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Danielle Loh

Advertising in our brave new world

Log on to Facebook, or try to watch an innocent video on YouTube. Chances are–if you haven’t installed some sort of ad blocker–that you’ll happen upon an online advertisement. Ads are flooding the online space, vying for a prime piece of real estate where people’s attentions are focused now–their screens. With such online ads becoming increasingly popular as a marketing tool, where does that leave posters, bus decals, brochures, or other out-of-home ads that typically reach consumers offline? Let’s consider the differences between online and out-of-home ads.

Online ads have been lauded for being dynamic. Each time you log into your Facebook account, a different ad can pop up. Online advertising platforms can strategically adjust what ads you see, so as to reap the optimal payoff for their advertisers. What’s more: These platforms can track how much you engaged (if at all) with different products or ads, and personalise the online ads according to what best suits your preferences.

In specific contexts, online ads may prove even more valuable. Technologically-savvy consumers may spend more time with their phones and computers than pay attention to billboards out the bus window. And by extension, these consumers would be more open to tech products. So if you want to reach out specifically to the millennial generation or you want to promote some high-tech product (or both), online ads can be part of your repertoire. Online ads can sometimes engage people even more intimately, since people can view these ads in their own private time and space. For example, if you’re selling a product that people may be embarrassed to check out thoroughly in public, targeting online ads that people can view at home would be a good way to go.

But what about the out-of-home ads of yore? Paper ads pasted on walls, plastic posters hanging in your buses and trains, and brightly lit banners adorning your malls–these are all still permanent fixtures of our daily lives. With these advertising methods though, the ads tend to be static. They stay put in one place, often unchanging, often with the same crowd of people. So getting fresh eyes to your static ads can be challenging; even harder would be knowing how people actually engaged with those ads. It’s difficult to know how many eyeballs the ads attracted, and what goes on in the mind of the consumers who do see the ads. This compromises advertisers’ ability to get constructive feedback, without conducting some additional research.

Despite its flaws, out-of-home ads are still a very viable marketing tool for advertisers. People walk on the streets, ride the trains, and go out to experience the physical spaces around them. As long as we continue to set eyes on our surroundings in daily life, out-of-home ads still reach out to us. For many people who don’t go online often (either by choice or circumstance), out-of-home ads can still offer the best way to reach out to them as potential consumers.

And out-of-home ads offer potential for more out-of-the-box campaigns, which can engage deeply with consumers. For example, back in 2005, 3M promoted its protective film Scotchshield at a Canadian bus stop. 3M set up a glass poster case protected by Scotchshield, and filled it with what appeared to be a huge pile of cash. Passers-by were invited to try and get the better of Scotchshield: To attempt to break the glass using their brute strength and so claim their monetary reward. For the passers-by, the very real presence of the money–so close you could almost smell it–spoke volumes to the strength of 3M’s product. The tangible presence of such out-of-home ads can be very valuable to marketers.

At the end of the day, online ads will become more and more popular among advertisers. But out-of-home ads are still here to stay. The real distinction should be whether advertisers are upping their technology game to more sophisticatedly target their ads. The use of data analytics and ad personalisation lends itself easily to online ads on phones and computers, but can soon become the future of out-of-home ads too. Advertisers may soon be able to track consumers’ habits and target contextual marketing efforts through public displays. Whether or not this future pans out though, there’s one thing advertisers can be sure of: Technology will continue to improve advertising techniques, whether the ads appear in the consumers’ online space or physical space.