Mar 7 2023
Megan Reschke

Everything You Need to Know About Digital Out-of-Home Advertising


Like piling freshly grated parmesan on pasta, dipping pizza in ranch dressing, or pumping extra butter on movie theater popcorn, adding “digital” to out-of-home advertising makes what was already a good thing even better.

In its non-digital form, out-of-home (OOH) advertising allows advertisers to connect with consumers in high-traffic locations to drive awareness and/or action, and to reach people in places and moments where other forms of advertising can’t. From a series of bright and cheery billboards for a frozen custard shop along the highway, to a larger-than-life poster for a hot new film release placed just blocks from a movie theater, out-of-home-ads foster connection and emotion. And given how long OOH advertising has been around, it’s no surprise that the advent of its digital counterpart has been making waves.   

Digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising takes everything great about OOH and adds the benefits inherent to digital technology—namely, the ability to target, track, optimize, refine, and measure the results of OOH ads. Programmatic digital out-of-home (pDOOH) takes things a step further, allowing advertisers to harness the power of automation and real-time bidding technology to make the most of out-of-home ad spend. And as more and more marketers embrace these benefits, DOOH and pDOOH ad spend are experiencing rapid growth.

We’re here to give you the lowdown on digital out-of-home advertising so you can leverage its power in your upcoming campaigns and connect with people in intentional moments along their purchasing journeys. Ready? Let’s dive in.  

What Is Digital Out-of-Home Advertising?

DOOH advertising is defined as any digital advertising media that people encounter outside of their homes. Though people most closely associate DOOH with brightly colored digital billboards (like those in Times Square), the channel includes everything from massive digital billboards, to ads displayed on mall kiosk screens, to video ads that pop up on the gas station TV while you’re refueling.

Here are the latest stats marketers should know about DOOH:

  • In 2022, US digital out-of-home ad spend reach $2.46 billion.
  • This is an increase of 23.5% year-over-year.
  • In 2023, US DOOH spending is forecast to grow by another 16.7%.
  • In 2024, DOOH is forecast to make up approximately one-third of all out-of-home ad spending.

Much like DOOH, programmatic digital out-of-home is growing rapidly. In 2022, pDOOH ad spend saw a 116.3% increase year-over-year, and it is forecast to surpass $1 billion in 2025 while accounting for 31% of total DOOH spend.

What’s the Difference Between DOOH Advertising vs. OOH Advertising?

As their acronyms suggest (and as we briefly touched on earlier), DOOH and OOH ads have a lot in common. Out-of-home advertising includes any ads a person would find outside of their home that are not found on their personal device(s), including billboards, images around bus stops and other public transit systems, posters in public areas, and more. It’s an umbrella term that covers non-digital out-of-home, digital out-of-home, and programmatic digital out-of-home (easy way to remember: all DOOH is OOH advertising, but not all OOH advertising is DOOH advertising!)

Non-digital out-of-home is one of the oldest, most established forms of advertising around—with (the origin of US billboards dates back to the 1830s). But non-digital out-of-home often requires long commitments and lacks flexibility when it comes to revising buys.

Enter: DOOH, the digital iteration of OOH advertising. The digital elements of DOOH have brought significant advancements to OOH advertising that have reenergized marketers’ view of the channel and its effectiveness. DOOH includes the digital forms of ads that consumers encounter outside of their homes, such as large format screens at sporting events, digital screens at gyms and doctors’ offices, and screens that include advertisements at the point-of-purchase.

And how does programmatic digital out-of-home fit into this mix? Much like how DOOH is a type of OOH advertising, pDOOH is a type of DOOH advertising, and it includes any DOOH inventory that is bought programmatically. Programmatic digital out-of-home allows advertisers to activate DOOH campaigns in an automated and data-driven way, typically by using a demand side platform (DSP).

What DOOH Formats and Mediums Are There?

There are several different venue formats when it comes to DOOH advertising. These include:

  • Large format: Big screens (often billboards) that reach consumers in or near places like bus stations, highways/major roadways, transit stations, etc.
  • Place-based: Screens of varying sizes that reach consumers in contextually relevant environments like malls, gyms, gas stations, office buildings, bars/restaurants, sports stadiums, doctors’ offices, etc.
  • Point-of-purchase: Screens (often smaller) that reach consumers in shopping or check-out environments in destinations like grocery stores, big box retailers, convenience stores, liquor stores, etc.

On top of these, other forms of digital signage are making their way into more and more places in our everyday environments. From screens scattered throughout the local gym, to bright and bold outdoor panels along sidewalks in urban areas, to small screens on the back of the headrests in taxis, digital displays are popping up everywhere.

Using a combination of these different venue types can allow you to get your brand or product messaging in front of the right consumer, at the right time.

What Are the Benefits of Digital Out-of-Home?

With an oft-dizzying array of digital channels and media types to choose from, what distinct benefits does DOOH offer to advertisers? Here are some of the most notable:  

1. DOOH enhances the customer journey and has a strong impact on consumers

DOOH offers brands an opportunity to connect with consumers in real-world moments—including those in which they’re unreachable (or less reachable) on their personal devices. Case in point: 98% of consumers have visited a DOOH venue in the last 30 days. And, given its one-to-many nature, DOOH is an effective channel for building brand awareness and boosting brand recognition at scale.

In addition, recent research shows that DOOH ads have a stronger impact on consumers than more traditional OOH formats. A recent study that dug into the neuroscience of DOOH found that digital ads deliver 63% more impact, on average, than their non-digital counterparts.  

2. DOOH offers marketers the opportunity to get creative

A digital sign in the subway station that reminds you to buy groceries (with a QR code that takes you right to the supermarket’s same-day delivery app).

A digital billboard that switches between images of iced coffee and hot beverages, depending on the weather.

