The future of outdoor advertising is contextual

Outdoor advertising is the only other medium (after digital) that is doing well even as marketing budgets are being slashed. Technology is part of its progress, and in time the messaging will be highly contextual to the audience.
Arun Nair - Author

In a time when the consumer is wary of conventional broadcast advertising, outdoor advertising has done well for itself garnering an increasing share of the marketing budget. Today, outdoor advertising accounts for over $35 billion worldwide and continues to grow year-on-year, nudging past conventional mediums of advertising. This growth can be attributed to the innovation in the medium/formats and like everything else, technology has played an important role.

Technology will be a key ingredient in the progress and I foresee a future where the messaging will be contextual to the audience. Let me share my forecast of some possible innovations in the near future...

  • Roadway innovations

    It's a well known fact that a billboard at a high traffic road or intersection has enough potential to gather eyeballs and draw the audience's attention.

    In the future such billboards will be intelligent enough to guess the profile of the audience by sampling through visible data and catering ads that are relevant to that audience. The "make" of the cars (pattern recognition) passing by will play a key role in assessing the profile of the audience. Parameters like the average speed of the cars, gap between cars or even the color of the cars will aid the billboard in serving the relevant ads.

    Outdoor advertising - roadway innovation
  • Airport innovations

    Imagine a group of passengers arriving from Tokyo at the New York JFK airport and passing through a huge screen with a welcome message in Japanese or an ad about a Japanese restaurant. I can only imagine the response to such ads, since they are highly contextual to the passengers and will resonate well with them. The algorithm in the advertising device will automatically derive the nationality of the audience by scanning through the RFIDs (Radio-frequency identification) in the baggage tag. (Note: RFIDs in baggage tags are highly probable as it will help airports automatically maintain/reconcile passenger luggage and reduce the incidences of missing baggage.)

    Outdoor advertising - airport innovation
  • Hotel innovations

    Now imagine that the passenger from Tokyo having checked in to his hotel room is greeted, and his name pronounced right. He proceeds to turn on the television and is asked if he wishes to continue the movie he left off during a recent stay in another hotel in Singapore! During the course of the movie he is presented with a 15 second ad about a 30% discount on a brand of watches he is fond of. Now that's contextual! How is this possible you ask? I foresee the concept of a "universal media link" that will be adopted by most travel and hospitality companies across the world. The loyalty/frequent flyer card will be embedded with an RFID that will help the devices in proximity to ascertain your identity and hence your preferences.

    Hotel Innovation - Universal Media Link

For an advertiser, this couldn't get any better, but there is a caveat. This high degree of customization and personalization borders on violation of privacy, and to those paranoid about it, it is like being watched all the time. Then there is also the issue of security, because your personal data is available to be manipulated. These issues can be easily sorted by letting the users control the level of privacy (similar to what most social networking websites today let you choose)

There is no doubt though that the benefits outweigh the potential concerns, and as technology evolves, we can expect these innovations in outdoor advertising to become a reality