Rise of the Digital Billboards Changing the Face of London

Digital technology has given new life to the outdoor advertising poster.
Think of the new, giant illuminated structure on Old Street roundabout, which has been plastered with YouTube ads for Vice News, or the tower by the Westway flyover at White City, where Apple has a near-permanent residency to promote the iPhone.
Then there are the electronic billboards above the Euston underpass, which featured a promotion for Coldplay’s latest album that was so popular that photos of the poster were retweeted 1400 times on Twitter.
Fans of urban singer Sam Smith, also loved the illuminated billboard for his debut album at Vauxhall Cross. He got 10,000 likes on Instagram when he posted a photo of him standing in front of the ad.
What these campaigns have in common is the posters have been appearing on digital screens that did not exist until four or five years ago.
The Westfield shopping centres and Heathrow Terminal 5 are new sites. Other places have been transformed with dramatic architecture such as Old Street roundabout, or had no ads previously such as Euston underpass, or have been digitised like the Tube escalator panels.
“It is changing the face of London,” declares Jon Lewis, managing director of billboard owner Outdoor Plus, who describes digital as the most dramatic change in 150 years of outdoor ads.
The biggest poster sites at the busiest prime locations matter most to top advertisers such as Google, Apple and Sky.
Call it the rise of super-premium digital outdoor, because an ad at one of these sites is an attention-grabbing expression of self-confidence — on a par with running a TV commercial on X Factor or taking a double-page spread in a newspaper.
“It creates stature and fame,” says Lewis, who notes outdoor “tends to be the medium of choice for most other media”. Sky is Britain’s biggest outdoor advertiser.
High-definition screens make ads look better. Digital imagery and video can be updated frequently — within minutes, in theory — and it is possible to target ads by time of day. The technology also opens the way for ad space to be traded in real time — a far cry from the established custom of booking billboard space for a fortnight.
“Twenty years ago, if Martians landed on Earth, the first thing they’d do is take over the TV channels,” claims Lewis. “In five years from now, I believe they would take over digital outdoor first. There will be no better way to reach the biggest number of people at the quickest time.”
Lewis says it costs £300,000 to £1 million to build each site, depending on scale. His firm has invested more than £10 million on 14 screens in the capital since 2011 and expects to have 20 by next year. He reckons digital investment across UK outdoor by the major players, which include Clear Channel, JC Decaux, Exterion and Ocean, is close to £200 million over the period.
Outdoor would be in decline without digital. UK revenues hit almost £1 billion last year, finally returning to the pre-recession peak of 2007.
While digital has trebled in four years to nearly £300 million, the rest of the market has shrunk as billboard owners have cut underperforming sites.
London’s most celebrated outdoor advertising site remains Piccadilly Circus, where many panels are still brand logos. But British Airways recently took over a newer video screen for a clever campaign combining live flight data from Heathrow and price information from BA’s ticketing system.
The multi-award-winning ad by agency OgilvyOne showed a boy looking up and pointing each time a BA plane flew over Piccadilly Circus, with the destination and live ticket price flashing up on-screen.
Marc Mendoza, vice-chairman of outdoor specialist Posterscope, says the BA ad should inspire others who are stuck in the mentality of buying “by the fortnight” instead of thinking of real time.
“Clients can get a lot more out of the medium,” says Mendoza, who warns consumers’ expectations have changed. “It’s a medium you should change every hour or at least every day. The role of outdoor will be changeable and bought in real time.”
Via: Evening Standard