Digital out of home is changing the game for a traditional media format – and brands can take advantage by following the five Rs of creative advertising, says Rick Jones of Adform.

Twitter’s takeover of London’s iconic Piccadilly Lights to deliver real-time ads triggered by cultural moments gives us a glimpse of digital out-of-home’s (DOOH) true potential.

An un-skippable, high impact format that is 100% viewable, brand safe, and unaffected by fraud or ad blocking, this digitisation of OOH can be seen across billboards and bus stops, as well as shopping-centre screens and airport lounges. DOOH spend has also increased, reaching £440 million in the UK in 2018 – accounting for almost half of total budgets allocated to OOH – thanks to a greater understanding of its impact on brand awareness and sales.

Effective use of DOOH requires more than great locations and big budgets. It needs creative and impactful storytelling, underpinned by intelligent data use. This digitally powered marketing in a ‘real world’ setting, brings brand experiences to life like never before, especially when synchronised across multiple screens and devices.

To make the most of the DOOH opportunity, brands must follow the five Rs of creative advertising: real-time, reporting, reach, relevance, and reaction.

Real time

The automation of DOOH allows ad creative to adapt in response to real-time data signals. Think: contextual data sets such as weather and sports updates, as well as social media trends. Consumers react to emotional stimuli to suit their surroundings, so DOOH ads are most persuasive when they work in harmony with the immediate environment – using real-time data to inspire fluid, dynamic ad content. Creative collective Glimpse and not-for-profit We Are Ocean made a connection between cities and the seas in an out-of-home campaign triggered by rainfall. A variety of animations appear on the digital outdoor screens that depict marine life in an upside-down world, with the sea at the top and the sky below. Diageo also made effective use of data-driven creative last summer with DOOH ads for brands such as Gordon’s. These were optimised by location using day, time, and weather signals to make them relevant to potential customers in the vicinity who might not be “too busy for a 5pm G&T.”


The impact of OOH advertising has traditionally been hard to measure, but advances in tracking technology – such as visual detection – allow the digital collection of viewable impressions for DOOH. The result is actual audience measurement, so brands can determine who saw their OOH ads, alongside all their other channels, and the subsequent impact on desired outcomes. By using third-party attribution insights for intelligent retargeting, brands can guide the consumer along their journey. It’s this combination of analytics, data, and creative that builds the brand story.


The reach of DOOH advertising is enormous. In fact, London’s two Westfield shopping centres alone contain 180 digital screens that deliver 52 million impressions each week. But even with this huge reach, brands should be thinking less about trying to influence as many eyeballs as possible and more about reaching specific members of target audiences across multiple screens and devices including mobile, desktop, and of course DOOH. The mobile experience requires personal, one-to-one messaging, while the large canvas of DOOH calls for a more theatrical approach, meaning brands must adapt their messaging to suit different screens and devices.


Powered by granular data insight, digital advertising allows brands to target the right message to the right user at the right time. This delivers a tailored experience, and DOOH is no different. Technologies such as geofencing and facial recognition can be used to understand the immediate audience of a DOOH display, and first and third-party data can be used to deliver contextually relevant ads to demographic targets. Dynamic creative can also be used to combine different graphic and textual elements, producing the most relevant creative version for the consumers exposed to the ad. All data can be aggregated and anonymised to maintain consumer privacy, and ensure GDPR compliance.


All ads should aim to form an emotional connection with the viewer to create impact – especially for OOH, which needs to attract and engage busy, on the move consumers. By incorporating well-known story types and techniques such as rags to riches, comedy, rebirth, and quest into their DOOH creative, brands captivate audiences and create an emotional and cognitive attachment to their messaging.

As a high impact, premium format that is free from some of the challenges facing other digital advertising channels, DOOH is set to become an increasingly important part of the media plan. To make the most of the opportunity it brings, brands must use the five Rs of creative advertising to engage in data-driven storytelling, bringing stories out-of-home and into their audience’s hearts.