What does the future hold for outdoor advertising?

I have been thinking about the future of outdoor advertising. Where is its future going beyond the support medium which enhances recall, versus one that works solely on its own?

The last decade of outdoor advertising has been about:

1. Buying more outdoor spaces

About 15 years ago, it used to be a scramble for more and fresh ad spaces. To meet the rapidly growing demand, transit companies opened up and flourished. Yet, even as more spaces became available for purchase, there is a glass ceiling in place – noticed sooner than later in heavily urbanised Singapore. Planners then started shifting their focus from mere buying to innovating within existing spaces.

2. Innovation in ambient/impact buys

The era of innovation in outdoor advertising ushered a flurry of ambient/impact/creative buys – big catchphrases at that time. People were scrutinising spaces and constantly brainstorming for ways to amplify creative messaging, create impact and leave the heaviest impression possible within the short exposure period.

3.  Buying spaces originally not for sale

Alongside ambient and impact buys, advertisers and marketers also looked at exclusive spaces originally not meant for sale. Singapore Airlines, for instance, were able to clinch the space of overhead bridges for their A380 launch. The big idea was to grab attention where it is unexpected.

Today, these trends are still continuing but with one major difference – digitisation.

Looking at the evolution chain, we are progressively moving from buying to innovating within spaces and now, interacting with and within existing spaces. As we innovate and constantly look to create more bang with the same buck, outdoor is now made to work harder, especially with the integration of digital technologies.

I reckon that people will increasingly value and attempt to create live experiences.

That’s where the future is – we’re not going to leave it at just live interaction. We’ll have to constantly find creative ways to create experiences that people value and thus, would spontaneously amplify further and increase longevity of their experience. At the same time, amplification would allow others who were not onsite to live the experience through the eyes of those who captured it – in turn, allowing them to relive the moment as well.

Overlaid with mobile and other new technologies, outdoor ads and spaces now enable consumers to interact directly with and within it.

A case in point would be Samsung’s execution at Knightsbridge along Orchard Road in Singapore where the screen was converted into a large Galaxy screen and consumers could indulge in the product experience via a tablet or S Pen. The mobile phone’s features were brought to them in an outdoor activation turning the large screen at Knightsbridge into a Galaxy S4 screen, electrifying the emotional experience for Samsung.

Instead of waiting for users to come to our ads, we decided bring our Samsung devices to them in an outdoor activation which merged the new technology and billboard screen reaching new pockets of consumers, creating childlike wonder and excitement.

Newly embedded technologies also allow for better means of measurement, along with increased consumer interaction and engagement. This naturally results in greater amplification – Badoit, a French gourmet mineral water brand, served full-course meals onboard trains to commuters in France, and paired them with their product. The commuters were pleasantly surprised, had a great experience, tweeted and talked – creating an organic buzz.

Here, in Singapore, LTA is piloting ‘social experiment’ initiatives, with buskers performing at train platforms, decorated themed carriages, and staff handing out tissues to welcome commuters.

Outdoor advertising, has long faced a dearth of available spaces, especially in land-scarce Singapore. Coupled with stringent regulations and red tape, there have been few new sites in the city. Advertisers and marketers buy networks or specific locations through transit companies – it has been pretty standard for some time.

I pose this to you again – what does the future hold for outdoor advertising?

Don’t just stop at great, we've got the space. Further challenge and question yourselves – now, what can we do to create human experiences within these spaces?

The writer is Rajesh Mahtani, head of strategy and growth, Starcom Mediavest Group SEA.