Consumer Reports:  “Digital billboards are tracking you. And they really, really want you to see their ads.”  On social media, your TV, etc.

Consumer Reports: “Digital billboards are tracking you. And they really, really want you to see their ads.” On social media, your TV, etc.

Photo: Consumer Reports

“How the most intrusive parts of the web are expanding into the real world, complete with data collection and targeted ads.

On a bright Friday morning, Frank O’Brien is giving me a tour through Times Square in New York City. Thousands of strangers are milling around us on the sidewalk, and in the crowd, it’s easy to feel anonymous. But according to O’Brien, many of the billboards and screens towering over our heads in every direction know a lot about who we are.

‘As we stand here, there are devices behind that screen that are picking ID numbers from our cell phones,’ O’Brien tells me, gesturing toward a billboard at 42nd Street and 7th Avenue. Using those devices and other technology, he says, ‘We know who is in Times Square at a given moment.’

O’Brien, the CEO of a high-tech advertising platform called Five Tier, launches an app on his phone. He taps a few buttons and in an instant, the billboard changes to display a picture of me I’d sent him the day before. Suddenly, I’m famous, with a 20-foot-high photo of me gazing out over the tourists. ‘It still amazes me sometimes,’ he says…

Data including your gender, age, race, income, interests, and purchasing habits can be used by a company such as Five Tier to trigger an advertisement right away. Or, more often, it will be used for planning where and when to show ads in the future—maybe parents of school-age children tend to pass a particular screen at 3 p.m. on weekdays, while 20-something singles usually congregate nearby on Saturday nights.

Then the tracking continues. Once your phone is detected near a screen showing a particular ad, an advertising company may follow up by showing you related ads in your social media feed, and in some cases these ads may be timed to coordinate with the commercials you see on your smart TV at night.

It doesn’t stop there. Advertisers are keenly interested in ‘attribution,’ judging how well a marketing campaign influences consumer behavior. For instance, is it better to target people like you with online ads for fast food right after you see a restaurant’s new TV commercial, or to wait until after you drive by a new billboard the next day? The advertising industry looks for the answers by watching where you go in person, what you do online, and what you buy with your credit card.

Charts: Example shown in Consumer reports

These aren’t futuristic scenarios. They are a recent but growing trend, according to executives in the advertising business. ‘The industry has really started to wake up to this within the last year,’ says Ian Dallimore, the director of digital growth for Lamar Advertising, a leader in out-of-home advertising. ‘If you’re not using data to better plan and buy ads, then you’re probably not doing out-of-home the right way.’

Researchers say that as tracking and ad targeting spill over from the web into the real world, our collective privacy and sense of control are eroding. If you don’t want to see ads at home, you can close your browser or turn off your phone, but you can’t avoid the ads you see in public. And there’s no practical way to completely block the location tracking used to place those ads…


Photo: Consumer Reports
Lawmakers and regulatory agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission are paying more attention to data privacy, but it’s not clear how the measures being put in place will affect the way individuals are tracked through their phones, and how the data is used by data brokers and their clients. Several out-of-home advertising companies I spoke with said they already comply with GDPR, Europe’s sweeping privacy regulation that was implemented in 2018. The companies also say they are prepared for the most stringent privacy legislation in the U.S., the California Consumer Privacy Act, which is supported by Consumer Reports and goes into effect in January 2020.

Five Tier’s Frank O’Brien says that, just like every other industry, the out-of-home advertising business should be regulated. But for now, if you’re not comfortable with how out-of-home advertising uses your information, you don’t have much recourse. ‘I don’t think there’s anything you can do about it,’ he says. ”

— Thomas Germain, Consumer Reports
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Market for outdoor advertising: “Outside the home, media is not fragmenting”

Market for outdoor advertising: “Outside the home, media is not fragmenting”

Photo: Getty in Forbes
“…’When it comes to contextual relevance, digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising can be particularly effective. The use of geo-location data for attribution studies and mobile surveys have found that DOOH is instrumental in building brand awareness, purchase intent, plus web and store traffic with a contextually relevant and a timely ad message. As a result, DOOH plays an important part in new business pitches and client retention strategies with ad agencies.