An urban panel that highlights an upcoming concert at a nearby venue, and then directs customers to the ticketing website on their mobile phones.

Much like OOH, DOOH offers advertisers the chance to connect with consumers in a way that’s eye-catching, bold, and memorable (and on a screen that’s likely far bigger than those of their personal devices!). And, thanks to its digital nature, advertisers can potentially even lean into advancements in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to give consumers a truly immersive experience.  

Given the variations in sizes, locations, and types of screens available for DOOH ads, marketers can get creative with their ads. This could include using multiple images or videos, since digital screens allow on-screen messaging to change every few seconds; incorporating interactive elements like QR codes to direct consumers to take action; or leveraging touch-screen technology for a more immersive customer experience.

And, unlike many other ad formats, DOOH ads are non-skippable and highly viewable, so bold and engaging messaging/creative has a high probability of making an impression: A recent study found that DOOH ads have the power to deliver impact in as little as a one- or two-second glance. In other words, these ads provide a great opportunity to make a statement!   

3. DOOH is flexible

More traditional OOH investments are known for their long buying cycles and relative lack of flexibility when it comes to revising buys and/or creative displays. And it makes sense, right? Making tweaks to the messaging on the non-digital billboard along the highway is a far greater undertaking than updating the digital files to be displayed on a DOOH screen.

DOOH, on the other hand, offers advertisers increased flexibility within their campaigns: On-screen messaging can change every few minutes, and it’s easier to adjust creative and/or make optimizations during a campaign. Additionally, advertisers can use DOOH within cross-device campaigns—whether by incorporating QR codes that viewers scan on their mobile devices, or by geotargeting personal devices of consumers around a specific DOOH ad or campaign—leveraging DOOH’s flexibility to reach and connect with consumers in a way that drives action.   

4. DOOH is future-friendly

Consumers are demanding increased privacy, and the world of adtech is shifting to meet the needs of a world without third-party cookies. So, how does DOOH advertising fit into the privacy conversation?

Since DOOH is anonymized and a one-to-many channel, it’s inherently privacy-friendly. With DOOH, there’s no need to think about alternative solutions to third-party cookies or ways to target that are privacy friendly. Though DOOH ads can be targeted based on a screen’s geolocation, context, and other parameters, targeting is not done at a personal level.

5. pDOOH allows for faster activation

Though this one’s specific to programmatic DOOH, it’s worth noting: Thanks to the power of real-time bidding, pDOOH allows advertisers to put ads in front of consumers at the right time and place. Where traditional OOH investments are known for requiring long commitments and lacking flexibility, pDOOH empowers advertisers to use real-time data to act flexibly and nimbly in their campaigns.

What Targeting Capabilities Does DOOH Offer?

In its original non-digital form, OOH advertising is largely location-based. Just think of that billboard for a juicy burger and extra-crispy fries that shows up just as you’re about to reach the appropriate exit on the highway, or the poster plastered inside the ski bus that advertises services for a personal injury lawyer (yikes!)

DOOH allows for similar location-based targeting (geotargeting), as well as additional targeting features including:  

  • Contextual: Place your ads in a context that’s relevant and compelling for your specific brand or product (think nutrition-related ads at a gym, clothing ads in the mall where your store is located, snack or car wash ads at the gas station pump, etc.)
  • Venue: Ensure your ads are in a venue that’s relevant—be that an office building, an outdoor display, or a transit area.  
  • Dayparting: Have your ads displayed at a specific, high traffic volume time of day for your target audience. This could mean displaying ads for school-bound families in the morning, office workers with lunch-focused ads around midday, or theatergoers in the evening.
  • Weather signals: Target ads based on local weather. An ad for a skincare brand’s sunscreen, for instance, might be particularly impactful on a bright spring day.
  • Dynamic: Adjust and personalize ads in real-time to cater to your target audience. For example, an ad along the highway could be adjusted based on how bad the traffic is that day.

These enhanced targeting parameters allow advertisers to get even more specific in ensuring their ad gets in front of their ideal consumer in a precise and strategically beneficial moment.

Can DOOH Ads Be Measured?

Thanks to recent advancements and innovations in location technology, DOOH ads are now far more measurable. By understanding when and where an ad was played, who was nearby, and what actions people near an ad (and likely exposed to that ad) took, marketers can measure the impacts of their DOOH campaigns.

Marketers can track the impact of DOOH ads based on metrics like impressions, bids won, impressions per bid, and win rate. They can also set KPIs across the purchase funnel, including:

  • Brand lift: Measures how customers perceive your brand overall, and includes awareness, consideration, recall, etc. This can be measured by pairing location data of a specific DOOH ad with survey data from people in that location.  
  • Foot traffic: Measures an ad’s impact on how many people walk into your store’s brick-and-mortar location. This can be assessed by comparing location data of an ad with store visitation patterns.
  • Conversions/attribution: Leverages location data to determine customers who were likely exposed to a DOOH ad, and to determine how many of those consumers took action (i.e., make a purchase, download an app, etc.)
  • Sales lift: Measures the incremental increase of actual product sales.  

Next Steps: DOOH Advertising

DOOH advertising gives marketers the opportunity to connect with consumers in a big, bold way, at times when people may not be actively using their phones, tablets, and other personal devices. Unlike traditional OOH, digital OOH gives allows advertisers to embrace the latest innovations in adtech to personalize, target, and measure the results of their out-of-home ads. As such, savvy marketers are increasingly embracing the channel as part of their larger, omnichannel media strategy.

Of course, adding any new channel to your marketing mix can be challenging, especially given the state of media complexity in today’s marketing landscape. If you’re interested in learning more about how to incorporate DOOH within your campaigns but unsure of where to start, our Media Strategy & Activation Team has you covered.

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