15/02/2016 04:47 GMT | Updated 12/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Digital Billboards Get Tactical to Help Find Missing Children


Source: Media Photography Company, James Stroud

Sounds obvious, but the Digital Out of Home (DOOH) advertising medium is no longer just about digital "posters". Whilst moving image has had a profound effect on outdoor media in terms of visibility and impact, digitisation has also brought with it a new agility, transforming a traditional paper and paste offering into a connected, reactive, live and interactive platform - this is where it gets interesting.

But, before we celebrate the transformation of advertising's oldest medium, a quick look at the numerous screens on my commute through Central London this morning confirms the current challenge that we in the industry face - the majority of campaigns continue to be simple "linear" ad spots played out in a loop. The distribution of the ad spots is via the new digital connectivity but the messaging itself is not informed in a digital way. Too many brands are failing to exploit the medium to its full creative potential.

So how do advertisers capitalise on DOOH's expanded feature set? A campaign launching today for the Child Rescue Alert (CRA) is a good reference point. The campaign, fronted by actor and presenter Stephen Fry, aims to promote awareness and participation in the text alert service which notifies members of the public when a child goes missing in their area.

To help boost recruitment, the campaign uses live registration statistics, alongside location and travel data, to deliver responsive and geographically-targeted messages, that focus on those areas that need coverage the most. OpenLoop, the pioneering DOOH technology platform does the clever bit - analysing the data and automating the delivery of localised maps and messages calling for "local heroes" to sign up and "help bring a high-risk child home."

This intelligent campaign is constantly evolving, reacting to data, and fine-tuning its message. The creative doesn't become old and tired, it continues to update based on the needs and success of the campaign - as it happens. By utilising the 'Context Effect', dynamic and locally relevant information helps to mobilise communities and spur people into action, for the local good, helping to give police the best level of support.

It's through trailblazing campaigns like this that we can start to move the needle and begin to exploit the DOOH medium to its full creative potential. Now is the time to be smarter. Consumers are spending 25% more time out-of-home than they did 10 years ago, on average 3 hours and 10 minutes every day. Academic research from the trade body, Outsmart, shows that people on the move are in an active mindset and better able to take in messages and information. The opportunity for smart digital messaging in public spaces is, therefore, convincing.

The web has taught us to expect 'instant gratification' and the growing ubiquity of smartphone technology means that people can access relevant information anywhere. According to a recent Ofcom report, 51% of UK adults are doing just that, using their smartphone to access the internet whilst out-of-home. As a digital medium, the expectation from both clients and consumers is that digital posters should behave in the same way.

In fact, the growing synergy with online and mobile media is transforming DOOH, from a standalone medium to a connected entry portal, driving people online to find out more. DOOH can reach mobile consumers in the course of their everyday lives, where digital experiences intersect with the real, physical world.

The UK DOOH market continues to be the leading testbed for the latest technology, infrastructure and connectivity trials. Dynamic campaigns now account for 10% of all creative running on screens, higher than any other market, and increasing all the time. I think it is fair to say that the creative "mode" for this channel is evolving, and soon smart dynamically optimised campaigns will be the new standard for the medium.

For the Child Rescue Alert campaign, distribution, playback and reporting are programmatically achieved using real-time audience information and data insight to automate the decision-making process. Put simply, programmatic advertising describes the use of data and insight to deliver relevant messages that are context specific. Recent moves towards making the DOOH market programmatic, particularly in terms of creative fulfilment here in the UK, will hopefully help to accelerate this shift away from standard linear campaigns towards a more active, reactive and relevant future.

For the CRA initiative, DOOH is the perfect medium, delivering important and timely messages at scale, to people who are already out and about and more vigilant. The campaign runs on donated digital billboard space across the UK targeting roadside commuter belts, train stations and shopping malls. By using DOOH and OpenLoop technology for the social good, the campaign targets communities and encourages participation through locally resonant messages.

The CRA service is managed by the charity Missing People, the National Crime Agency and Groupcall. It empowers the public with information so that they can become the eyes and ears on the ground, on the rare occasion that a child goes missing in their area. The DOOH activity is expected to achieve over 60 million impressions during the fortnight and help to drive the number of people registered in the UK to one million.

As screens become an increasingly ubiquitous part of our cityscapes, they can play a useful role in how we connect to, and use, the Internet of Things. Connectivity is increasing all around us and so too, does its application to our everyday lives in smart liveable cities. It means that the advertising we see as we travel about the urban landscape will be far more targeted and relevant. Whether that's live footy scores and commentary during the world cup, local cinema listings when it's raining, breakfast deals on our morning commute or beer promotions after work on Friday, what's clear is that those brands that are ready with joined up, cross-platform, digital thinking, will benefit the most.