Reading Time: 5 minutes

“Programmatic advertising is the automated buying and selling of online advertising. Targeting tactics are used to segment audiences using data so that advertisers only pay for ads delivered to the right people at the right time…”

The method of programmatic advertising is an auction system that puts advertisers together with online and/or mobile properties with available ad space. The method allows the highest bidder to A) target their ad to be viewed by different demographic & psychographic potential customers on websites and applications those consumers visit. B) It also allows the ad to go out in real time and limit the cost of the ad placement to just a fractional amount greater than the second-place bidder, the purpose of which is intended to minimize the cost per ad placed.

This method of buying and selling ads has worked out for some and probably not as well for others. On average, click-through-rates for Facebook ads across all industries is 0.90% and runs about 0.46% for Google display ads. Facebook and Google are making money selling ad space with the programmatic platform. Sadly, for many advertisers, just because an ad ran, and they paid for it, does not necessarily mean it was viewed.

Many folks saw the profitability and ease of buying and selling ads in the digital world and decided… “Hey, if it works for them, why not for us!”. So, they got cozy with people in the OOH industry who on average have as much as 30+% of the 340,817 billboards and posters in the U.S. unsold during any given month. That’s 102,245 potential units that could be sold, but often end up becoming added value or public service announcements, neither of which are generating revenue.

Those folks and a few of the top executes at the big billboard companies said, “well you can’t skip a billboard like you can a digital ad, maybe we should try selling this unsold inventory as the digital ads do, programmatically!” Lightbulb!

So, in 2012 Broadsign established the first programmatic OOH exchange and called it Vistar, based out of Canada, which had access to about 90% of the United States digital OOH inventory. Today there are all kinds of companies offering programmatic buying of OOH and digital location-based advertising inventory through self-serve platforms.

So, here’s the rub… This method seems to be a logical way to sell unsold inventory for OOH companies. Digital boards that have an open week here or there can be sold at the last minute instead of being left unsold, so the OOH companies are able to get something for the space. As they say, something is better than nothing.

There are three inherent problems associated with programmatic buying of OOH, and they are related to TIME, QUALITY, & MONEY:
  • TIME – One key benefit to using a programmatic platform is supposed to be the time the buyer will save in having to source RFP’s, dig through options and select and negotiate the best group of locations. Now a buyer must learn a new ordering platform, but once learned, the process might be faster by as much as 2-3 days. That could be significant savings depending on the size of the agency. The agency might save a few dollars in labor, but will this savings be passed onto the client?  The price determined through the bidding must still be agreed to by the OOH company, which means they still set the price at a level they are comfortable accepting. It’s possible the price might have been lower had the agency just bought the property through the OOH company directly bypassing the programmatic method and costs. The agency must still pay the price the OOH company will charge for the units, but now the agency must figure out how to offset the additional expense of the programmatic platform’s commission or decide to just add it to the client’s final cost. I suggest the cost savings to the agency will ultimately end up in the pocket of the agency and result in the client paying the same or higher pricing for less than prime OOH inventory. In this case programmatic buying won’t benefit the client.   
  • QUALITY – There is a reason that some billboards and transit locations are sold all the time and a reason the bottom 30% remain unsold. Its because the advertiser, either through an agency or through an in-house buyer has sourced the best options that fit its targeted demos for OOH & transit options and has bought those locations and units first. Typically, the first sold are the best options and selections. That means the rest of the inventory available to be sold programmatically are likely not the highest quality options to select from. If a buy is made through the programmatic exchange, the units must be available, and if available it’s unlikely that the same units would not be available to be purchased directly through that OOH company in the first place.
  • MONEY – As mentioned above in the TIME section, most programmatic buying exchanges, need to make a living too. They must either get those revenue dollars from the agency/via the client or kick back from the OOH companies as a percentage of the sales made through the platform OR BOTH. I do not begrudge any company providing a service or a product the right to make a living. What I believe and what our company does is always look out for the best interest of the client. That means we rarely would use a 3rd party company for any buying activity, unless that cost associated with the 3rd party could be justified and not increase the cost to our client’s bottom line. So far, we have not seen a platform yet in this country or in others, that allows for programmatic buying of OOH and does not also carry the baggage of one or more of the three inherent problems of Programmatic OOH buying.

