Why OOH is the Most Powerful Medium for Political Advertisers Now

August 31, 2020 |By Ari Buchalter, CEO, Place Exchange

With the election only two months away, the political advertising playbook — having already evolved dramatically in recent years — is being rewritten in real time. The dominant channels that political advertising has come to rely on (TV and social media) each pose potential challenges, as traditional TV audiences continue to fragment and decline, and some social media platforms are either banning, or considering banning, political advertising. Political advertisers must tread thoughtfully into this landscape, both crafting messages that will resonate with voters at this unique point in time, and also thinking about the right medium for the message.

Out of Home (OOH), the only traditional advertising medium that has grown over the past decade, has steadily been capturing a greater share of political advertising budgets in recent years. Kantar recently reported that political spending on OOH ads was up 75% in the first four months of 2020 alone, compared to the same period in 2018. There are three key reasons why that trend is likely to accelerate: massive reach at low cost, advanced targeting and measurement capabilities, and high levels of audience engagement and trust.

Massive Reach at Low Cost

As the reach of TV has declined, OOH has emerged as a dominant channel to generate reach at low cost. The ubiquity of millions of OOH displays, from roadside billboards, to street furniture in cities, to transit media, to place-based screens at retail and leisure locations, give advertisers the ability to reach any voter audience in any location and at any time, with high frequency. Moreover, given the low CPMs for the channel, OOH can deliver that reach and frequency at very low cost compared to other channels, including TV (where CPMs have skyrocketed).

Of course, unlike TV, OOH ads can’t be skipped or blocked, and they can reach audiences that are harder to penetrate with TV, including younger and more diverse demographics. The ability of the medium to create buzz and publicity, and its favorable CPM pricing, were among the key reasons cited in the above-mentioned Kantar report, and are benefits familiar to long-time OOH advertisers.

Advanced Targeting and Measurement Capabilities

Perhaps less well known are the tremendous advances in OOH audience targeting and impact measurement, driven by the infusion of mobile location data and new programmatic capabilities. Beyond precise location targeting within districts and precincts, OOH campaigns can now be targeted using the same first-party and third-party audience data used in online and social media targeting. From first-party lists of Blue/Red/Purple voters or registered/unregistered voters, to modeled audiences based on predicted turnout or voting patterns, to third-party lists from vendors such as TargetSmart and Catalist, audiences can now be targeted by matching individual OOH screens to precise locations and dayparts that index highest against those exact audiences.

When it comes to measuring results, the same device-level attribution used in online, mobile, and social advertising can now be used to power deterministic attribution of ad exposure to subsequent tracked actions, including online or offline polling results, voter registration, voter turnout, or donations. And all of this can now be done programmatically for Digital OOH media using the same omnichannel DSPs used for other channels, with the same workflows for planning, buying, and optimizing campaigns, as well as unified reporting and attribution with other channels. That includes the ability to start and stop campaigns in real time, update creatives on the fly, and optimize delivery based on real-time reporting.

Unparalleled Levels of Audience Engagement and Trust

The power of OOH to engage audiences comes from its undeniable visual impact. Whether on highway billboards or city streets, OOH delivers bold, life-sized messaging that can’t be skipped or blocked. Unlike small, interruptive, and highly missable ads on personal devices or skippable ads on TV, OOH simply sticks, with the highest recall of any advertising channel. Moreover, it is guaranteed to be viewable and is never seen by a bot.

That unmatched level of bona fide audience engagement also comes with unmatched levels of trust. In contrast to other channels that are content-based with the ads merely along for the ride, OOH is a canvas that gives advertisers full control of the message. There is no objectionable adjacent content, only the message, delivered in the cities and on the streets where voters live, work, shop, and play. It is perhaps for this reason that research shows OOH is more trusted than any digital medium, including online, mobile, or social advertising. With trust and authenticity at a premium, and so much at stake this political cycle, it is more important than ever that political advertisers think not just about the message, but the medium.

OOH may be the best kept secret in political advertising, but it won’t stay that way for long. Political advertisers who are not aware of what today’s OOH media can deliver will lose out to the ones who understand that it has now become the most cost-effective and highest-impact way to target messages to voter audiences at scale, with all the measurability of digital, but greater levels of control and trust.


Attribution, Audience Targeting, Measurement, Political Advertising, Viewability