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Managing Marketing: Out Of Home Media, Past, Present And Future

Areef_Vohra

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Areef Vohra is the Commercial Director at Veridooh, the world-first, independent measurement and verification platform for digital out of home media. Areef reflects on the evolution of the Outdoor advertising industry from his early career in the UK to today and the impact digital technology is having on the media and in the foreseeable future for creativity, transparency and accountability.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing. And today I’m sitting and having a chat with Areef Vohra who’s Commercial Director at VeriDo’h, sorry, Veridooh, the world’s first independent measurement and verification platform for digital out-of-home media. Welcome, Areef.

Areef:

Very funny. Thanks, glad to be here.

Darren:

Don’t you pronounce it Veridoh (Veridooh)?

Areef:

That’s one way of looking at it but it’s verifying digital out of home so we’d like to say ‘do’.

Darren:

This is a bit of a return for you to the out-of-home medium because your career started there didn’t it?

Areef:

I did. I started out selling what we used to call 6 sheets and 48 sheets and 96 sheets back in the UK for companies such as JC Decaux a long time ago. Interestingly enough, our company didn’t set out to be a digital verification business; we also set out to be a visual out-of-home business jumping on the bandwagon of growth within the digital medium.

And taking our product out to proof of concept and talking to media agencies, one of the key questions we kept getting back was ‘looks great but how do I know my ads run?’ So, we very soon realised this was a challenge we had to solve otherwise we wouldn’t have a business, hence going away and coming up with our proprietary technology, ‘SmartCreative’.

We realised we’d not only solved our problems in terms of proof of display but the wider industry challenge especially within digital out-of-home and then it was a very simple decision whether we decided to go forward with the digital out-of-home business or potentially a global, world’s first digital verification business, and we chose the latter.

Darren:

Back in the day when it was posters actually being posted to a site you verified it by paying someone to go around and take photos of it in situ and that was reasonably accurate if you could afford to get them to cover the whole buy because it was usually up there for 30 days.

But I imagine in the digital world where you can serve ads in real time it’d be much harder. I mean the poor person’s got to sit there for 24 hours taking photos.

Areef:

Yes. The only way that you would be able to safely say that you’ve got a full picture of what’s going up on that screen is to literally stand there for, not just 24 hours (because it could change in the 25th hour) is to have someone stand in front of every single screen for the full duration of your campaign.

It’s just physically impossible and our software allows us to capture every single impression delivered across every single site that that creative execution is running, which shines a fantastic light of transparency upon the medium and really does showcase just how effective and transparent out-of-home can be.

Darren:

This is actually going to encourage advertisers to use digital out-of-home because they’ll know that they’re getting what they’re paying for.

Areef:

Absolutely, trust between buyer and seller always engenders further investment and what we’ve found is across the board with clients and the media owners that we’ve worked with, there has been significant increasing levels of trust between both parties and that has led to further levels of investment, which is only a good thing for us.

We’re here to help grow the medium and to show just how transparent we are. And the beauty of this is that out-of-home media has been a lot quicker to come to the party than say the online environment which still has brand safety and display issues which they can’t solve, whereas we don’t have any of that and we’re already coming to market with a verification piece a long way quicker into our development process than the online marketplace.

Darren:

It’s interesting you should say that. I read a report last week where Google have come out and said they do not think they will ever make YouTube 100% brand safe. They’ll get close but they said they cannot get to a point where they can guarantee brand safety on YouTube.

Areef:

Which I think is bizarre and not an issue we have to face in out-of-home, which is fantastic.

Darren:

It’s interesting because this also increases the creative opportunities. I always remember, as a creative, the time it would take to do the artwork and get it printed into big format and get it posted, which is why it used to be a minimum of a month buy—you had to buy a site for a month because it was so much work and effort for teams of workmen to actually go around and post these sites everywhere.

Areef:

Absolutely, and on top of that the really amazing creative executions that we have seen in out-of-home over the years were just limited to one or two locations because the cost involved in sticking a car onto a billboard or putting a plane through was just cost prohibitive.

Whereas with digital media, production costs are basically minimal. And the opportunity to communicate one on one in very different ways in multiple creative executions across different periods in a day mean that the scope is much greater than it’s ever been.

Darren:

Areef, you amaze me with your naiveté; you only need one poster to be able to enter it into a creative award.

Areef:

There is that.

Darren:

But you do remind me of Colin Haycock who was an excellent group account director at an agency called Mattingly that I worked at. And Colin had a poster of great outdoor, out-of-home—you know of those examples you just mentioned. And the reason he had it there was he said he would look at it before he would go and present any creative work and remind himself that if an account man could sell in that work then he must be able to sell the work that’s in front of him. And he used that to inspire himself to go and sell great creative work.

