I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Ana Gaona, a fellow global citizen who works at Measurence. Measurence is a location intelligence company with offices in Milan and New York City. Their software helps marketers quantify people’s offline behavior in order to deliver actionable analytics for the physical world.
During my interview with Ana, we discussed my background, experience working with out-of-home (OOH) advertising in Latin America, as well as some of the challenges and trends around OOH in general.
Measurence: You have almost 10 years’ experience in OOH, what fascinates you most about this industry? How did you start your journey?
Matteo: During my undergraduate years, I studied Political Economy, under the umbrella of Latin American studies, with a particular interest in bilateral relations between the Middle East and Latin America. I also have a Spanish degree and always joke around by saying, "Don Quixote led me into the digital world.” One thing I found quite important after studying these two regions was to find ways in which to debunk cultural stereotypes and reposition them within each respective market.
From there, I spent a number of years working in the communications world in one way or another and also did a significant amount of translation work. As a speaker of 9 languages, I have always been fascinated by how linguistics, messaging, and imagery can effectively influence people’s interest to buy a particular product in the startup world or advocate for people to come together during my tenure in the nonprofit world.
What really fascinates me most about OOH is that it’s such a changing and undervalued industry. Even though everything these days is digital first, there are so many great opportunities to work with this particular channel. If your brand is on a tight budget, this may not be the best medium for you. However, if you have a little bit more flexibility with your budget, it can really provide an interesting opportunity to blur the lines of the Omni-channel experience.
There are also a lot of creative and analytical opportunities since its geo-marketing is very relevant when you’re running an out-of-home campaign. You can use all the data you collected to retarget online or retarget here and there. From a strategist standpoint, you have to be aware and understand each of these data sets. You have to see what’s happening in all of your channels, customer journeys, and conversion rates while analyzing what is the best ad for this campaign. The role of a strategist comes into play when you’re leveraging the data whereas the creative side forces you to incorporate the data you've learned into your marketing collateral tailored for each particular market.
In my case, I’ve worked a lot with nonprofits, startups, and have also done some work with a few LGBT organizations. These are the cases where working with minority neighborhoods is a little easier because your target audience can be found in one heavily populated area. If you’re working with Hispanics, for example, you need to make sure your imagery is not the stereotypical Jack & Jill—blond hair, blue eyes, and Donny the dog. You want your ad to reflect the actual demographics of that neighborhood.
One example that I like to give focuses around a campaign Verizon launched in a primarily Latino neighborhood located on the outskirts of NYC. Verizon started putting all these OOH advertisements in Spanglish, which I thought were really interesting and relevant because most Hispanics in the US speak Spanglish in some shape or form. It makes you think for a second that this brand is taking the time to not just use a cookie cutter campaign.
Rather, they’ve actually tweaked it slightly so it can now appeal to this target audience. This is the part that I find most interesting—how one must be aware of cultural nuances and be able to seamlessly take key messaging points from the global campaign and localize them into each target market. With this, brands can create the best user experience possible, whether that's on social, OOH, or mobile channels.
Measurence: What’s important for OOH to be successful? Advertisers usually measure effectiveness with footfall, car traffic figures, increase of sales of a product or service, etc. Are these some things that you measure as well? Is the impact of weather or infrastructure something you measure? If it is, how do you measure it?
Matteo: This is something I’ve always had a struggle with. Before we started working with iBeacons, we were relying on foot traffic but weren’t very convinced on that data because of the influence weather and infrastructure had. More so in Latin America, where the infrastructure is not the best. When it rains, some of the roads are going to be problematic. The traffic will be backed up and not much movement will happen.
So say if you usually get 100k impressions, but if it’s raining maybe there are going to be fewer people nearby compared to when it’s sunny. Conversely, if it’s “el fin del mes” (end of the month), everyone is out spending versus when it’s June 10, another ordinary day. Those are some of the things we always had issues with. Then, there are some countries like Guatemala, where the transportation industry literally goes out at 4am counting every car that goes by in order to collect data. It’s really about looking at what infrastructure is in place on a country-by-country basis.
Something I started doing to collect data for particular campaigns was an idea I got from many subway ads in NYC, which had used a promo code that was connected to a designated landing page, like amazon.com/nycsubway. For example, I would make a designated landing page and dashboard with my Google Analytics to see how much traffic I would receive along with the demographic data from say January to March. Even though it’s not 100% definitive, it’s another tool you can add to your portfolio to show your ROI indicators and see the overall campaign performance. From here, we can see what worked and what didn’t while using both of the online and offline channels that you have at your disposition. It’s about looking at the customer journey and understanding the story behind the numbers that lie before you in order to say whether it was a success or not.
I have also used beacons and pop-up messaging. I did one project in Central America for HIV work with the ultimate goal of encouraging people from within the LGBT community to get tested for HIV. We had the OOH campaign running around certain points. As you got closer, it would send a little pop-up message about the campaign. Overall, the beacons worked really well. I wasn’t involved in the end result but from what I heard it was very successful.
This was a specific case in itself. Mobile was a little bit of a challenge in Central America. However, seeing how user penetration was before to compared to now, people are beginning to adopt mobile devices at a much higher rate. If I were to re-run the campaign now, I think the overall results would be significantly higher.
Overall, the ability to localize the best you can is what really makes OOH successful. The important thing is to really take the time to understand your target demographic. In another project when I was working in remote areas of Mexico and parts of Guatemala, one of the things I had noticed was that a lot of indigenous people had mobile phones. They did not have an iPhone, per say, but rather a mobile phone that could connect to basic 2G or 3G internet.
