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For months, everyone has been looking for signs that the pandemic is over. Are enough people vaccinated? Are enough kids back to school full time? Are enough offices reopening?

For a while, the answer has been, “we’re getting closer, but we’re not there yet.”

Now, however, we’re finally seeing more promising signs. Business has been picking up. The entertainment industry is back. And in-person events seem less and less like a fantasy each day.

We may never return to normal, so just get that out of your head. But we have clearly turned a corner over the past month as COVID cases decline to their lowest levels in more than a year, and we see more evidence of the recession ebbing.

Of course, in our industry, this means a few things. It means people are taking summer vacations and seeing billboards and airport signage and digital screens while they travel. Advertisers feel more confident about where the country is headed, so they’re reopening their wallets. And money is pouring back into familiar venues.

Let’s look at the current state of out of home more than a year after COVID-19 hit the United States and how we foresee the rest of the year playing out.

Advertising Revenue Will End Its Steep Decline

The first quarter 2021 numbers released last week should be the last dour quarterly outdoor spending report from the Out of Home Advertising Association of America.

The quarterly numbers used to serve as a coronation for the medium every three months. As the only traditional media still seeing advertising gains amid the digital media revolution, OOH wore that crown well — proud but not arrogant.

Then came COVID and the recession. The tone of the revenue releases has gotten a little more pleading, a little less proud. “We’re down but not out!”

The thing is, it’s true. While other media formats saw spending plummet and haven’t clawed their way back, there have been some signs of hope for outdoor. The latest release reflects that, noting that over half of the top 100 advertisers more than doubled their spending compared to last year.

A lot of that reflects new pandemic trends—DoorDash, for instance, is among those top 100. The company flourished during the pandemic as people ordered in rather than going out to eat.

Anyway, we repeat that this should be the final downbeat release, for several reasons:

  1. The bottom didn’t really fall out of OOH until second quarter of last year. So we’re facing gentler comparisons moving forward.
  2. We’ve seen indications that business began picking up this spring.
  3. Categories like restaurants, entertainment and events will need to do a lot of marketing to woo people back, and billboards do that quite well in the summer, when people are outside.
  4. Place-based entertainment saw the biggest decline, at more than 80%. That very much reflects a moment in time, before vaccines became widespread and people were willing to travel back into movie theaters. That’s going to change this summer, and the billboard spending will follow.

Concerts Will Come Back

Yes, Coachella already canceled for 2021. But Lollapalooza is on, regional concerts have been taking place for weeks, and venues are planning for huge 2022 schedules, citing so much pent-up demand.

The question of how to put on events safely has not been completely answered yet — at some early 2021 events, reports of sporadic mask-wearing and lax rule enforcement has caused concern — but we are at least past the conversation point and into experimentation. And that’s what the next year will be. An experiment.

We will find out what works and what doesn’t, and the venues will adjust accordingly. And out of home ads will be there because that’s where the people are. They want to go to concerts. According to one survey, Americans have missed hearing live music more than anything throughout the pandemic.

Concerts mean chances to connect with others in meaningful ways. Some of our favorite campaigns have happened on the road to Coachella or other concerts, where you get an opportunity to interact with people who feel passionately about the event. Passion builds strong relationships, even between consumers and brands. We’ve seen it again and again, and it’s one of the things we’ve missed most the past 15 months. We can’t wait to see those built up again.

Things Will Be Different But Better

Whenever anyone says, “I can’t wait to go back to normal,” we cringe a little. Because, while the pandemic has been awful, and we have lost so many lives, it has also ushered in changes that we’d like to see stick. Not everything coming out of it is terrible.

For instance, the proliferation of online events has made some things more accessible. And we all appreciate interactions more than we used to. Advertisers have changed, too, many of them for the better based on lessons learned during the pandemic. It has reminded us to consider things with care and value people, who are our greatest commodity.

Sound kinda schmaltzy when you relate that to advertising? Maybe, but we think it will actually result in more heartfelt and more relatable ads. And we want presentation modes to remain accessible so everyone has a seat.

Advertisers Will See Greater Value in OOH

Last summer, when people took road trips instead of piling into planes, they got a new chance to connect with billboards. We can’t lie, we think that’s pretty great.

Brands refined their strategies and created messages that resonated with people — often more sincere than the ones they had pursued pre-pandemic. That chance to forge connections (that word again) over shared experience makes for impactful messaging.

And we think that was best delivered on billboards and other forms of OOH. Why? Because of its immediacy. Outdoor advertising doesn’t have time to build to a drawn-out message. It delivers right away, and brands appreciate that directness. Right now, we all feel a little done with longer-than-they-need-to-be Zoom meetings and dancing around political opinions. Directness feels right. That’s what OOH delivers.

Are you interested in starting an outdoor campaign? Get in touch with us to get started.

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