Mike Cooper, the global president and CEO of Rapport Worldwide, the out-of-home media planning and buying agency of IPG Mediabrands, says, ‘Not including DOOH in a new business presentation shows a complete lack of understanding of where consumers are today.’ Cooper also cites new technology and the physical inventory of DOOH as instrumental in helping with a client’s messaging by using the space to create and deliver content. As an example, the agency has created small screen events with clients using DOOH screens which then go viral online, attracting millions of views. This allows for marketers to interact directly with consumers.

Out-of-home is the lone traditional ad-supported medium in which revenue has been increasing both in the U.S. and globally. With more ad dollars being allocated to digital media (especially mobile), marketers have become aware of their compatibility with DOOH. Recent industry studies reveal mobile click-through rates and search engine usage increase when consumers are exposed to a DOOH ad. In fact, many prominent tech companies such as Amazon, Apple and Google are using DOOH as an integral part of their marketing strategy. Furthermore, Netflix recently spent a reported $150 million on a string of 32 high-profile DOOH billboards on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

Why is ad revenue for DOOH growing? Rick Ducey, the Manager Director of BIA, says ‘It’s a laundry list: the high quality of display technology, more standardized ad units, automated workflow, programmatic trading, measurability, cost efficiencies and viewability have been strong growth drivers. DOOH can draw the attention of a captive audience with video messaging in taxicabs, elevators, etc. DOOH ads are also being delivered with point-of-sales ads at interactive kiosks. The one key is advertisers know exactly where the ad impressions will be seen.’

Ducey continues, ‘In the past, I think OOH and DOOH maybe have been seen to be top of the funnel channels, but their role in the media mix has become far more impactful at lower funnel levels. DOOH has a lot of cross-platform capability and this flexibility serves advertisers well.’ In the U.S., BIA forecasts video OOH’s compound annual growth rate to be a strong 4.8%, and non-video DOOH growing at healthy rate of 4.5%.

..Nowadays, the average worker spends over 26 minutes commuting to work each way (or roughly nine days each year), up from 22 minutes in 1990. The trip is longer in urban areas such as New York and Washington. This provides workers ample time and opportunity for digital signage exposure. Additionally, for advertisers, DOOH offers a brand-safe environment with 100% viewabilty, the ads are not skippable, and there isn’t any fraud’…”

— Brad Adgate, Forbes

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Heading to Orlando and Tampa: “McDonald’s drives 8.4K in-app actions by tying geofenced billboards to Waze”

Heading to Orlando and Tampa: “McDonald’s drives 8.4K in-app actions by tying geofenced billboards to Waze”

Photo: Waze on Mobile Marketer

“McDonald’s earned 6.4 million mobile impressions by tying together out-of-home (OOH) billboards and in-app advertising on Waze, according to case study details shared with Mobile Marketer. The fast-food chain is the world’s largest spender on OOH media and worked with its outdoor agency Outdoor Media Group on the push.

The campaign [Pilot in Southern CA] leveraged more than 300 billboards equipped with geofencing technology in the Southern California market to serve Waze users in close radius an in-app ad format called Zero Speed Takeover. The full-screen ads were served anytime a user’s car came to a full stop for several seconds.

Messages shown in the ads reflected those on the billboards, touting McDonald’s menu promotions, like the limited return of the McRib, and carrying a call-to-action to ‘Drive There,’ wherein Waze navigation guided consumers to nearby restaurants. The campaign resulted in more than 8,400 navigations — meaning a user decided to activate the call-to-action — and reached 1.9 million unique consumers across an eight-week run in October and November last year…

McDonald’s will continue to work with Waze in Southern California through 2019 following the fall pilot and is expanding the partnership to five additional markets: Las Vegas, Arizona, Tampa, Orlando and Houston. ”

— Peter Adams, Mobile Marketer

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“Sign of the times: Billboards are an old but booming ad medium Innovations developed by online advertisers are working for billboards”

“Sign of the times: Billboards are an old but booming ad medium Innovations developed by online advertisers are working for billboards”

Photo: Economist/Getty
“..Most forms of conventional advertising—print, radio and broadcast television—have been losing ground to online ads for years; only billboards, dating back to the 1800s, and tv ads are holding their own (see chart).

