AYESHA SHAIKH: How did you start out in the Digital OOH business?
RADJEN VAN WILSEM: Ever since I was 17, I had been involved in developing systems for the telecom business. While doing this, I observed three game-changing developments happening concurrently – video, internet and digital signage hardware and software. In 2000, when I began to understand how digital signage could be used as an engaging advertising medium, I decided to leave my corporate job and enter DOOH. The idea to develop DOOH as a mass communication medium was there, but the technology to create a DOOH ecosystem only became available in 2012. In 2014, we executed our first online OOH campaign with Coca-Cola under the tagline #ShareACoke and it immediately caught the eye of audiences and advertisers. The personalised messages made people stop and look at the screens.
AS: What were the initial roadblocks in integrating digital with OOH and where does programmatic come in?
RvW: The problem is that most traditional agencies work in silos and there is not enough communication between the digital wing and the traditional agency departments. Another problem is that spend on digital OOH is limited; the OOH market in the Netherlands is only $160 million (although Pakistan is a much bigger country, spends are even less). Investors have tunnel vision because they think either in terms of digital or OOH (as two separate mediums). Integrating both is where programmatic comes in. Having worked extensively with mobile technology, I saw mobile phones as internet-enabled devices on which programmatic and digital advertising could be implemented and the question I asked myself was: why can’t the same thing be done for billboard screens?
"My company has deployed programmatic buying across more than 7,000 screens worldwide where continuously incoming data is interpreted to determine the number of screens a campaign should appear on, at a specific point in time."
We used the mobile phone as a prototype to develop technologies and systems for OOH. The only difference is that mobiles are on the move while screens are fixed in one place and that is an advantage; it always has context in terms of location (be it a gas station or a supermarket). In simple terms, programmatic is about alternating in different ways the value chain from planning to buying. By allowing advertisers to receive real-time reports of exposures, programmatic also addressed an ongoing issue in the OOH and DOOH industries – the fact that there was no recording and reporting of how many people view a message.
AS: What other benefits does programmatic offer DOOH advertisers?
RvW: There are two options when it comes to planning media: achieving maximum reach or optimising reach. Achieving maximum reach is the traditional approach in media buying, but because this has become very expensive, the focus has shifted to the latter. The biggest advantage of optimised reach is that ads are shown on digital screens only when certain conditions are met, and this means that DOOH campaigns can be implemented with significantly reduced budgets. Agencies that offer programmatic in DOOH work on the principle of selling the number of seconds that will help a campaign to achieve optimum reach. Although the option of running a linear campaign is still available (advertisers pay for entire blocks of time), it is not an effective strategy. The idea of charging for ‘seconds of advertising’ was derived from the telecom business, whereby people pay for the number of seconds they use a mobile service. My company has deployed programmatic buying across more than 7,000 screens worldwide where continuously incoming data is interpreted to determine the number of screens a campaign should appear on, at a specific point in time. Each screen is addressed as an individual unit and the advertiser’s message appears only when the predetermined criteria is met – number of cars driving by, time of day, amount of light, temperature, etc.
"Periodic consumer research is an integral part of our business because, although we do not collect customer data, it is important to know population demographics in order to communicate to brands (usually with 95% certainty) the gender-age-education-income compositions of the audience a campaign has reached."
AS: What features of programmatic complement its use on digital and in OOH?
RvW: Programmatic helps attract advertisers and audiences from the offline environment to online. Advertising campaign objectives are broadly classified into ‘awareness’ or ‘performance’. Awareness translates into seeing the product and considering it for purchase; performance is inducing purchase. To achieve performance goals, you first have to create awareness. This is where programmatic plays a key role. A campaign that starts as OOH at a (for example) subway station screen, can be taken online to retarget the people who have already been exposed at the station through a desktop or their mobile. People need to be ‘contacted’ at least nine times before an advertiser can be assured that awareness has been created, and from there onwards, the focus can shift on closing the deal (performance).
AS: Targeting consumers by tracking behaviour patterns tends to lead to the debate about consumer privacy and protection. What is your perspective on ethical data collection?
RvW: I am against data collection and our business model does not rely on collecting data – we collect ‘events’ and there is a huge difference here. An event is an action (activating the WiFi on your phone or logging onto a website) and that is what we track. We have no information about who is generating these events; we only monitor the action that is taking place at any given micro moment, within a specific context (location). We don’t have access to personally identifiable information, unless a client has a loyalty programme where people willingly share their profile information. Our programmatic platforms are advanced enough to track footfall through sensor technology which tells us at what time, for how long and how many people may be present, but not who those people are.
"There is great potential for DOOH in Pakistan. Once large brands and agencies work together and develop an ecosystem for DOOH, spends will increase automatically."
Access to that information would only be possible if we bought customer data from telecom companies or apps and that is not a practice we follow. Our focus is on identifying new or interesting events that may be relevant to a client campaign we are developing. Periodic consumer research is an integral part of our business because, although we do not collect customer data, it is important to know population demographics in order to communicate to brands (usually with 95% certainty) the gender-age-education-income compositions of the audience a campaign has reached. So, despite all the tools and technology that are available, the physical aspect of market research is only going to become more relevant in the DOOH landscape. We don’t own any customers and there are no cookies involved, so the data privacy issue is not relevant to us. When talking about DOOH, advertisers forget that OOH is not a one-to-one medium – it is a mass medium. The entire world is one big event for us. We are constantly looking for triggers and it is up to our clients to decide which trigger/event is of interest to them; this is how we make money.
AS: What advice would you give brands and agencies looking to implement programmatic-based campaigns in Pakistan?
RvW: It is important to understand how programmatic works in order to benefit from implementing it in OOH. The problem is that agency people do not typically have an IT background and understanding its implementation is technical. Finding the right people to implement the technology on OOH screens is the hurdle. We need more business leaders willing to take risks and explore new mediums such as DOOH. A single company or brand should not be expected to do it alone. Pakistan needs a platform for DOOH stakeholders to come together. Internationally, the International Advertising Association (IAA) has played a crucial role in facilitating talks between media owners, traders and advertisers in order to see how DOOH can be implemented. There is great potential for DOOH in Pakistan. Once large brands and agencies work together and develop an ecosystem for DOOH, spends will increase automatically.
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