Areef:

And that’s the beauty of outdoor because it stands and falls on its own. It hasn’t got the benefit of content enveloping it to drive an audience to it. So, it’s all about the creative execution and great creative execution will always cut through, which is one of the reasons why I’ve always loved the medium.

Darren:

Well it used to be a standard in agencies that you would test an idea on its ability to be a poster, a piece of out-of-home or outdoor because there’s a discipline of having an image and a very short headline so it would pass the ’60 mile an hour’ test.

If you drove past it at 60 miles an hour; first of all it had stopping power and it communicated. We hear and see so often that agencies are obsessed with writing the TV script and yet, in a way, it doesn’t have that sort of clarity and simplicity of an idea.

Areef:

I remember years ago in the U.K I went to a seminar hosted by Trevor Beattie—a very famous creative in the U.K who made his mark with the Wonderbra creative.

Darren:

Oh, that was the ‘hello boys’.

Areef:

That’s the one, and his basic principles for designing a creative execution for outdoor were the KISS—keep it simple, stupid—seven words or less and realised that people read a billboard in a Z fashion (left to right, down, and across again).

As long as he adhered to those policies, he knew that he would come up with impactful creative. I think a lot of times we forget that. Because it’s a big screen, people try and put too much information on there and it loses the impact.

Because the 60 mile (kilometre) an hour test—you have not a lot of time, maybe 10 to 15 seconds of someone’s attention to really grab that. I always found that the simpler the better always worked in out-of-home.

Darren:

And the other one I liked about out-of-home when you think about all media available to you; television, newspapers, radio, and all of the digital channels, they’re all (even cinema) quite small groups of people consuming it together at the same time or individually.

Out-of-home requires the brand to have a certain level of confidence that it’s willing to post itself up there publicly where 100s of 1,000s of people can potentially see it.

Areef:

Absolutely, and a good campaign will stand or fall on the creative execution. You can buy a brilliant campaign, place it in all the right spots but unless the creative campaign has that X factor you can lose quite a lot of the power of the medium.

Darren:

The other challenge that out-of-home or outdoor has had is the audience count. I can remember doing out-of-home on some of the freeways in Melbourne and Sydney and it was just traffic counts and the number of cars that passed by.

Yet, I believe there is a whole lot of technology, research and effort going into starting to find a better way of counting audience.

Areef:

Absolutely. This started actually in the U.K. in the late 90s with the introduction of the first audience classification system, which took into account a multitude of factors such as clutter, other street items that took away from the impact, ambient lighting, whether the site was face on or parallel to the curb, and distilled down that vehicular count from an opportunity to see to what they called ‘a likelihood to see’.

That’s been taken on in Australia by the OMA, and we’ve got our audience classification system here called MOVE, which is again going to be redefined very soon to take into account digital large and small format because obviously you’ve got executions up now for a certain part of a cycle, so that’s being taken into account.

In the U.K that’s gone even further forward by using GPS data for tracking a reasonably robust sample. In the U.S. we’re using mobile data. Ultimately, I think a tool will be developed which overlays all of that information into one source.

Darren:

I’ve heard 4 or 5 different streams, as you’ve said, the mobile data when a person comes within a certain distance of a site it measures them. The other one that’s interesting is that I’ve heard from a couple of companies that are working towards facial recognition from the point of view of people actually looking at the site.

So, it’s not just a 1,000 people walk by; how many people turn their face to look at the site and then to use other data to work out the type of people they were to give you some sort of demographic insight.

It’s interesting because the application worked really well in shopping malls because of the consistent lighting. You can imagine, outdoors you get shadows or whatever, it didn’t work so well.

Areef:

Absolutely, it’s very powerful in the shopping environment because if you can overlay facial recognition plus the mobile data, suddenly you’ve got not just who and where but you can build heat maps of people’s journeys in and around the shopping centre and demographics that are available to overlay and suddenly you’ve got a very good picture of exactly who’s doing what.

Darren:

I remember someone who was working on this project recounting that they set up a test in a shopping mall for their wife’s birthday and they’d customised the creative so that as she was walking through the shopping mall it would recognise her.

They obviously had a lot of information about her and it was putting up personalised messages as she walked through. And it was a great example of you’ve got to be very careful about personalisation because she actually felt it was a bit creepy, like she was being stalked by the poster sites in the shopping mall.

