It stands to reason that out-of-home (OOH) advertising should have suffered globally as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the industry trade body in the States estimating that up to 40% of billboards lost their usual audiences during the peak of lockdown.

While other developed economies such as the UK may have been similarly affected by stringent social distancing rules, there’s little to suggest that this represents anything more than a temporary shift in media spending habits and budget allocations.

Not only this, but the reach of OOH and its capacity for local targeting has also been largely reaffirmed by the Covid-19 outbreak, with the UK government using billboards as one of the primary vehicles for its social distancing messaging.

As an inherently trusted and accessible form of media, OOH is once again moving to the forefront of advertisers minds as the UK prepares to scale back its lockdown measures. This means that now is the time for brands to start thinking more closely about their existing marketing budgets and once again making room for billboard campaigns!

Re-establishing the Old Norm – Why is OOH Poised for a Return?

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the OOH ad market had enjoyed years of incremental growth, as brands increasingly focused on creating integrated campaigns that leveraged the numerous benefits of billboards and posters.

This resulted in total market growth of 8.1% in the UK during the fourth quarter of 2018 alone, while total annual revenue for the year was up 5.7% to £1,209 million. This trend continued throughout 2019, with both digital and traditional channels benefiting from increased demand.

While the coronavirus pandemic may have disrupted this growth, however, the cessation of the lockdown will help to restore normality to the market and ensure that OOH audiences are back out on the road.

In fact, the sense of relief and positive sentiment caused by the cessation of lockdown measures is likely to trigger exponential growth, as heading outdoors becomes something of a ‘luxury’ and people look to spend more of their time out of the home for the foreseeable future.

According to estimates, the average UK customer already spends up to 70% of their time out of the home and on the move in normal circumstances, and this is likely to increase incrementally as social distancing measures are eased.

It’s also arguable that Brits will be more focused and engaged with their outdoor surroundings in the immediate aftermath of the lockdown. 

There’s good psychological reason for this too; as people who have been institutionalised or forced to spend large amounts of time inside tend to become hypervigilant and more aware of their immediate surroundings once they begin to venture outside once again. 

This is great news for advertisers, particularly as OOH marketing is already a trusted and highly engaging medium that leaves 55% of customers able to recall specific billboard messaging that they’ve encountered.

An Emphasis on Roadside – Why This is an Important Focus for Advertisers

As lockdown in the UK is staggered and gradually phased out, it stands to reason that people will be travelling a great deal more by car.

This creates new and relatively niche opportunities for OOH advertisers in the coming weeks, who can aggressively target roadside locations along busy routes and those used regularly by commuters.

Remember, an estimated 36% of the UK population still commute to work by car according to Total Jobs, and these vehicles will be back out on the road in force once various workplace restrictions have been eased.

As a result of Covid-19, there has also been a far greater focus placed on the importance of daily exercise and activities such as walking, jogging and cycling during the lockdown, as a way of easing the physical and mental strain that may be caused as a result of social distancing.

With this in mind, it’s more than fair to surmise that this trend will continue indefinitely once the lockdown has been eased, with people increasingly likely to cycle to their local shops or even workplace wherever possible (and particularly during the upcoming summer months).

This also creates the opportunity for marketers to invest in smaller roadside billboards and posters along residential routes, particularly those that lead to shopping complexes and busy retail parks. 

Regardless, the clear trend here is that now is the ideal time for marketers to consider adjusting their budgets and investing more into roadside advertising, with particular emphasis given to commuter routes and roads that are cycle-friendly.

Of course, it’s important to remember that any reversal of the existing lockdown measures is likely to be gradual and undertaken in stages, so there will remain some restrictions in terms of travel and outbound flights.

This simply means that there will be a greater emphasis on local commutes and travel, creating a need for advertisements that specifically target regional audiences. 

This is particularly important from a retail perspective, where brands should invest their budgets in targeting customers who reside within a carefully defined radius of their premises. There’s no doubt that this type of detail-oriented approach will help retail and similar entities to achieve a superior spend on their marketing spend and optimise bottom line conversions in the near-term. 

On a final note, it’s important to remember that these shifting trends and changing consumer behaviours will also be compounded during the summer months, when the warm and sultry weather increases the number of people out on the road and occasionally alters the way in which they travel to and from work.

So, the time of year should definitely create a further sense of urgency amongst marketers, who have a clear window of opportunity to benefit from the inevitable post-lockdown boom in OOH media demand and footfall.

The Last Word

While the precise nature of the UK’s exit from its lockdown strategy has yet to be seen and fully understood, it’s estimated that shops and eateries will be amongst the first entities to benefit from less stringent social distancing measures. 

Regardless, there’s no doubt that the government will soon move decisively towards curtailing the lockdown in stages, and it’s the brands that adapt proactively to this shift that will ultimately benefit the most.

More specifically, businesses that adapt their advertising budgets and increase their OOH media spend will be the real winners in the UK, especially as they’ll be able to secure the busiest and most sought-after roadside locations that have been abandoned during Covid-19.