COVID-19 has left its mark on virtually every industry, and advertising has not been spared. As a landscape already in flux, the burden of this coronavirus on the ad sales market has been unprecedented. While advertising in all forms has seen the effects of this global pandemic, out-of-home advertising is among the most impacted.

The dangers of gathering in large crowds have effectively thrown a wrench into all forms of outdoor advertising, leaving the out-of-home (OOH) advertising market at a standstill. With encouragement from government officials to stay at home whenever possible, cancelled sporting events, and a lack of travel, advertisers who have traditionally relied on out-of-home campaigns are left at a unique crossroads. This is even true for the TV market; though out-of-home has not been a traditional measurement, Nielsen announced a metrics rollout for Fall 2020. However, they later made the decision to pull this back in July 2020 due to the unknowns involved with group watching.

However, the mantra of the pandemic for many companies has been “adapt and change.” Just as restaurants have pivoted to takeout and delivery while sports leagues are starting to gear up for games in fan-free stadiums, advertisers also have learned to look for new opportunities in the current market and OOH advertising is emerging as an important medium to this adjusted approach.

Out-of-Home Advertising (OOH) Importance

Before COVID-19 consumers would view ad-sponsored content within their own homes, from mobile games to TV programming. However, no one spends all of their time at home, leaving a gap in how and when ads are available.

Out-of-home advertising such as billboards, outdoor LED screens, and transit advertising all provide a way to bridge this divide, placing advertisements in many places that consumers will see while going about their daily lives. This can communicate location-specific information and activity-specific information, like grocery store discounts on billboards near the local market. OOH advertising would also increase awareness among those who only consume limited content while at home.

The Current State of OOH Advertising

Although the easing of restrictions in some countries has allowed people to spend more time outside, traffic is nowhere near back to normal.

This may sound like a bad thing and, on the surface, it is a shake-up that will hurt some companies. However, a break in the normal course of business is allowing OOH advertisers to re-evaluate what they have to offer and how to embrace digital in new and varying ways. Previously, brands have leaned into what worked in the past, but a shift in the market is the perfect time to roll out more current iterations of campaigns.

There are a lot of advantages to digital OOH that make pivoting in this direction a must. Traditional OOH campaigns are often costly and laborious, with rollouts taking weeks. Digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising solutions can be activated in as little as 24 hours. Further, 10% of the 220,000 digital out-of-home screens in the U.S. use programmatic transactions, allowing for even faster results. Companies are also working to prioritize placement, looking at signs on the highway and near high-traffic areas, like grocery stores, versus in stadiums or restaurants. An estimated six in ten grocery shoppers still encounter out-of-home ads, so motivated advertisers can still guarantee eyeballs on their marketing.

Ad spending has fallen off sharply since March, with an expected 13% decline versus the prior year. However, this is providing opportunities for those with ongoing campaigns. A reduction of competition in the marketplace can offer willing advertisers a greater selection of options from which to choose, and often at lower price points.

Mobile location data has also become a point of consideration during the pandemic. Location data began trending at the beginning of the pandemic to monitor compliance with social distancing, but advertisers quickly learned that knowing how and when people were leaving their homes could inform advertising strategies. By being able to identify hotspots for gathering, like parks and grocery stores, advertisers are better able to place highly targeted and relevant ads in high traffic areas, maximizing spend.

Beyond the Pandemic

It’s still unclear how long COVID-19 will affect the world on such a large scale. There may be a second or third wave, or there may be a vaccine that fosters herd immunity. However, the lessons learned during the peak of the pandemic should become an ongoing part of the discussion around OOH in general, and more specifically DOOH.

Sooner or later, the world will emerge on the other side. Sports fans will return to stadiums, concert venues will fill with music lovers, and life will go back to normal. However, that doesn’t mean advertising will immediately snap back to the status quo. Advertisers who have been able to embrace the changing trends, from an evolution in digital to the advantages of mobile management, are already in a good position. There’s no way to know what the future holds for sure, but companies better prepared to adapt are far more likely to come out on top as the post-pandemic world unfolds.