Such out-of-home (ooh) advertising, as it is known, is expected to grow by 3.4% in 2018, and digital out-of-home (dooh) advertising, which includes the lcd screens found in airports and shopping malls, by 16%. Such ads draw viewers’ attention from phones and cannot be skipped or blocked, unlike ads online.

Billboard owners are also making hay from the location data that are pouring off people’s smartphones. Information about their owners’ whereabouts and online browsing gets aggregated and anonymised by carriers and data vendors and sold to media owners. They then use these data to work out when different demographic groups—’business travellers’, say—walk by their ads. That knowledge is added to insights into traffic, weather and other external data to produce highly relevant ads. dooh providers can deliver ads for coffee when it is cold and fizzy drinks when it is warm. Billboards can be programmed to show ads for allergy medication when the air is full of pollen.

Such targeting works particularly well when it is accompanied by ‘programmatic’ advertising methods, a term that describes the use of data to automate and improve ads. In the past year billboard owners such as Clear Channel and jcDecaux have launched programmatic platforms which allow brands and media buyers to select, purchase and place ads in minutes, rather than days or weeks.

Industry boosters say outdoor ads will increasingly be bought like online ones, based on audience and views as well as location. That is possible because billboard owners claim to be able to measure how well their ads are working, even though no ‘click-through’ rates are involved. Data firms can tell advertisers how many people walk past individual advertisements at particular times of the day.

Advertisers can estimate how many individuals exposed to an ad for a Louis Vuitton handbag then go on to visit a nearby shop (or website) and buy the product. Such metrics make outdoor ads more data-driven, automated and measurable, argues Michael Provenzano, co-founder of Vistar Media, an ad-tech firm in New York…

The outdoor-ad revolution is not problem-free. The collection of mobile-phone data raises privacy concerns. And criticisms of the online-ad business for being opaque, and occasionally fraudulent, may also be lobbed at the ooh business as it becomes bigger and more complex…”
— The Economist

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“Google’s Targeted Ads Are Coming to a Billboard Near You”

“Google’s Targeted Ads Are Coming to a Billboard Near You”

Photo: Bloomberg Opinion
“Google may be about to pair all that data it has on users’ web browsing with the ads displayed on public billboards. Creepy? Maybe. Inevitable? Almost certainly.

The Alphabet Inc. unit is in talks in Germany about pushing into out-of-home advertising – billboards in stations, shopping centers and shop windows – according to WirtschaftsWoche. The move would be a precursor to similar expansion in the U.S. and the U.K., the magazine said.

That’s unlikely to mean that a Google search for underwear as a gift for your partner will pop Calvin Klein ads on the digital billboard when you sit down at a bus stop. You can leave your copy of 1984 on the bookshelf for now.

But it could mean that, when a train full of Borussia Dortmund fans arrives at Munich’s main station ahead of the Bayern Munich fixture, the advertising hoarding changes to show soccer cleats or beer, while on a Monday morning at rush hour it displays BMW ads for well-to-do commuters.

Google has been testing programmatic ad technology (in which trading algorithms bid against each other to secure digital space based on the target audience) for billboards since at least 2015. The technology is currently restricted mainly to web ads: Because Google, Facebook Inc. and others are able to track users’ browsing behavior, they are better able to target publicity at them.

Because of Google’s dominant position in mobile operating systems – Android runs on three-quarters of all the phones in Europe – it is also able to track users’ locations. Privacy concerns mean it’s unlikely to be able to target out-of-home ads at individuals, but it can pull demographic data on what kinds of people are in a given place at a given time…”

— Alex Webb, Bloomberg Opinion
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