Travel: Moving Nearer to Normal

14th May 2020

Effectively and efficiently travelling through towns and cities has always been key to keeping a city moving in terms of business, shopping and our social lives.  How we do that, and the effect it has on the environment, our bank accounts and stress levels, has been a growing debate over the last few years.

The OOH industry is built to capitalise on the movement of people with much of the industry’s infrastructure coming from transport networks.  In recent weeks however all of this has been interrupted.  Normal travel behaviours have been disrupted, and with changes to travel patterns comes changes to out of home advertising too.

Here we consider what a post-lockdown society might look like, and how we might travel through it:

Increases in car usage

With social distancing remaining for the foreseeable future, people are expected to travel in the perceived safety of their car over confined public transport carriages.  Research suggests that we’ll see increase on the pre-COVID 19 behaviour of 68% of commutes predominately made by car and this may well be the case in more suburban and rural areas.  And although we might expect this to felt most keenly in the Capital, where over 80% of all journeys into central London were previously made by a rail-based form of transport, road closure and reduction schemes and expanded bike lanes in the City may limit the use of private cars.

With an expected upswing in car use nationally, we’ll need to reappraise how brands target drivers. There is a greater opportunity for the merging of the two pre-eminent vehicular media – radio and OOH.  Syncing these two mediums creates a brilliant opportunity for advertisers to marry audio story telling with high impact visuals  While brands such as Wickes and Lucozade have done this successfully in the past, we expect to see more advertisers use this approach to amplify the power of OOH.

Longer term changes to driving behaviour could have a positive impact on new OOH locations too.  The rollout of new DOOH formats and technology has been predicated on maximising opportunities to engage the most amount of people as impactfully and efficiently as possible. Sustained changes to travel behaviour might see media owners pivot towards installing new digital OOH frames in locations which previously had lower vehicular or pedestrian traffic.

Searching for alternatives

PM Boris Johnson’s recent announcement that those returning to work should avoid using public transport if possible, means that people will need to look to alternative ways of getting to places of employment. Not everyone has the benefit of owning a car (and those that do may not wish to pay exorbitant parking fees or congestion zone charges) so we may see a return to more manual forms of movement.

The government is actively encouraging more people to take up cycling and walking as greener transport alternatives. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced a £250 million emergency active travel fund which will roll out pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements and safer junctions across England. This is the first stage of a £2 billion investment from the previously announced £5 billion funding for cycling and buses.  This is in addition to local authority schemes to improve the conditions for England’s cyclists, including Greater Manchester’s long-mooted scheme of 150 miles of protected cycle tracks.

Increased adoption of cycle hire schemes as people look to pedal power to get around cities is also likely.  More bikes from Jump and Lime might find their way onto our streets, particularly if they follow the example of TfL and partner with a brand (in their case, Santander) to extend the rollout of their schemes into more London boroughs (and potentially other UK cities).

COVID-19 has also prompted local authorities to review pedestrianisation of cities and towns, demonstrated by the planned closure of up to 100 miles of streets in New York to encourage social distant exercise and Milan barring cars from 35 km of inner-city streets.

Increased pedestrianisation might bring alternative formats to the fore, that are more engaging for those on foot, such as ambient, guerrilla and video content. Ocean Outdoor launched The Loop into the pedestrianised centres of Birmingham and Manchester, bringing a network of full motion screens into these cities that can broadcast live events, sporting highlights and news. With full motion screens 2.5 times more impactful than static, this is an attractive opportunity for brands to reach and engage passers-by.

Returning to public transport

 With social distancing continuing will people readily step back onto public transport.  The 2003 SARS epidemic saw a significant drop in people using trains and subways. It took 134 days after the last reported case of SARS in Taiwan for ridership levels to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

The recovery in the UK may take longer. London mayor Sadiq Khan has said that tube services might only be able to carry up to 15% of the normal number of passengers, , while SYSTRA recently revealed that 20% of adults in the UK predict they will make fewer trips by public transport once travel restrictions have been lifted.

Even so, public transport will continue to be an absolute necessity for many, and as lockdown eases, advertisers can play an essential role in reassuring those using public transport networks. According to a recent Kantar study only 8% of consumers globally think brands should stop advertising during the pandemic. People want brands to tell us what they are doing to help, as long as communications are handled sensitively.

