The Great (Digital) Outdoors

Out-of-home (OOH) advertising is the world’s oldest advertising medium.  Though it may be a little late to the party, OOH is finally making a push into the digital landscape in a way that will transform our streets, public transit systems and other outdoor spaces.  Digital technology is transforming all aspects of marketing to become more relevant, personalized, data-driven, and measurable. [1]  Certain OOH ad companies are bringing dynamic creative and actionable data to a traditionally static industry.  Exterion Media, Europe’s largest privately held out-of-home advertising business, is one of them.



Billboards and other outdoor spots have long been able to deliver messages where they are most relevant, but digital now allows brands to deliver them when (and to whom) they are most relevant.  Exciting applications of “eye tracking, facial/gender/age recognition, beacon technology, location and geo-gating, dynamic content and social media integration” have already increased interest in OOH in recent years. [1]  Additionally, in the increasingly crowded and chaotic world of digital advertising, marketers are concerned about whether or not ads are actually seen by consumers.  As consumers start to experience “advertising fatigue” (the UK’s Internet Advertising Bureau reports that 22% of UK adults now use adblocking software), OOH can shine as a “100% viewable medium” with a large-scale audience. [2]  OOH media companies have the opportunity to grab a greater share of marketing budgets by showing brands the power of digitized OOH.



Exterion Media is using technology to inform, create, and sell OOH in the digital age.  The company’s key strategies involve (i) using technology to research the effectiveness of OOH (ii) forming strategic alliances with communications and analytics companies to gather and layer data for implementation and (iii) developing a proprietary platform for changing the way OOH media is sold.

(i)     In March 2016 Exterion Media (formerly CBS Outdoor International) won the £1.1bn Transport for London contract, giving it the advertising oversight of more than 400 stations on the London Underground and the most valuable out-of-home contract in Europe.  The company’s research, dubbed “The Engagement Zone”, used eye tracking and skin conductance response data, as well as interviews and surveys, to learn about the effectiveness of digital OOH.  Findings suggest that, at least in the London Underground, engagement levels were found to match that of TV advertising at 16% and far surpass that of online video at 9%. [3]

(ii)     Exterion is seeking to “build a complete picture of how Londoners behave” and inform digital marketing strategy through its strategic partnerships.  The first is with digital communication company Telefónica UK, with whom Exterion has built its “Audience Behavioral Insights (Abi)” tool.  The tool is based on anonymous aggregated data from 25 million of Telefonica’s O2 customers as they journey through the tube.  The data collected includes mobile activity, CRM data, and app and web usage. [4]  “This is used to offer information including station entry/exit, demographics, interests, locations and time of travel, as well as detail such as when international visitors are at Zone 1 stations.” [5]  Exterion is also working with data agency Beyond Media to analyze consumer payment data along commuter journeys. [6]  Brands wishing to engage in OOH advertising can use this data to tailor content to the right consumers at the right time.  In collaboration with the Kinetic agency, Exterion is experimenting with beacons across its established network of bus and rail signage.  The beacons “act as a digital conduit between passengers’/shoppers’ mobile phones and the posters they pass by.” [7]  Companies can send targeted and timely content to passengers as they browse on their phones.

(iii)     Exterion is also developing a programmatic buying platform set to launch in 2017 to allow clients to bid on ad space in real-time.  Using the behavioral data discussed above in combination with this platform, clients can quickly place ads in relevant locations. [4]



Despite the recent progress in digitizing the OOH advertising space, many “campaigns continue to be simple ‘linear’ ad spots played out in a loop” on a digital screen. [9] The true power of digital in this industry goes far beyond this – to using technology and big data to interact with customers in real-time.  To encourage adoption of OOH as a viable marketing tool, Exterion is investing in the technology, but now it needs to align itself with forward-thinking brands.  By preparing successful integrated campaigns for companies such as Virgin Atlantic or Spotify, Exterion can gain the credibility and exposure that it needs to bring other brands on board.  Given its role in collecting increasing amounts of personal consumer data, Exterion must also help brands navigate the murky waters of hyper-targeted advertising.

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[1]  Herbison, Michelle, “Outdoor’s digital transformation,”, accessed November 2016.

[2] “IAB UK reveals latest ad blocking behavior,”, accessed November 2016. 

[3] “The Great Outdoors: Why OOH is Set to be Adworld’s Strongest Contender in 2017,”, accessed November 2016.

[4], accessed November 2016.

[5] “TfL and Exterion Media partner on data-driven advertising,”, accessed November 2016.

[6] “Exterion beefs up insight with new data partnership,”, accessed November 2016.

[7] Taylor, Stuart, “Taking the Contextual Revolution Outdoor,”, accessed November 2016.

[8] Rowntree, Lindsay, “Data, Technology & Automation: Turbo-Charging DOOH Creative,”, accessed November 2016.


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Student comments on The Great (Digital) Outdoors

  1. I think truly targeted ads are to be hyper-targeted and focused on one specific individual. In other words, I walk down the streets of NYC and the electronic billboard ads I see are specific to me only, while the person next to me may see a completely different ad. That seems to be the ultimate utopia for marketers. However, utilizing beacons steers us in the right direction as a creative way to target consumers via mobile devices. Specifically to Exterion Media, I like their programmatic buying platform as it creates real-time buying ads and enables companies to be more tactical in their marketing strategies.

  2. This is a very interesting post. One of the points that makes OOH advertising so difficult is the quantification and measurement of results. This post touches on the use of digital in targeting customers but another large challenge is making sure the customer is seeing the right ad and actually converting to buying whatever product is being marketed to them. Based on the “beacons” discussed in this post, I think that this space could move further into using the connection with mobile phones to offer customers the ability to convert or move further down the funnel, without having to remember what they saw, type it into a browser, etc. When this contact has been made, it will be possible to attribute a much larger amount of the impact of these signs on purchases.

  3. Tom217 – Thanks for the interesting post. Multiple startups are focused on perfecting smart billboard technology. Immersive Labs, for example, has focused on technology that instantly tailors billboard advertising to viewers based on video identification (most smart billboards already have webcams used to identify age, race, and gender) and other environmental information. Based on company tests, targeting advertising using Immersive Labs’ technology resulted in a 60% improvement in consumer engagement (as measured by time spent looking at the ads based on the billboard’s video analytics system). [1] While this technology appears to significantly improve user engagement, doesn’t it feel uncomfortable to have a billboard watching and analyzing you? I understand that we allow Amazon, Facebook, and Google to collect massive amounts of information on our daily browsing habits and to determine the advertisements we see based on that data, but I wonder if consumer perception of privacy is different in the physical world. What do you think? Should the OOH advertising industry worry about privacy concerns?


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