Global’s newly-revealed plan for its audio and OOH businesses hints at a bigger change in the roles that brand-building and performance advertising will play in delivering marketing outcomes.

Finally, the lid has been lifted.

After months of speculation, UK-based media owner Global has started to reveal details of how it plans to incorporate those surprise OOH media acquisitions (Primesight, Outdoor Plus, Exterion, MMD Media and counting) into the infrastructure of its otherwise audio-dominated business.

The answer, for now at least, is to enable brands to buy both digital audio and outdoor media through its programmatic platform, DAX – an acronym which now stands for Digital Advertising Exchange, by the way.

Having signed up a quartet of demand-side platform launch partners (The Trade Desk, Vistar Media, Mediamath and Hivestack) and a trio of third-party OOH inventory providers (Admedia, Elonex and All City Media Solutions), Global claims brands can execute an OOH campaign from bid to delivery within an hour.

Trading will be based on audiences, rather than legacy methodologies, making OOH planning and buying more directly comparable with other channels. You can read more about the set-up in WARC’s interview with Global’s Director of Commercial Digital, Ollie Deane.

‘Moments that matter’

The press release announcing the launch of programmatic OOH trading via DAX included a couple of striking quotes.

First of all, Mike Gordon, Global’s Chief Commercial Officer, promised that the combination of audio and OOH will enable the media owner to help brands to “create more moments that matter”.

That pledge is worth unpacking a little.

Investment in audio and OOH has held up reasonably well in recent times. According to WARC’s latest Toolkit survey, 60% of advertisers plan to either increase or maintain spend on radio and audio in 2020. That figure goes up to 67% in the case of OOH media – bettered only by digital channels like online video, search and mobile. By comparison, only 31% pledge to increase or maintain spend in print media.

Some of those spending decisions have been influenced by the rising importance of context on the marketing agenda. Nearly two-thirds of respondents to the Toolkit survey say that issues including brand safety and context are now “more important than cost” when planning media.

Media owners across channels have been exploring how advertising context can influence consumers while they are on-the-go. Indeed, it is one of the reasons that big brand owners like PepsiCo are betting on mobile video streaming service Quibi. Research companies such as Neuro-Insight have amassed a growing body of evidence on the role of context, having carried out multiple studies in partnership with Radiocentre, Ocean Outdoor and others.

Put simply, Global believes that, in audio and OOH, it has backed the two winning horses in the quest to engage with consumers in less interruptive and annoying ways.

‘Be more brand accretive’

The second attention-grabbing quote comes from Gareth Jones, eBay’s UK CMO. In his endorsement of DAX’s addition of OOH inventory, he remarked that the move “perfectly embodies” eBay’s intent to use data to make its brand investments “more personal”, and to be “more brand accretive” in its performance activity.

I’ll admit I had to Google the word ‘accretive’ – certainly as it relates to the media industry. If I’m right (and to risk the ire of Les Binet and Peter Field), what Jones seems to be getting at is a perception that the division of marketing labour between brand-building and performance-led activation is beginning to blur.

There’s some context worth knowing here: speaking at Kantar’s Talks event in London last autumn, Rosie Hanley, eBay’s Head of Brand and Marketing, revealed that until around five years ago the brand had deployed a 90:10 split in favour of performance media over brand activity. As a result, eBay found itself re-targeting the same diminishing group of customers, and brand awareness and consideration levels subsequently fell “through the floor”.

The answer for eBay was not to abandon data-driven media, but rather to deploy it differently. In this new world, automated (or programmatic) buying need not mean messaging to reach a small number of consumers near the bottom of the purchase funnel; it can also mean contributing to brand metrics with immersive audio ads and impactful 96-sheet DOOH screens.

Deane, unsurprisingly, concurred: “I'm certainly of the view that if somebody walks past really impactful messages on digital screens throughout their commute, or as they socialise or go high street shopping, and they build up an understanding of what that brand is about, when they're delivered a more performance-driven offer, they are more likely to respond to it.”

Yet, as we all know, the challenge Global will face is that of internal client structures and budget allocation. CMOs have become accustomed to the idea of viewing brand and performance as distinct pursuits, and any significant change in direction is likely to face considerable resistance.

Global may have lifted the lid on its plans to integrate audio with OOH, but it’s likely to require some hard yards before its vision truly achieves lift-off.