Similarly, we may well see increased acceleration of OOH as a public utility.  Mark Ritson observed that purpose-driven marketers believe their brand has a big influence on consumers and society, often forgetting the ‘clear product positioning and brand associations they could be communicating’. This presents a vital opportunity for OOH to help reassure consumers using public transport in practical and creative ways.

There is certainly an opportunity for a FMCG brand to partner with Network Rail and TfL to provide hand sanitisation services at train and tube stations. We have already seen how this might work when Neutrogena used OOH infrastructure to distribute free sunscreen to visitors to the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Conversely, we could well see OOH ads showing packed carriages disappear as brands look to reassure passengers of their environment and we expect media transport landlords to create new guidelines for OOH creative to reflect new social etiquette.

 Reappraising rush hour

Employers and employees alike are discovering the benefits (and drawbacks) of home working and there is no guarantee that either party will want to return to the traditional 9 to 5.

We have already seen businesses planning to introduce staggered and split shift patterns to facilitate social distancing in the office environment and help accommodate childcare and travel requirements.  While Twitter this week announced that employees will be allowed to from home “forever” if they can and want to.

Advertisers often use OOH to target commuters around the morning and evening rush hours. If more people decide to adopt flexible work patterns or are forced to because of social distancing on public transport – these hours could well change. The morning commute might last until midday while the evening commute could start much earlier.

We’ve already seen this work successfully in London.  During the 2012 Olympics, businesses were asked to stagger their employees’ travel time to avoid congestion at peak time, to help the influx of visitors to the Capital move freely on public transport.

But looking at working hours alone will not be enough when it comes to targeting commuters in the “new normal”.  Gaining a deeper understanding of people’s movement, how long they spend at work and their mood as they travel from one environment to another will be essential for those brands needing to navigate away from those previously defined travel behaviours.

By adopting the ‘No Single Point of Truth’ approach, we can use multiple location data sets to gain a deeper understanding of people’s movements; how long they spend at work, the new “rush hours”, and their mood as they travel from one environment to another.

Understanding the nuances of this data will become essential for brands looking to navigate away from previously defined travel behaviours. These insights might be used to pivot towards audience-based buying across any of the 10,000 frames in roadside or transport environments, using real-time mobile data sources to identify when a station is deemed to be at its ‘rush hour’ or when there is heavy congestion on arterial routes.

Making it local 

In the short to medium term, schools and offices will not be at capacity. Most pupils will not be returning until September at the earliest and workplaces are being reconfigured to accommodate minimal numbers of staff at any one time.

This could lead to a higher frequency of shorter, local journeys as people stay closer to home. The brands that will win in this space are those that can tailor national communications to make them local.

With an extensive network of screens in towns and cities across the UK DOOH provides an ideal opportunity for brands to capitalise on localised travelling behaviours. Dynamic DOOH allows brands to tailor national ads down to a street level making campaigns even more effective.

Our ground-breaking study into the power of relevancy in OOH, ‘The Moments of Truth‘, demonstrated  that when context – such as location – was added to DOOH messaging there was a rise in effectiveness across all metrics from brain response (+18%) to Spontaneous Ad recall (+17%) and Sales Uplift (16%), giving an overall uplift of 17% in digital OOH Effectiveness.

New production techniques can also localise classic OOH. Print IQ allows brands to adopt a dynamic approach to broadcast campaigns. Mondelez recently used Print IQ to call out towns on its Secret Santa 6-sheets campaign, while the ‘One Co-op’ initiative was launched using 150 different community based messages across 600 billboards.  Ambient media formats including street stencils, taxi wraps and point of sale will also provide an alternative canvas for brands looking to reach community, local and regional audiences.

We might also see changes to how classic OOH campaigns are delivered.  These have always worked in two week posting cycles, but new travel behaviours might make this redundant and lead to an increased adoption of the ‘Lighter for Longer’ approach where brands invest in classic over four to six weeks instead. This mechanic consistently demonstrates higher ROI for brands across a range of sectors.

The announcement on the first phase of unlocking society puts in place a timetable for how things might play out over the months ahead. All this is of course liable to change as we encounter a situation we have never faced before.

OOH will have an important role to play in this new world as it will continue to be an integral fabric in the tapestry of urban environments.  People are accustomed to viewing posters as they travel through different environments and locations and as we move through our towns and cities, perhaps in new ways and with more trepidation, seeing brands acting with an air of normality will help reassure consumers as they navigate a new world.

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