Out of Home and away in Portugal

Phantom Billstickers’ Robin McDonnell reports back from the World Out of Home Congress held in Lisbon from 7-9 June and explores the advancements in measurement and sustainability.

“The value of things is not the time they last, but the intensity with which they occur. That is why there are unforgettable moments and unique people.” – Fernando Pessoa. 

Held every year around the start of June, the World Out of Home Organisation (WOO) Annual Congress is the convergence of buyers, sellers, suppliers, measurers and raving out-of-home fanatics from around the globe. 

This year’s Congress in Lisbon, Portugal, was the biggest yet, with 500 delegates from 40 countries. I was there waving the flag for Phantom Billstickers and Aotearoa alongside our mates from Lumo Digital.

Lisbon is a beautiful city with colourful architecture, plenty of street art and a pulsing underground music scene. The birthplace of iconic Portuguese poets Fernando Pessoa and Luís de Camões, it is full of inspiration and romance. It’s an easy place to fall in love with.

A quick poster run to blow away the cobwebs.

Jetlagged after traveling through more time zones than I care to count, I used my cure-all and went out to explore the city and put up some poem posters. 

Given the poetic history of Lisbon, I found my way to a square containing a statue of poet Luís de Camões. Now tell me why there is no statue of Janet Frame in the Octagon? 

I had packed a spectacular poem by Ockham winner Khadro Mohamed, called Ginger Flakes, and found a great spot at the entrance to the square. Seen by thousands of locals and tourists, it was the perfect platform to inaugurate a few days of celebrating and learning about the power of the poster, in whatever form that takes.  

Breaking the five percent barrier.

Back at the Congress after sticking a few posters and grabbing some shuteye, I was there when President Tom Goddard kicked off proceedings. His key message was a frustrated plea for out-of-home to break through the invisible ceiling of five percent total media spend. 

WOO now represents over 195 members in 100 countries, and we all really need to focus our efforts on pushing past the dreaded five percent flatline. In Aotearoa we’re no exception. In 2022 out-of-home was 5.4 percent of total ad spend. By comparison, digital accounted for 52 percent of total ad spend.

Given the reach, impact and effectiveness of out-of-home, it’s really hard to believe that digital advertising absorbs so much of the advertising budget. To compete, out-of-home will need to reduce the number of sales points, make buying frictionless and keep lifting its carbon game. 

The sustainability challenge: Net carbon zero

Sustainability continues to be a hot topic, and enlightened brands are now demanding their media channels be net carbon zero. 

The out-of-home industry has had some bad press about sustainability but as a one-to-many medium, and even when delivered via power-hungry digital screens, it’s still a very eco-efficient way to deliver eyeballs. In reality out-of-home is more energy-efficient than television or digital. 

The challenge for media owners lies in ensuring that the electricity used to display pixels is sustainable. This shouldn’t be a problem in Aotearoa, with almost all of the national grid powered with renewable energy. 

Measure carbon, then manage it.

The biggest challenge for the industry is understanding, measuring and then reducing the carbon cost of a campaign. 

In relatable scale, one ton of carbon is equal to an 8m x 8m cube. The average out-of-home campaign uses about five tons of carbon. In my view this is not good enough, and we must make a concerted effort to reduce the impact of catching eyeballs. 

Sustainability needs to be baked into all measurement methodology. This is not just a nice-to-have; it needs to be measured with the same ferocious intent that delivers ROI. The gold standard would be a carbon calculator included on every media schedule. 

On the topic of measurement, thanks to global best-practice guidelines introduced in 2022, there is a burgeoning marketplace of off-the-shelf measurement solutions. It’s great to see that by creating common standards the market is starting to deliver innovative and sustainable measurement. 

Midnight power naps.

A quick win for digital media owners would be to power down screens between the hours of midnight and 5am. Let’s face it, while hugely effective, the actual ROI of that burger ad seen by one shit-faced punter at 3am isn’t worth it. Hitting the off switch in the wee small hours might even help nudge a few resource consents over the line and give you a favourable position with city councils. 

A key point to remember is that sustainability is not a trade secret and we shouldn’t be competing on it. Anyone that has sustainable proprietary tech or products has a moral obligation to share this with the industry. There’s no point in scoring points if we’re all on a sinking ship.

Hooked on the classics.

The other recurring theme from last year’s Congress is that classic out-of-home is still a huge chunk of the industry. While New Zealand is ahead of the world with digital conversions, there’s no ignoring the permanency, sustainability, share of voice and creative opportunities that this segment of the out-of-home channel offers. 

The next wave of innovation – and the secret to unblocking the five percent curse – will be to include classic out-of-home automation. When digital and classic out-of-home are being transacted together, the channel really will have a compelling point of difference against digital.

Frictionless programmatic trading of classic and digital out-of-home inventory is the new utopia, and will become the gold standard.

What about creativity?

As with all good industry conferences, the creative awards were a highlight. It was inspiring to see some of the most creative minds in the ad business using the unique qualities of out-of-home media to deliver huge ideas.

Case in point: the HSBC Bank billboard by UK agency Wunderman that dramatised the terrifying reality of financial abuse. A real woman was controlled by strings from the billboard, turning her into a helpless puppet. 

That was the gold winner in the classic out-of-home category. Second place went to our very own installation in Newton Road that launched the most recent series of Amazon Prime’s The Boys. 

It was a proud moment for this Kiwi. Kudos to a bold client and the teams at Billie Media, Rufus powered by Initiative, Mediabrands Content Studio, and our very own stellar team of Phantoms.

Though we doubt he was talking about poster creativity, the quote from a Portuguese poet above totally nails the point. “Unforgettable moments and unique people.” That’s what out-of-home is all about.

And just like that, the Congress was over. An intense two days reconnecting with poster fanatics from around the globe and making new connections to innovate and push the industry forward.

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Robin McDonnell is the CEO of Phantom Billstickers.

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