How creativity helped Out of Home weather a pandemic

Despite being a sector hit hard by the pandemic, creativity has breathed a new lease of life into OOH

Lucy Cutter

Head of Planning Kinetic


The last few years have presented challenges for just about every sector and Out of Home (OOH) has certainly been no exception.

And while the last few years of lockdowns and other restrictions were undeniably tough for a sector that relies on people being out and about, we not only weathered the storm, but the pandemic has in fact driven something of a golden age of creativity.

One of OOH’s traditional strengths has been its ability to reach people (over 95% of the UK population see OOH every week). But how does a billboard reach people when traditional habits have changed, such as new hybrid working patterns? As is so often the case, creativity finds a way.

Covid lockdowns undeniability accelerated the adoption of digital culture.

Lucy Cutter, Head of Planning at Kinetic

For OOH, one consequence of the pandemic was the surge in interest in creative and spectacular OOH campaigns. This builds on a trend which has seen exceptional OOH campaigns generate earned media and even break through into the mainstream news. This exposure has generated a demand for creative solutions and an interest in the role creative OOH can play within a wider campaign context.

Take as an example, the campaign for BBC’s Dracula. As darkness fell a light illuminated a series of “bloody” wooden stakes on casting a series of shadows that formed the face of the Count. A wonderfully simple concept that generated headlines and social media chatter that reached an audience thousands of times greater than those who actually saw it on a [single] billboard.

Marmite’s famous and multi-award-winning Chilli Dynamite campaign meanwhile showcased OOH at its best. A campaign of such simple creative brilliance it would reverberate across the world. The explosive response from press, public and other brands who wanted in on the action, generated 194 million impressions and £650k in earned media while driving sales five times higher than previous limited-edition releases. 

One of the most interesting aspects of the Dracula and Marmite campaigns was that they took place on traditional, rather than digital, OOH. We expect to see more brands choosing traditional OOH as a focal point for elements of their campaign – even if this represents the physical anchor to a predominantly digital campaign.

A great example here is a campaign Diet Coke ran to highlight their partnership with Smeg that transformed bus shelters into fridges. An Instagram competition then drove the public to the OOH locations, to collect fridge magnets that translated into prizes. 

And while traditional OOH is much in demand, it’s impossible to ignore the impact the last few years have had on digital campaigns (Digital OOH now makes up almost 70% of OOH revenues).

To mark Ramadan this year, Tesco ran a campaign about lftar, the evening meal to signify the end of the daily fast in targeted areas with large Muslim communities. Digital screens were specifically chosen for their East facing orientation, on which the dynamic DOOH creative showed empty plates filling with food for up to three hours as the sun set with no other ads running, to accentuate the break of fast coinciding with sunsets. This uniquely demonstrated the power of context and placement of OOH.

Covid lockdowns undeniability accelerated the adoption of digital culture. People sought new ways to connect to the people, places and things they were denied during the worst parts of the pandemic. 

Within this trend, augmented reality (AR) quickly become an essential technology for retailers. AR enabled shoppers to visualise, personalise and test products before purchase. AR showed that as well as being fun, it can solve actual pain points for customers with around 700 million people now using Facebook’s AR effects monthly. 

When restrictions were eased and we were allowed outside, we learnt new digital behaviours. One of the most noticeable was the QR code. What a comeback! After 25 years, they got their moment, enabling us to order, pay and check in by scanning posters. 

Many of these newly acquired behaviours and tastes will likely survive and shape how consumers engage and interact with brands in the coming years.

In the OOH space, Klarna blended a QR code into seven beautiful murals by Spanish Artist Ignasi Monreal in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. Scanning the code drove people to an online gallery and interactive game. Over 160,000 people visited the gallery, and 45,000 people completed the interactive game.    

It’s a trend we have seen developing throughout 2022. We believe integrating and layering mobile over OOH spaces, events and installations will increasingly make sense and reward as we move into 2023. AR will also continue to add even more creative and immersive dimensions to OOH media.

Another OOH lockdown winner was our old friend data. While at the height of the pandemic, this data helped us understand changing movement patterns, it’s now being combined with automated technology and digital OOH to deliver smarter and faster activations that bring utility and value to consumers and brands alike. And while agencies, brands and online media owners will be rethinking their approach in 2023 as cookies cease to exist, OOH is leading the way in the application of (anonymised and aggregated) geo-contextual data.   

But what does that mean in the real world? Well, a campaign for M&S’s Food on the Move is a great example. Food on the Move targeted a commuter audience and was at risk of being hit hard by Covid restrictions. As the UK came out of lockdown, and more people returned to the office, being able to find them when they were out and about and potentially hungry for a lunchtime snack was vital.

We were able to help M&S map real-time location and movement patterns against digital OOH screens within our programmatic platform. This allowed us to play out on screens that indexed highly against the target audience on an hourly basis, resulting in an increase in footfall of over 9%.  

The events of the past few years have accelerated consumers’ already growing expectation to tap into personalised/near me content. A generation used to having almost everything at the touch of a button online has seen this expectation move into the real world and now expect information to be filtered for them based on where they are and what they’re doing.  

Location and context has always been a strength of OOH and this has been supercharged in the last 12 months due to the volumes and variety of data now available to activate OOH, combined with the advancements in the technology used to deliver dynamic DOOH.

The only limit to the type of data we can use is simply restricted by our imagination. Location, environment, time, weather, events, news, sales, social – you name it, you just need to identify a relevant data source than can anchor your message to the context in which it is seen to help bring your story to life and enhance and emphasise the message to your audience.   

It hasn’t been easy, but OOH’s strengths have been galvanised over the past few years with an acceleration in the opportunities offered by data and tech, and a genuine renaissance of creativity.

Guest Author

Lucy Cutter

Head of Planning Kinetic


Lucy Cutter has been working in the Out of Home industry for 20+ years. Currently Head of Planning at Kinetic, heading up the planning department responsible for the planning and buying of Out of Home campaigns. Lucy works across all of the GroupM clients as well as Direct appoints. Her experience covers a range of sectors including Entertainment, Finance, Retail and Motor’s. Aside from the planning, she is also responsible for the department standards of excellence, training and development and wider initiatives to drive OOH and business development with our clients and agencies. Lucy has a passion for OOH due to its creative and innovative solutions, the data rich possibilities and advancements in digital allowing immediate and contextual messages for consumer engagement.

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