts for only a modest share of total ad spending, 4.3%, compared with 35.3% for digital. But outdoor is forecast to hold about that same share through 2019. By contrast, the share for newspaper print ad spending is expected to fall to 4.2% in 2019 from 8.4% today while magazine ad pages drop to 5.3% from 9.2%, according to Magna Global. (Online ads bought on newspaper and magazine sites are grouped in digital.)
Marketers are increasingly attracted to outdoor partly to link it with their mobile marketing. Look no further than the streets of New York City, where brands are taking advantage of new digital signs appearing via the city's LinkNYC program. The program aims to eventually replace more than 7,500 pay phones with free Wi-Fi kiosks.