Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

A number of trends and opportunities paint a bright future for out of home (OOH) advertising. But to take advantage of these opportunities the industry first needs to tackle a number of issues. 

More than ever before, OOH is an essential advertising platform. This is not despite the changing media landscape, but because of it. 

Digital media is predicted to represent 50% of all advertising spend by 2024, a trend accelerated by the Covid pandemic. Television has also been doing well, but faces the increasing challenge of huge fragmentation, and in SA, is plagued by issues about its research methodology.  

These media are hampered by the fact that globally, consumers have unprecedented choice regarding media and content consumption. OOH is the last media type that is unavoidable and unfragmented, and can’t be switched off.

Beyond this, several factors bode well for OOH in SA.

Taking digital to new places

Globally, digital OOH is set to capture more than 40% of OOH ad spend; locally, we are also fast approaching this level. The digitisation of OOH enables it to compete with electronic mass media by allowing for rapidly changing creative input and lower production costs. This has made digital place-based networks one of the fastest-growing mediums both locally and globally. 

Even more exciting is the immersion of digital OOH and connected TV networks in new environments. This is popular with advertisers because it supplements broadcast TV audiences, builds reach and frequency, and can’t be switched off: if you’re in a mall, taxi rank or golf club, you’ll be exposed to content and advertising.

OOH thrives where there are big infrastructure programmes

Over the past decade, the initial spurt of investment in airports, train networks and other infrastructure has slumped. Post-pandemic, I’m expecting a boom: some major events in human history – the two world wars, the Great Depression and, more recently, the financial crisis of 2007/2008 – have been followed by a steep recovery.

Add to this, come 2030, Africa will be the fastest-urbanising continent, overtaking Asia. Consequently, governments must build infrastructure, which creates great opportunities for OOH, including branded services – infrastructure that OOH delivers in exchange for advertising rights, including digital information panels in transport nodes and Wi-Fi networks.

However, while opportunity awaits OOH in SA and the continent, to capitalise on these opportunities requires that we must first tackle certain issues. 

Demonstrating the power of OOH, beyond static billboards

During the Covid pandemic, return on investment has become by far the most important consideration for advertisers. Accountability is crucial. This makes OOH powerful, because of the difficulties surrounding social media and digital platforms – issues surrounding privacy, bots, ad blockers and fake news. 

That said, we still have work to do. While we all know that OOH is effective and unavoidable, we need more data to back this up. 

The establishment of the OMC (Outdoor Measurement Council) has been a giant leap forward in providing reach, frequency and impact data for static billboard faces, thereby serving as an inclusive tool for media agencies to use when they’re procuring billboards. 

The next step is to launch research into transit static media including at taxi ranks, airports and stations to provide audience data in those zones. We need to have joint industry committees to represent each of the different OOH media segments. 

Educating administrators 

A key factor impeding the local OOH industry is a skills shortage among government and municipal officials responsible for the administration of OOH. In Johannesburg, more than 70% of billboards are illegal. This makes the industry cluttered and unregulated, and affects the value of assets. 

To address this, Provantage’s Training Academy is developing a course introducing all aspects of OOH, which we will offer free of charge to industry officials. We believe that improving understanding, and thereby the administration and legality of the industry, will increase its value and make it easier to operate.

Further, faster transformation

Another challenge is the urgent need for transformation in the industry. Only 18% of billboards among the top 15 billboard companies are by majority black-owned firms, which means that more 80% are still white-owned. Of this latter group, a substantial percentage are foreign-owned, which means that profits and capex leave the country.

At the other extreme, there are 100% black-owned companies with inferior assets that lack the relevant rights and ability to deliver an audience. This is similarly counterproductive. 

We need to reach a balance. A billboard site application should be evaluated as for any other tender: applying BEE criteria, ownership criteria and so on.

Educating the buyer

A final challenge is the need to expand buyers’ awareness of the possibilities. The average buyer has limited knowledge of certain spaces or segments of the market. The transit industry is a case in point: people don’t understand the scale, role, mobility and choice the taxi industry provides for most South Africans – many of whom travelled home in a taxi just after they were born. The recent riots have made it clear just how critical the taxi industry is to many communities. 

I’ve been selling transit media for the past 25 years in SA, and while the perception of the taxi industry has shifted, it has not shifted sufficiently. This media type should be attracting far more spend than it does. 

To address this, we need better education about this category’s benefits combined with in-depth, reliable figures to back up our claims. We also need more diverse buyers, who can bring first-hand understanding of these environments.

The only way large multinational media buyers will understand where the opportunities lie is if they gain first-hand insight by travelling more. PEP and Shoprite, for example, have a grass-roots understanding of the communities they serve. They know that a taxi rank or commuter centre is the nerve centre of many communities.

Successfully tackling these challenges will further unlock the huge potential of our medium and position it for all the opportunities ahead. 

Jacques du Preez is CEO of Provantage Media Group

The big take-out:

Out of home advertising is the last media type that is unavoidable and unfragmented, and can’t be switched off.

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