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These are hard times.

There is no denying that. Everyone has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Scrolling through news headlines can be downright scary.

But here’s the thing. Hard times do not last forever. Our country will come back from this.

And when we do, we think out of home advertising is going to be stronger than ever. Here’s why.

People Want to Be Outside

Here is one thing we are surer about than anything: Time spent outside is going to go way, way, way up when we exit the outbreak.

Right now, everyone’s cooped up in their homes. Yes, you can go to the park or for a hike, but for the most part public spaces are off limits. Most outdoor gathering places are shut down. People scurry across Times Square with their heads down, scared of ending up downwind of a cough or sneeze.

But oh, when this is over? People are going to be outside All. The. Time. They will want to make up for weeks (or probably months) when they haven’t been able to gather at will. The start of summer and warmer weather will increase that urge.

Times Square will see record crowds. People will hang out at the Grove and soak in the sunshine. Baseball games in Chicago and St. Louis and Washington, D.C., will attract record crowds as we revel in the simple pleasure of a ballgame.

All those things will happen outside. And all those places have ample opportunities for advertising, which will be necessary when this outbreak ends. So many businesses are suffering without patrons to keep them afloat. They will need to reconnect with their audiences, from Broadway shows and tours to restaurants to retailers. You will see a demand for outdoor billboard space, bus benches and other transit ads, mobile billboards and more.

The last thing people will want to do is stay inside and watch more TV or be on their phones. We’ll all be so over that by the time summer rolls around. Outdoor will definitely be where it’s at.

Certain Categories Need to Advertise

We expect that the outdoor resurgence will be led by several categories eager to connect with consumers after so long away.

Some are categories that don’t advertise a lot on TV or digital. It may be cost-prohibitive or they haven’t seen great results there in the past. Think direct-to-consumer products or apartment complexes.

Some are categories that used outdoor after the last economic downturn to their great benefit. Think financial, media, entertainment and schools.

Some are categories that will see a direct boost from the virus scare. Think medical manufacturers selling personal protective equipment — you better believe everyone will want masks on hand for the future — and headhunting firms assigned to ramp up hiring in the wake of record unemployment.

And some are categories that may have hit a lull in production or necessity during the pandemic but are suddenly back in business. Think the home electronics industry, which has been in a lull after manufacturing in China was shut down for the virus but looks poised to storm back in the second half of this year.

People’s Behavior Will Change, and Advertisers Will Follow

After months of staring at walls for entertainment, people will come out of the pandemic desperate to be entertained. You will see soaring numbers for entertainment apps that reached out to people during the pandemic, creating goodwill.

Spotify, for instance, created an app for kids with a playlist designed to encourage them to wash their hands. The company will want to play on that goodwill to keep numbers surging, and that will require advertising. And where do you reach those people? Outside, as we’ve already established.

Calming apps, like meditation and yoga, will continue to be big business, too, because people want to wind down and don’t know how to do it after this experience. Count on those categories increasing their outdoor presence to reach new potential subscribers.

Businesses Become More Aggressive With Advertising

When you lose money, you have to invest money to start making it again. That’s well known in the business world, and any stores and restaurants reopening post-pandemic will need to get the word out. That means investing in all types of marketing.

We see this coming back in the Midwest and more rural parts of the country first, eventually spreading to NYC and LA. It will take less time for smaller populations to get back to normal. The spending revival will start in smaller markets and eventually work its way up. And that’s kind of cool, since those markets often don’t get recognized for their importance to the overall health of OOH.

Outdoor Shows Its Heart

Everyone is looking for signs of hope and kindness right now. Our social media timelines are packed with examples of people being amazing and reaching out to others and showing their appreciation for health care heroes.

Outdoor has done its part, too, showing that we’re all in this together. Vendors have donated board space. Daktronics put together a suite of free messages to keep people updated and informed about the latest coronavirus developments. Agencies have done pro bono work to help spread messaging to those who need to hear it.

Now, let’s be clear — the billboard space is a tax writeoff, and right now, with demand down, it’s not a big hardship for the vendors to do this. We still love it, and we think they would have done it even without those factors. There are just times when we all need to pull together. Outdoor gets it, and that’s one of the many reasons we think the industry will return strong.

There’s a cohesiveness to outdoor advertising you don’t see in other types of media. During hard times, you can see that shine through.

Are things hard right now? Yes. Will they get better? Yes. Let’s keep this in mind in the coming weeks and months, especially when we hit low points. As we shelter in place, we’re optimistic about the future, and you should be, too.

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