billboard for an airlines over a busy pedestrian area where a singer performs
PHOTO: Muhamad Syazwan Jonizar

While driving down the highway, I spotted a billboard for the dealer of a luxury car brand. The ad struck me as odd because the billboard was advertising a dealer that was 15 miles away in the opposite direction. The message on the ad wasn't compelling enough to justify a U-turn on a tolled highway to visit the dealership.

The billboard made me think about how questionable ad placement must give CMOs headaches. CMOs are under a microscope to prove a return on their campaigns. Assessing where their outdoor ad campaigns are appearing can be challenging, but provide a good starting point to work from.

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Billboards? Who Advertises on Billboards?

What purpose does out-of-home (OOH) advertising serve? According to Wikipedia, out-of-home media advertising focuses on marketing to consumers when they are "on the go" in public places, in transit, waiting (such as in the doctor's office), and/or in specific commercial locations (such as in a retail venue).

The rise of digital billboards as part of digital OOH (DOOH) provides an opportunity to tailor messages to customers based on location data to cement branding messages or serve as a reminder of what's nearby that may be of interest to them. DOOH takes other forms beyond the billboard, including airport kiosks, jumbotrons, projections directly on buildings and more. MAGNA reports that in 2018, DOOH revenue increased by over 16% to $5.7 billion, fueled in part by the availability of new inventory in prime locations.

And for those who still think billboards are an advertising ploy from yesteryear, a trip to the Old Street roundabout in London will give you a good view of the interactive DOOH billboard Google set up for the summer, which features location specific weather, temperature and local cultural activities through a display of popular local Google search terms during the summer.

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Attributing Traffic From DOOH Advertising

Measuring how much traffic the ads generate isn't straightforward. In most cases attribution is impossible because the campaigns are typically run without a landing page mentioned. But marketers can apply some basic analytics to support or refute a theory of what kind of lift in customer awareness a billboard in a specific geographic area is providing.

To get a clue as to how to attribute website activity, marketers can examine direct traffic visits by location and compare the locations against where billboard ads are appearing. Direct traffic is old school for an analytics tip, but it does represent a form of branding. If the customer remembers that URL or business name, they will type it or speak it into a smartphone. That customer activity reflects an ability to remember the brand, while bookmarking, typing or speaking the URL demonstrates a level of customer interest. The comparison can be a proxy for what kinds of branding in the area is being developed, offering an idea as to how to adjust an outdoor message in the area. 

A similar idea is to correlate visits from an area with known billboard campaigns to sales. This can be done as a regression model developed using R Programming or Python.

CMOs face a wide selection of choices in terms of budget and where to place their budget for their campaigns. Not all campaigns produce a ROI that is immediate. But a quick assessment of where activity is being generated from a OOH can give quick insights for decisions that can put digital campaigns on the right road.