OOH creative is becoming less memorable, and that lack of creative memorability plays out in a diminished longer-term effect of OOH ads.

Out-of-home formats have had a resurgence post-COVID, but for all the time brands spend trying to increase efficiency, buying and producing ads based on targeting and not influence is the road to ruin in this classic format. And we have the real-world numbers that tell us why.

Research conducted by System1 and JCDecaux has caused a stir amongst marketers in the last few weeks. But the results of that research shouldn’t surprise us – because we’ve had the numbers all along. Market mix models should have already picked up the basic problems many large brands are facing with OOH. Namely, advertisers caught up in the hype of the retail media boom have been using messaging for OOH that would be better suited to the checkout.

For all the talk of precision in market mix modelling, most models do not vary over time and do not detect how marketing effectiveness is fundamentally changing based on creative. That, in turn, is masking the very real truth that creative effectiveness in OOH has been on a downward decline for some time.

In econometrics, we can analyse ad effectiveness in two key ways: the coefficient and the adstock. The coefficient helps us understand how impactful the ad was. The adstock helps us understand how long that impact hung around. To be successful in advertising, you need to both impact sales and influence for a long period of time.

Or as the creatives should (but often don’t) say: “Be distinctive AND memorable”.

But advertisers and their agencies love to get swept up in a new craze. In this instance, the dominance of retail media seems to have bled into OOH. Suddenly billboards have been presented not as brand executions but as places to put transactional copy. We’ve turned OOH into the equivalent of a Google ad.

I wouldn’t be a data guy though if I just said this. Let’s look at the data to prove it.

Adstock duration over time graph

At Mutinex, we run a time-varying model with time-varying adstocks (which means that we do look at the impact of creative choices over time). We sampled our database of 50+ enterprise brands over a four-year period. Neatly, as the retail media trend started (mid-2022), the model records a downward trend in adstocks. In as little as 18 months we have seen adstocks drop 35%.

Given adstocks are a proxy for memorability, this snapshot is giving us a crucial real-world data point that aligns with the study run by System1. OOH creative is becoming ‘less memorable’. That lack of creative memorability plays out in a diminished longer-term effect of the ads. The tough reality to contend with is that if you have shorter adstocks, for the most part you have lower ROIs. Which is exactly what’s happened in the OOH market.

Across an aggregate of more than 50 brands, we’ve gone from having a strong, brand-style channel with moderately long adstocks to a diminished channel with lower memorability across time. That tells us one crucial thing: to resurrect effectiveness in OOH, we need to focus on better creative execution.

If you’re in doubt about whether your OOH is working then check your adstocks. Test your creative for memorability and distinctiveness. If these aspects are falling short and you’ve moved towards retail-style creative executions, then consider pivoting back towards your core brand messages.

Always question if you’re executing the fundamentals of advertising well. Use the data from your market mix model to drive the insights you need to make decisions. Because I promise you: growth is found more in the fundamentals than the fancy trend.