The hardest-hit ad sector in 2020 was out-of-home (OOH) ad spending. Concerns over overcrowding in public spaces might drag the sector down for years. We believe that, as the economy improves, programmatic procurement of digital out-of-home (DOOH) ad inventory will take a larger portion of the market than it does now.
“In our pre-pandemic ad spending forecast for Canada, we anticipated OOH would be the sole traditional format to experience positive growth in 2020. After a relatively normal Q1, when sector growth was relatively flat and concerns about the coronavirus were just starting to surface, the market plunged in Q2 as quarantines were fully enacted in Canada. The market for these ads never fully recovered even as lockdowns eased, summer arrived, and more people ventured outdoors.”
“As a result, OOH ad spending fell by 30.0 percent in 2020, compared to 2019. In 2020, we estimate that OOH will be worth CA$644.0 million ($485.4 million). We don't expect this ad market to rebound to pre-pandemic levels until 2023.”
“This is the most difficult year to predict what lies ahead, especially as we’ve had cities and provinces go back to heavy restrictions in the second wave,” said Roseanne Caron, who recently retired from her position as president of the Canadian Out of Home Marketing and Measurement Bureau (COMMB). “But we did see our tracking of travel and foot traffic activity become similar to the pre-pandemic activity during the summer.”
During lockdowns, foot traffic in critical OOH locations such as urban centers and transit hubs, as well as along regularly trafficked highways, immediately decreased. According to a Chameleon Digital Media study commissioned by Novus Media, traffic decreased by up to 95 percent in congested metropolitan environments during the initial wave of the pandemic in April 2020.
A key part of the recovery of the OOH ad market in 2021 will be greater reliance on DOOH and the programmatic placements of ads in those venues. Compared with traditional billboards, digital screens offer greater flexibility to adapt messaging and creativity on the fly.
When foot circulation in public locations is directly tied to public policy to defend against the coronavirus, programmatic procurement allows for more flexibility in budget expenditure. The effectiveness of vaccines, which began being delivered in December in Canada, is also unknown. If the vaccines are proven effective, DOOH investments could accelerate again later in 2021.
“Part of what has transpired with the pandemic is advertisers are now looking to have greater flexibility and control over their messaging,” COMMB’s Caron said. “They can do that with digital more than they can with static out-of-home. Advertisers are going to be very cautious going forward. They want to know they have control and flexibility if they need to change their messaging on the fly or respond to something that’s going on.”
“This pandemic has allowed programmatic DOOH because of its flexibility and targetability,” said Debbie Drutz, president of Novus Media. “For example, capabilities that can target key neighborhoods that were open. Today, we are accelerating DOOH planning and buying because supply is more readily available on every tech platform and will see the largest growth in the next few years.”