Areef:

I think you’re absolutely right, there is a fine line, and we’ve got to be able to stay on the right side of that but technology is moving on at such a pace that that kind of interaction will soon be possible where you can deliver an execution to a specific audience roadside and then tailor that message to the same audience once they migrate to another format whether it’s street furniture or retail and then another message post purchase if that’s the cycle you’re after.

That technology will very soon be available to us and again it just adds, in my opinion, flexibility to the medium. And it does something that no other medium can do, which is actually follow people where they go and really communicate with them along the whole process of that journey.

As you can see I’m still quite passionate about it.

Darren:

Without being creepy.

Areef:

Without being creepy.

Darren:

Yes, we’re here following you. It’s almost like the glasses for the optometrist in the Great Gatsby just sitting there staring at everything, observing the world, the all-knowing eye.

Areef:

Perhaps not that level of invasiveness but being able to communicate people to people at various stages of a journey is going to be quite important to marketers.

Darren:

So, early in your career you were selling out-of-home?

Areef:

I was, in the U.K in the mid to late 90s up until I came to Australia, initially working for a company called Made in Outdoor, which then got bought by somebody else, which then got bought by somebody else and then after that went to JC Decaux, which ultimately ended up buying Made in Outdoor.

From there I followed a girl out to Australia.

Darren:

As one does.

Areef:

As one does. And had a skill set having worked in the industry in the U.K, which was quite in demand here so I ended up getting a job working for APN outdoor. I also worked for ICorps before I moved away from the medium.

But you know what they say, ‘you can take the boy out of home but you can’t take the out-of-home out of the boy’. It’s ingrained in me, unfortunately.

Darren:

There’s something about that story which is, in a way, the consolidation of what we’ve seen. There has been massive consolidation of the industry. Do you think that’s a plus or a minus?

Areef:

I think it’s a good thing. The consolidation allows for greater levels of investment because the big players have the financial wherewithal to actually really invest in the medium and both The Co and Omedia have shown a desire to invest in the medium and to drive it forward. I think two people pulling in the same direction is very powerful especially if they’re as big as the two major players are.

Darren:

And to invest in building the infrastructure for digital because it’s not just putting up a frame that you stretch a skin over, it’s actually a large piece of technology.

Areef:

And that also has a barrier to entry to some of the smaller less reliable players. Having the financial wherewithal to invest is key and not just invest in the infrastructure but then look forward to see how that infrastructure can be utilised going forwards.

I think both companies have a medium to long term view that a whole bunch of smaller companies may not have had.

Darren:

But we wouldn’t want to get to the point where there was only one would we?

Areef:

That could be Singapore.

Darren:

There is a place and, as you said earlier, Veridooh was actually looking at entering the market so there are still opportunities for people to come in and offer an alternative.

Areef:

Absolutely.

Darren:

You just need very deep pockets.

Areef:

You do. And I think one player in the market is never healthy; competition is a good thing. So, there are absolutely opportunities and there are lots of players because there are lots of sectors within out-of-home; cinema, retail, smaller niche players (gyms, medical centres) all the way up to the spectacular on the M4.

There are various different plays to be had in outdoor but having two big voices with deep pockets to invest in the medium is a good thing for everybody.

Darren:

It’s also interesting how there has been a standardisation of the shapes available. For a while there were all different shapes. People were sticking up sites wherever they could fit it into the landscape. In fact, one of the ones that I never quite understood—have you ever caught the Tullamarine freeway from the airport into Melbourne and across every bridge there is a poster where the only thing creatively it’d allow you to do is write a very long headline because it feels like it’s about 1 metre deep and 20 metres wide.

Areef:

I know exactly the one. Sometimes, if that’s all you can put up and the market’s there for it you build it. And standardisation is happening across the board and I think the drive to a digital format has also helped that because everything has to be created in proportion to length and width and that helps with standardisation.

And also production costs, which always used to be the greatest bugbear of creative agency and client. If you have multiple sites and formats it means that sometimes your productions costs can actually match your media costs, which then makes it cost prohibitive.

I think the industry, even before digital media had moved toward standardisation because we knew that we needed to keep production costs at an acceptable level.

Darren:

Do you think, and I’m being honest here, the out-of-home industry has had quite a murky past, do you think consolidation is helping change that and making it a lot more professional and transparent?

Areef:

Absolutely, when you’ve got global or publicly listed companies owning product—absolutely transparency has to be there. Layer that on top with independent companies like ourselves shining a further light of transparency on that then absolutely, the market is becoming a lot more accountable, which is only a good thing.

Darren:

The reason I brought that up is that recently the government, the ACCC has been looking into the industry around dubious, non-competitive practices and yet the industry itself has come from almost like a cowboy reputation where people could just bung up sites, if that meant throwing a few bucks to the council to get them to approve sites, lots of cash deals and things like that happening all over the place.

