My Love / Hate Relationship with the Omni-Channel DSPs in DOOH

By Thought Leaders Archives
Cover image for  article: My Love / Hate Relationship with the Omni-Channel DSPs in DOOH

Around 15 years ago, I got a frantic phone call from one of the sales reps on my old digital sales team. “Who is this Blue Kai company? Everyone is talking about them and their data!” She was enraged. Blue Kai, then just an upstart consumer data company, was making generic behavioral targeting data accessible to the masses by creating a marketplace. This, as she put it, would destroy our business, as we were one of the trailblazers in the behavioral targeting space, owned consumer data subsidiary Sitemeter (so we had our own exclusive data with more scale/fidelity), and were highly differentiated.

I spent the next several minutes calming her down and ultimately brought up Blue Kai during our upcoming sales team meeting. I told the team that they were a good thing for us; that they would help raise awareness of the power of consumer data within the industry, which was our principle differentiator. They would help educate clients on its importance. They would help democratize and normalize behavioral targeting and its effectiveness in digital advertising. While their data wasn’t as advanced as ours nor was it exclusive like ours, this evangelism would be highly valuable to the industry - and us indirectly. I knew we would compete with Blue Kai and all the platforms that utilized its data, but we knew we had the better product and their entrance in the market could help grow the market. Thus, Blue Kai meant we could help more advertisers, which was our entire segment’s ultimate goal.

Fast forward to 2024, a somewhat similar phenomenon is taking place in the out-of-home advertising market. As we continue the quest to grow our share of media spend from the way-too-low 4-5% to simply “more than that,” several in the industry hold the view that programmatic DOOH will be a prominent driver. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s the why pDOOH will help is where we disagree. Most cling to the notion that the democratization of DOOH inventory will change our trajectory; that if we can plug our industry into digital’s ‘machine’ we will win. The thinking is that once brands can buy DOOH like online, they’ll flock to the format sight unseen. Enter the Omni-Channel DSPs. You can’t read an article about DOOH without hearing about them, how they will catalyze the growth of our format and be our knight in shining armor. In fact, I recall a few years back during the introduction at a DPAA summit, the presenter referenced The Trade Desk and Google’s entry into the market as THE key in helping us transform our fortune. Imagine that, not brands nor agencies that represent them will be the key to our future success. But a group of digital intermediaries, a group that understands nothing about the out-of-home industry, are the skeleton key.

As we all wait for The Trade Desk and their ilk to take our industry to the promised land, I say don’t hold your breath.

Like Blue Kai in 2008, they have done a nice job raising awareness of DOOH among the broader marketing and media buying communities. They have also introduced the format to new, digital focused buyers. There was also little bump in programmatic DOOH budgets. But let’s make one thing crystal clear: omni-channel DSPs and other digital folks entered the OOH space to capture and control a new bucket of money (in this case OOH’s modest bucket), not to move digital dollars to OOH at scale. Only the OOH industry can effectuate this change.

In order to truly maximize the potential of our format, we need to showcase and highlight the uniqueness and power of the format. That means both focusing on how we can make it easier to transact, but also (and more importantly) maintaining our differentiation. This requires an emphasis on how our format is ultimately different, not the same as online.

When most talk about programmatic DOOH, they focus almost exclusively about execution in delivering the media. We should spend most of the time talking about the performance this beautiful format can drive when it’s executed well. Programmatic works seamlessly online because every unit can be measured similarly, so it’s logical to deliver every unit similarly. This is not the case with our medium. Forget about the fact that we don’t face the myriad issues that digital has related to fraud/viewability/ad blockers, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of how powerful our format is in their terms - in terms of real, tangible business results. You know, those things that CMOs are, and should be, actually judged on. When we’ve worked with our OOH friends to execute and measure pDOOH campaigns properly, we’ve seen astronomical results that move businesses forward - and we’re just getting started. So, as we start to learn more about the power of our format in absolute terms, we shouldn’t have to commoditize ourselves just to get to the adult table.

This is the great challenge and opportunity for our industry. To truly demonstrate to agencies and brands that our medium drives results, we need to think differently. We need to show that our results can compete with and often times exceed that of other channels. We need to show how ads in bars with captive audiences on OTT devices shown to dozens of people is more powerful than 12 of the same CTV ads shown to 1-2 people in their living room. We need to prove that we have the ability to move our advertising partners’ businesses forward. What we don’t need to do is marginalize and commoditize DOOH so it can be purchased like a 300x250 display ad on an obscure website nobody has ever heard of next to 6 other cluttered ads. Or pretend we’re CTV. Or say we only work if we’re connected to digital retargeting. That doesn’t exactly scream progress.

Remember the motive here. Our collective goal is to grow OOH share, and we can’t do that without proving our worth – and we can’t do that without digital AND static winning. The larger digital companies’ goal is to capture digital budget volume, whether OOH is 4% or 1% - as long as it’s their percent. They have no interest in proving out the effectiveness of OOH, nor will they innovate on its behalf. You don’t think that the OOH budget they piped into their platform goes right into CTV or video or pure online if there is the slightest client pushback, rather than learning about the response + branding benefits of the marketing in the physical world?

We can increase our 4% share to say 10% by showing that we deserve 10% on the back of our format working to help brands win – then we can and should jam ourselves into every omni-channel buying platform in the world – because then, and only then, will we be valued correctly and authoritatively. Remember, consumers spend 70% of their waking hours outside the home – I’m no math major, but 70% of our time creates a lot more media consumption share than the 4% of budget share we currently command.

Access to new data and technology has afforded us the unique opportunity to showcase and highlight the uniqueness and power of our format. Or, we can use it marginalize ourselves and turn our greatest strengths into weaknesses. It’s up to us…

Posted at MediaVillage through the Thought Leadership self-publishing platform.

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