Doesn’t that title sound a bit contrary? Google and the roadside billboard? Well, Google, the undisputed king of modern digital marketing, and one of the oldest forms of traditional advertising, the billboard, could be joining forces. Talks are purportedly underway in Germany as of this writing that could be the harbinger of things to come very soon in the rest if the EU, and eventually here in the United States. A hyper-targeted ad may soon be coming to a billboard near you … literally.
According to an article in German magazine WirtschaftsWoche, the tech giant is making great strides towards an approval to use geolocation and individual browser history to activate digital billboards also known as digital-out-of-home (DOOH) at train stations, bus stops and along highway routes. While it unlikely that these out-of-home displays will change based on a single person’s browser history, it is quite conceivable that a trainload of soccer fans arriving for a game could trigger ads for soccer cleats and beer, or busloads of students could be shown the latest back-to-school must-have fashions.
It makes sense for Google to test this in Europe, because of their dominant position in mobile operating systems – Android runs on 75% of all the phones in Europe – it is also able to track users’ locations. Privacy concerns, especially in light of the new GDPR, mean it is unlikely to be able to target out-of-home ads at individuals (yet), but it can certainly pull anonymized demographic data on what kinds of people are in any given place at a given time.
According to a report from Price Waters Cooperhouse, digital outdoor ad spending is growing at a rate of 15 percent annually, and will overtake traditional (static printed) outdoor outlays by 2020. Given these few facts, it makes perfect sense for Google to dip it’s toe in the out-of-home waters, because It would give the company another major edge over Facebook, which does not have the same access to location-based mobile data. Major agencies and consumer brands still consider billboard ads a cost-effective option, because they can reach large numbers of people quickly, and with the switch to digital boards growing at present rates, it was only a matter of time before somebody figured out how to personalize them.
There are some moves afoot here in the States as it relates to digital billboards. Netflix recently announced that it has offered $300 million for the acquisition of an L.A. billboard company. As the worlds of offline and digital marketing blur, billboards could become a powerful channel for media companies like Netflix, and other brands — especially those that use browser data and other insights to perfectly match the billboard’s content and location to be relevant to the consumers in proximity. It may sound Orwellian, but we do it to ourselves. According to Yext, over 90 percent of us allow our location to be shared by our use of apps, so should we should not be surprised when advertisers leverage this information to send us messaging that our browser history tells them we may find interesting.
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