Would you say a lot of that has disappeared or is there still a cowboy element in the industry?

Areef:

I think those are stories of days gone by. I think we’re a much more professional industry. The days of the cowboys are long gone. The industry has fought really hard to be viewed as accountable, professional, and have a seat at the table. And I think the big players now are doing whatever they need to keep that seat at the table.

Darren:

Because it’s quite different isn’t it, as a medium? When you think about television, they make TV programming and then sell the spaces in-between. Newspapers write stories and sell space in between. Radio does radio programming and then you get to digital; most of those are taking other people’s content but out-of-home, there’s no content play here is there?

It’s really just space and being able to be seen because the content is the advertising.

Areef:

Absolutely, and that’s one of the reasons why it is, in my opinion, one of the most creative mediums out there, as you said earlier. There isn’t a content play: it’s just purely the message.

Darren:

So, it’s about providing the canvas.

Areef:

It’s a blank canvas. We provide the blank canvas for the client to get their message across to people.

Darren:

And with technology, especially digital technology, eliminating that expensive production part, shortening timelines, the opportunities for advertisers are multitude but you don’t see them being used very much these days.

You mentioned before, temperature. We’ve just come through a summer in Australia where 40° was hit quite a few times—didn’t see a single bit of creative that said, ‘it’s 40°–it’s time to get … (insert brand) air-conditioning now or ‘stop for a cool refreshing… now’.

Areef:

I think part of that previously was down to the medium getting to a critical mass where making that message deliverable was viable. We’re at critical mass now.

Darren:

What was critical mass?

Areef:

In terms of number of sites.

Darren:

But how many? 50%, 40% or is it more important where the sites are?

Areef:

I think it’s a combination of everything there. We are now, revenue wise, at 50% plus within the digital out-of-home. We’re at the point where digital-only campaigns can deliver that level of creativity.

There has also been a bit of lag from the buy side being able to work that into their plans, whether it’s market or agency led. We’re all finding our feet in terms of exactly what we can do with this medium, especially the facets of creativity afforded by the technology we’ve now got to play with.

I think we’ll find our level in the next 18 to 24 months and you’ll see more campaigns and I do see more of them where you’ve got interaction, one to one communication, time sensitive, you’re right, temperature sensitive, in a country like Australia you’d think that’d be a no-brainer.

Darren:

Especially as the temperature goes up you’ve got to have creative that goes, ‘it’s 32°, it’s 35°…’

Areef:

If I’d seen an air-conditioning ad a couple of weeks ago I would have definitely run out and bought myself a new air-con unit. The more ingrained into the normal buyer that digital becomes the more people will realise they can do this within the campaigns. The message is slowly filtering all the way down into media and its creative.

Darren:

The other one is geo-location. It’s being used really well by the quick-service restaurants—‘another 20 kms to the next store’ or ‘this is your last chance 5km’. I imagine when those sites become digital they’ll be able to do day-part where they go ‘are you hungry – did you miss breakfast? You’ve got 30 more minutes before we stop serving breakfast’

Areef:

Absolutely. Geo-locations coupled with multiple creative executions, day part advertising will suddenly lead to very flexible campaigns that really allow marketers to get various messages out to the consumer over the whole course of a campaign, whether that campaign is a day, week or a month.

Darren:

Is it inevitable that all of the sites will eventually become digital sites or do you think there’ll still be a mix of the traditional poster and digital sites?

Areef:

I think there’ll always be a mix of traditional poster and digital sites for a number of reasons. Feasibility is one. Council regulations will be the other. The feasibility side will be in two parts. Ultimately, the industry will find its level in terms of the number of digital sites because having an ever-expanding universe of sites will require us to have an ever-expanding universe of clients willing to go on to those sites.

Eventually, you’ll find a level where it’s reached its maximum and there’ll always be a requirement for the high impact, single location sites like for example the Glebe island silo.

Darren:

Or the Nylex site in Melbourne or Story Bridge.

Areef:

They’ll never get digitised and nor should they because I think they are wonderful sites in of themselves.

Darren:

There is possibly an opportunity to set up a site that just takes creative ideas and puts them up there so they can get an entry for the out-of-home awards.

Areef:

Yes, you could definitely do that.

Darren:

Just like there are newspapers that people can run ads in just to enter them into Cannes awards.

Areef:

A slightly unscrupulous agency could run a 10-second creative into an award. I don’t think that would be in the spirit of the game, as they say.