What I believe and what our company does is always look out for the best interest of the client.

Let me be clear, programmatic OOH buying still has value in some cases. For example. If a client is seeking a GRP buy, or if it is trying to blanket cover an area in a short period of time or at the last minute, then this can be achieved with programmatic OOH campaigns. If an agency is short on actual human buyers and have been tasked with a large amount of buying in a short turnaround time, again this might be a good option. It is certainly a viable option for a very small product or service company that does not have a huge media budget but wants to make buys themselves.

It is certainly a smart move by OOH companies as its gives them another chance to make money on boards that are unsold or are typically hard to sell.

Not all methods of media buying are transferable to all other channels. In the case of programmatic buying of OOH, its important from an ethical perspective that clients are informed before any campaigns are purchased, meaning disclosing the advantages and disadvantages as well as the costs associated with the buying method. 

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A resume is typically crafted to highlight a person’s skill set and positive attributes. It is written to present that person’s “Best Version” of themselves to prospective employers. 

Billboards have a similar document used much like the human resume. Different outdoor companies call those documents by different names, from “Ride Sheets” to “Photo Sheets” to “Location Sheets” to the less frequently used name today, “Photo-liths”.  No matter what you call them, they function much like a human’s resume. They are intended to provide background information about that unit, its location on the road, the direction it is facing, side of the road it is located, the interesting destinations people travel to nearby as well as the weekly impressions it is rated to deliver.

Most importantly, and thankfully unlike most humans resumes, these come with pictures. For buyers that may have geographic obstacles preventing them from doing a traditional “pre-ride” physical inspection of billboard locations, these pictures serve as a surrogate solution. Most have multiple views of the board. Some from down the sightline or “contact zone” and some up close called “beauty shots”. These pictures are intended to sway media buyers to select these boards for OOH campaigns. The photos are also the outdoor companies’ way to present the best version of that board for buyers to view.

Not All Photos Sheets Are Created Equal

The job of the photos is to deliver the best views of the board. We have seen some pretty tricky photos taken from angles that often require a photographer with a risk-taking persona and the flexibility of a contortionist. My point is, if the photo’s look good, that is great, and some buyers will accept the location and the photo at face value.

Unfortunately, not all photo sheets are created equally, and some photo’s do not represent an accurate view of what potential viewers might see. When the Outdoor Media buy requires maximizing impressions quickly and the product or service is less specific, random locations may work. On the other hand, if the client has a more constrained budget and is focused on reach, frequency, and more dispersed engagements, then it becomes all the more important to take a closer look at those “Photo Sheets” when selecting boards.

Inspect What You Expect

In conjunction with overview maps, “Photo sheets” are a helpful starting point in the billboard selection process.
We have found it helps to try to envision yourself in the shoes of the viewer.
    * Is the photo taken at an angle that most people would view it?
    * Is the image or images unusually close to the board or does it only provide a close-up “beauty shot”?
    * What time of year was the photo taken? Summer growth often obscures board views.
    * Is the board located in a busy business boulevard?  Store signs can block a board’s view from the road.

Any of these red flags are usually worth a buyer’s drive down the street on Google Map view or a search on Geopath’ s platform to view the boards from the street level. Once found, the secondary perspective can provide the ability to virtually drive down the road (with your mouse) to see the board as a person in a car would. It can help determine the approximate dwell time and distance the board might be viewed in the contact zone. Very often you will find out that the board has a sign, a building, a tree or other vegetation blocking the boards view from the road. Check your “Weekly Impression” levels as well and consider if the calculation included a secondary road in their “Likely-to-see” measurement. That can sometimes skew the accuracy of the impressions reported.

Its ok occasionally to “take peoples word” for the veracity of a presented board. My advice to those looking to buy a campaign utilizing out of home, do your due diligence. If you don’t “Inspect, what you Expect” you could be doing your client a disservice. So just like that resume, if a “Photo Sheet” has any “red flags” it’s always worth checking a few of the board’s “references”, with Google maps or Geopath to make sure you are getting what you expect.