Since a large majority of the population only spoke their indigenous language and were not fluent in Spanish, we decided to create marketing collateral in Mayan. The campaign got a lot of good traction and was able to achieve many of the KPIs set forth in the planning stage.
I think it all goes back to the point about fully localizing your marketing creative. In this case, I decided to put an indigenous person on the screen with messaging in Mayan instead of a white Latino person with content in Spanish. Even on a country-by-country basis, messaging that may work in Mexico or Colombia may not have much success in Argentina. Conversely, the same could be said about marketing collateral geared towards Argentina and then disseminated into the Spanish market since Argentina uses “vos” for the informal "you" while Spain uses “vosotros” for the plural form of "you."
This can be even within the same country where marketers must be cognizant of various types of slang, wording, and social status. It is very different to market to an affluent person in Latin America vs. someone who comes from a lower socioeconomic standing. For example, some advertisers have thrown in a few English words to appeal to a more affluent portion of society by using phrases such as, “Mi look es tan bonito” [“My look is very cute”]. Thus, it is important to be culturally sensitive and agile no matter where your target audience may be located.
Measurence: Which industries are using more OOH advertising?
Matteo: I’ve noticed a lot in the entertainment, food and beverage, and retail industries. It depends on the industry and what kind of liquidity they have to spend as well as country to country. In Brazil, there’s a big push for automotive, retail/apparel, and media. In Mexico, tourism leads the way followed by automotive and retail.
One interesting thing about Mexico is that Mexicans actually prefer to buy more from domestic brands or brands within the country. This gives brands a unique opportunity given the current trend. Brands can see what people want and decide from there how to respond with proper campaigns that combine a variety of localized elements.
Measurence: What is the biggest challenge faced in the OOH and how can the advancement in technology help to overcome these challenges?
Matteo: I’d say some of the biggest challenges would be around flexibility, costs, audience relevance, and integration of other media channels. One of the interesting shifts I’ve seen looking at industry research was that out-of-home specialists ranked transparency as one the leading areas that needed improvement (64%) versus media agencies which ranked it much lower at 35%.
Costs also prove to be another pain point. Billboards are not cheap by any means. The challenge is to analyze whether the OOH channel is the best bang for their buck. Some may not need to leverage OOH since social media is the way to go. However others, like consumer brands, may need to diversify in order to get their message out to the largest audience possible.
Another big challenge is informing people as to all of the available technologies out in the world today. Had I had known about Measurence years ago, this software would have helped me a lot when I was working on OOH campaigns. Although it is a pain to measure the true effectiveness of these types of campaigns, there are ways to do it and record their success.
One of the things I like to reference is a campaign for violence against women I came across a while back. It was a very interactive billboard and used beacons to send messages. There was a picture of an ordinary woman on this billboard. As people started to walk near it, the image started to show a bruised woman. As people continued walking by and not paying attention to the woman on the screen, her bruises began to worsen. Yet, as soon as people started to stop and notice the woman, her bruising started to fade away.
As people stared at the screen in a state of horror to confusion to intrigue, the beacon then sent a text message saying that women that go through violence often get unnoticed; you have to stop and help. Through the text, you were able to donate or go to the website to learn more. I thought it was very powerful because it’s the truth—many women that endure such a horrible experience internalize it and don’t talk about it. So it’s bringing these issues to light and making them more interactive for audiences to stop for a moment, think, and take action.
I always love that example because it shows the power of what good storytelling can do for brands, whether it’s a nonprofit or corporation. Marketers just need to remember what type of story they’re trying to portray and how do they make this story adaptable to the overall Omni-channel experience between OOH and mobile.
Measurence: What are the most popular trends in OOH at the moment? What are the opportunities you envision in the years to come?
Matteo: Even though the world is becoming more digital with each passing day, this doesn’t mean you should forget all of your other channels like newspaper and radio. For instance, I didn’t even realize radio was still that popular in Mexico until I finished researching data for a recent article I wrote on the important role radio has within Mexican society. Just because there’s a huge shift towards digital or mobile doesn’t necessarily spell the end of OOH advertising as we know it. Rather, this is an opportunity for brands to reinvent themselves and stand out from the crowd by creating seamless campaigns that allow for an excellent user experience. As we’ve seen, a number of OOH advertisements have a video component to them in order to get people to stop and take note of what’s being displayed.
Digital and video are definitely becoming more popular, especially as urban areas become digitally savvy. As a result, you will see the industry trend leaning towards being more interactive. Also, as more millennials start having more decision and purchasing power, these trends will only continue to develop further. Not only that, as advertisers start becoming more aware of software companies that can help track data to create successful campaigns, many will start using this medium more and more.
One of the reasons I didn’t start using Snapchat in the past was because I could not easily track my content data. At that time, the only thing I was able to track was how many opens I had. To make matters worse, I either had 23:59 hours to manually note all my metrics or had to pay thousands of dollars a month to have a software program do this for me—which I obviously didn’t have the budget to spend on this either. However, since they made a more robust platform, I can easily track my data and would be now more inclined to use this again in the future.
Therefore, as Digital OOH gains more traction and technology improves, I strongly believe the trend will be going in this direction. Ultimately, as brands get better at creating better-integrated campaigns, we’ll eventually have a hard time differentiating offline vs. online experiences since the lines between them will blur into one seamless user experience.