Darren:

Well, it depends how desperate you are for an award. You’d have to find out, if it was a digital ad, exactly when it was going to appear so you could get the photograph as proof.

Areef:

Or you could get Veridooh to run a proof of play for you.

Darren:

There you go. What’s a proof of play?

Areef:

Our smart creative embeds into the creative execution and talks to us so we capture every single impression that’s delivered across every single site that that creative has been delivered to.

We, in real time, can give the media owner and the client a view into their campaign in terms of number of sites delivered, share of time, accuracy, bonus sites delivered and all of that in a dashboard that can either be integrated through an API into the overall agency’s dashboard or a standalone.

So, a client, at any given moment can log in and see exactly what their campaign is doing.

Darren:

What’s the uptake so far of Veridooh in the Australian market?

Areef:

Really positive. As I said, we’ve been going for 12 months.

Darren:

So, still start-up?

Areef:

Still start-up stage. We’ve had a lot of proof of concept. We are now either talking to or working with the out-of-home companies. We’re working with major clients and agencies. It’s been an education process and once we’ve demonstrated the value this brings to the table then the take-up has been quite swift.

Darren:

That’s great.

Areef:

We’re an Australian-based company but we have visions of taking this product, once we’ve established it here, onto the wider arena; North America, Europe. There isn’t a product like this available at the moment so we think this is an Australian business that can bring this product to the wider world.

Darren:

And probably justifies not just setting up another digital out-of-home company but actually coming up with a global solution to verification.

Areef:

Absolutely. And one of the things we looked at is we could have a small digital out-of-home business that could be very profitable or we could have a global verification business and we went with door number 2.

Darren:

At least you’d know that if you had a successful Australian-based digital out-of-home, someone would come and buy you.

Areef:

This is true.

Darren:

Having said that, a successful global verification company, someone will probably come and buy you.

Areef:

Well, here’s hoping.

Darren:

I’m sure that’s already the planned business exit strategy.

Areef:

I couldn’t comment on that.

Darren:

Well you’d be crazy if you and your partners didn’t have an exit strategy.

Areef:

Absolutely.

Darren:

It’s not a small medium is it? I remember reading on the website in 2017 over 495 million was spent just on digital out-of-home advertising in Australia, and 16.9 billion worldwide.

Areef:

To give you an example; in Australia we’re predicted to go to something like $1.2 billion out-of-home complete by 2022 and digital out-of-home will be the lion’s share of that. In the U.K the out-of-home market (depending on who you talk to) is about £1.4 billion and half of that is digital. In the U.S the numbers are very similar in terms of share of market. And it’s only going to go in one direction so the market is huge and growing.

Darren:

It’ll be interesting to see the first political party that uses digital out-of-home. With Australia and NSW facing an election in two weeks’ time and then a federal election in May, I wonder if it’s covered by the electoral laws around not advertising on the day of the election. The blackout certainly impacts television and newspapers.

Areef:

Absolutely. I don’t know the specifications around that.

Darren:

I wonder if Clive Palmer is going to look at buying all the digital sites leading up to every polling station.

Areef:

He’s certainly been very active across multiple formats hasn’t he? But the great thing about digital in that respect is that we can turn it off. As a political party you could run a campaign up until the day before the blackout and then turn it off. With out-of-home that could potentially happen.

Darren:

It sounds like there’s nothing but upside here. It must be exciting to be back playing in the out-of-home.

Areef:

Absolutely. As I said before, you can take the boy out of home but you can’t take the out-of-home out of the boy and I’ve always kept an eye on what’s going on in the industry and it’s very exciting times, not just in Australia but globally for the whole of the industry.

The developments of audience classification, overlaying the various different datasets that you can access to really create a tremendous picture of the audience, the flexibility and creativity offered by the various different technologies being brought to bear and also the light of transparency that’s being shone on it to give clients the reassurance that what they planned and bought is exactly what they got, all adds up to putting out-of-home in a really exciting place.

And I’m really excited to be part of that.

Darren:

It sounds really exciting and certainly you’re adding to the accountability and transparency of the medium, which can only be a positive thing.

Areef:

That’s exactly what we believe and we are here to help grow the medium, and the more transparency we can shine and show the industry that as a medium we are much more up to speed in transparency and accountability compared to other mediums then that’s a great thing for us because as we grow the medium everybody grows.

Darren:

Thanks for joining—we’ve run out of time but thanks for making the time to sit down and have a chat about out-of-home.

Areef :

Not a problem. Very enjoyable, thanks for having me.

Darren:

I guess with all of this extra transparency, the chance of getting a paper bag full of money has virtually disappeared then?

Areef:

Zero.

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley. Find all the episodes here

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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