Is COVID-19 Changing Outdoor Advertising?

In recent blogs, we’ve looked at how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted online behavior, audience perception, and marketing trends. But what about how COVID-19 is changing particular segments of the advertising industry? For example, as people have turned increasingly to social media and streaming services to stay connected and entertained during quarantine, advertising in these spaces has shot up.

Other types of advertising, on the other hand, have taken a hit. With staying indoors becoming the norm, once-common activities like taking the bus or subway or spending Sunday afternoon at the mall have dropped drastically. That means fewer people are coming in contact with one of the oldest forms of advertising: outdoor ads.

There’s plenty of data showing that outdoor advertising – also known as out-of-home, or OOH – has been impacted by COVID-19, but what’s less clear is what advertisers can do about it. Below, we’ll take a look at the numbers and what they mean for the OOH industry.

A Quick Overview of Outdoor Advertising

Many people automatically think of billboards when they think of OOH. While billboards make up a large portion of OOH, they’re just one of many forms of outdoor advertising. The most common categories include:

  • Billboards
  • Mobile billboards
  • Shelters (e.g., the awning over a bus stop)
  • Transit displays (e.g., bus wraps)
  • Street furniture (e.g., benches)
  • Mall kiosks
  • City flags

It’s also important to note the difference between physical outdoor advertising, including many of the examples above, and digital outdoor advertising, such as digital billboards or screens displaying informational videos (a common sight at many walk-up and drive-thru COVID testing sites).

The Stats on COVID-19 and Outdoor Ads

An infographic from The Visual Capitalist gives a useful (if sobering) overview of the impact of COVID-19 on several categories of ad spend, including OOH advertising. We’ve rounded up the highlights below.

  • Overall global advertising spend is expected to shrink by nearly $50 billion in 2020. Pre-COVID, global advertising spend was expected to grow 7.1% in 2020. Now, it is estimated to shrink by 8.1%.
  • The hardest hit service/product categories will be Leisure & Entertainment and Travel & Transport. This makes sense since COVID-19 has heavily impacted our ability to safely recreate and travel. Telecom & Utilities ad spend, on the other hand, is the only category expected to grow this year as the new normal of working and studying from home highlights the importance of high-speed internet connections.
  • Out-of-home (OOH) ad spend is expected to contract by 21.7% in 2020. This is the second-strongest contraction of all forms of advertising included in the forecast, beaten only by Cinema at -31.6%.

Noting that it took eight years for global ad spending growth to fully recover after the last recession, The Visual Capitalist predicts that the above data means the advertising industry is in for an entirely new normal – including a possible total shift to digital.

Outdoor Advertising: Nail in the Coffin or New Opportunities?

With such grim forecasts for advertising post-COVID, some are predicting the death of traditional media, including outdoor ads. But others see this as a moment of opportunity. An opinion piece in OOH Today frames the bleak predictions of OOH shrinkage as a signal to OOH advertisers to start thinking outside the box (or should we say billboard?) and adapting, rather than abandoning, outdoor advertising.

The Shift to Digital

Echoing this sentiment, other industry insiders call for an embrace of the shift to digital. In this framework, digital doesn’t replace outdoor advertising, but simply represents an improvement of the form.

As noted in the Entrepreneur piece linked above, digitization was already a driving force in OOH even before the pandemic, and advertisers can embrace the trend by focusing on audiences and using data-driven audience insights to find and retarget consumers in more cost-effective and efficient ways. In other words – according to some – the post-COVID future of OOH is DOOH.

DOOH with Bloom Ads

At Bloom Ads, we take pride in staying ahead of the curve. That’s why we offer digital displays right along with our other outdoor advertising services. Learn more about our outdoor advertising services today.

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