FreshDirect digital sign inside a New York City subway with people walking past it.
Grocery delivery company FreshDirect and OUTFRONT Media recently partnered on a DOOH campaign that features shoppable videos displayed on digital signs in New York subways. — FreshDirect

Why it matters:

  • Out-of-home advertising overall is rebounding following the pandemic, including 11% growth projected for 2022, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.
  • Technological advancements have made digital out-of-home advertising more appealing to brands, both in terms of quality and measurability.
  • Brands can leverage the flexibility of digital out-of-home ads to offer multiple messages based on context, such as weather or time of day.

Out-of-home advertising (OOH) has long been an outlier in the marketing world, seen as a niche platform that is challenging to execute and has limited value.

Technology has changed all of that, however, as digital displays are increasingly replacing static out-of-home ads on billboards, at bus stops and in other high-traffic areas such as malls and fuel stations.

“Digital out-of-home has been growing as technology has improved—bright, more reliable outdoor displays—and LED costs have dropped while capabilities and resolutions have improved,” said Dave Haynes, founding editor of Sixteeen:Nine, a content site owned by Spectrio, a digital signage company based in Tampa, Florida.

Out-of-home advertising overall was negatively impacted by the pandemic as many consumers sheltered at home and restricted their travel, but it is making a comeback, according to data from advertising research firm MAGNA. Revenues generated by out-of-home ads (excluding cinema ads) in 2020 were down 24.6% in 2020, but were estimated to rise 16% in 2021, and were expected to grow another 11% in 2022, according to the Out-of-Home Advertising Association of America (OAAA).

In addition to the technological advancements in digital out-of-home advertising, abbreviated as DOOH in the industry, it also increasingly provides advertisers the ability to more accurately measure audience impressions.

“Digitization has further transformed OOH to a data driven, transparent and accountable medium,” said Karin Baatsch-Deboulet, executive vice president, operations, Kinetic, and Mark Costa, chief digital officer, JCDecaux North America, in a recent blog post for the OAAA. “Digitization has put the performance measurement of OOH on par with other channels and in the hands of brands.”

Location data from mobile phones, computer vision and artificial intelligence have facilitated audience measurement, Haynes explained, bringing DOOH much closer to other digital media in terms of its measurability.

In addition, digital out-of-home advertising in places such as malls and stores is also benefitting from built-in sensors that can trigger content based on human presence, said Craig Allen Keefner, a consultant and manager of the Kiosk Manufacturer Association.

“Outdoor is the new frontier,” he said.

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As a result of the [digital out-of-home advertising] DOOH campaign, McDonald’s saw 8,400 navigations to stores in just eight weeks, according to Waze.

Digital tech enables marketers to adjust nationwide outdoor ads in mere seconds

DOOH also offers advertisers the ability to change up their message much more frequently and easily.

“It brings to the table a whole level of flexibility that didn't exist before,” Alan High, president and owner of DOOH consulting firm ARH Digital Solutions, told CO—. A restaurant chain, for example, could show different ads throughout the day to focus on breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

“The conversion to digital has allowed the [OOH] industry to align the exposure and the content delivery much better with the advertiser's specific strategy,” said High.

Advertisers who might have been hesitant to commit to four- or eight-week outdoor advertising messages can now secure much more limited programs. DOOH also allows advertisers to change their messaging instantly across locations, so that an entire national billboard campaign could theoretically change its messaging in just seconds.

Increased connectivity to cloud-based services through 5G technology is only accelerating the capabilities of DOOH, said Adam Malone, co-founder and president at Screenverse Media, which works with digital screen owners to optimize their revenues.

“The fact that these assets are connected to the cloud allows you to manage them remotely,” he said. “That creates a lot of opportunities for flexible messaging.”

In addition, advertisers are often able to repurpose the digital content they have created for other digital media, such as mobile devices, for use in out-of-home displays, he said.

McDonald’s drives consumer engagement and Dollar Menu deals via Waze-enabled DOOH

McDonald’s has been one of the most active digital outdoor advertisers and has experimented with several unique digital outdoor campaigns around the world. In Vancouver, British Columbia, for example, the company worked with ad agency Cossette to create a digital billboard that shows different McCafe beverages based on the temperature — hot beverages during cold weather and vice versa.

In another DOOH campaign, McDonald’s partnered with car navigation app Waze to couple traditional outdoor media with ads on Waze that promoted the fast food chain’s Dollar Menu offers, the limited-time return of the McRib, and breakfast deals. Waze automatically popped up ads and directions to nearby McDonald’s restaurants whenever a Waze user passed a McDonald’s billboard.

As a result of the DOOH campaign, McDonald’s saw 8,400 navigations to stores in just eight weeks, according to Waze.

Vertical Impression, meanwhile, which places digital ads in elevators, conducted a campaign with eye surgery company Lasik MD in which it specifically targeted elevator riders wearing glasses. The ads drove a 17% increase in engagement among wearers of glasses, Vertical Impression said.

Grocery delivery company FreshDirect and OUTFRONT Media recently partnered on one of the more advanced DOOH campaigns, which features shoppable videos displayed on digital signs in New York subways. Each video includes a QR code that consumers can scan to link to the FreshDirect website for recipes and a path to purchase the ingredients featured in the branded content spots.

Like the McDonald’s billboard ads, the FreshDirect spots also feature contextual messaging that changes based on the latest weather conditions, tapping data from weather intelligence provider The overall campaign, which also includes static ads inside subway cars, was executed by Quan Media Group, the out-of-home agency of record for FreshDirect.

[Read: 3 Simple (Yet Effective) Facebook and Instagram Tools That Enhance Customer Relationships]

DOOH at electronic charging stations: ‘We’re seeing more additional value than we thought we would’

EOS Linx, which features digital displays at its electronic vehicle charging stations, among other venues, is among the companies that have embraced digital outdoor advertising as an important element of their business models.

The company has seen strong interest from advertisers seeking to appear on its platform, said Jeff Hutchins, chief information officer at EOS Linx.

“We are seeing retail and consumer food products advertise, we’re seeing [technology companies], and we're seeing electric vehicles, obviously,” he said.

The company is being very particular about the companies that it sells ads to, said Hutchins, because it operates with a mission around clean energy and support for the environment.

The company splits its screen time at charging stations between paid advertising and messaging that seeks to educate and inform consumers about electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging.

The company prices its advertising to align with the industry overall, he said. Ads help the company make electronic charging available and affordable to more consumers, which is part of the company’s mission as well, Hutchins explained.

Like other companies in the DOOH space, EOS Linx has also seen a shift in demand toward more programmatic advertising, which allows advertisers to use algorithms to help target their messages.

“We’re seeing more additional value from that than we thought we would,” said Hutchins.

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