Measuring apples and apples: OOH and online advertising

people walking near buildings during night time

Photo by Lukas Hartmann on

Recently I took up a temporary position as acting head of research at Exterion Media, the company that run the ads on the London Underground, on buses and some of the over-ground train network.  It was an interesting time and I enjoyed working with a great team.

Working in Outdoor media is always interesting. What is always very striking is the rigour of their advertising measurement. Here I’ve written about an eye-catching study by rival Outdoor firm JC Decaux in which they’ve tried to level the playing field between their measures and the measures of online advertising.

JC Decaux commissioned Lumen Research (famous for large scale eye-tracking studies) to run a project.  The idea was to create a level playing field for measurement of online advertising and OOH advertising.  They called the study, Attention: the Common Currency for Media

The online industry has very minimal requirements for an advert to fulfil before it is measured as viewable.  It needs to display 50% of pixels on screen for 1 second or more.  For OOH ads to be considered viewable the requirements are far more stringent.  It needs to face the right direction, have both edges visible, have no more than 10% obstruction and have dedicated illumination at night.

However, advertisements that are viewable are not always viewed, of course.  Therefore, Lumen use eye cameras to measure the ‘hits’ (or fixations) an advert gets.  One ‘hit’ is a viewed impression.  It’s something the OOH industry has measured for years (for their own inventory).  What happens when they apply the same approach to online advertising on mobile and desktop screens?

There’s a white paper for this and it can be found here.  It discusses the methodology in detail and there is an important methodology points to note here.  The eye camera work wasn’t done in an actual OOH environment, unlike, for example, Exterion’s excellent Engagement Zone project, which was done in real locations.  It was done using mock ups of OOH locations on screens that respondents looked at.

There are two main parts to the findings.

One: likelihood to see a viewable ad in each media

On desktop, if an ad is served in a viewable position, consumers have a 22% chance of noticing the ad (i.e. having at least one fixation on it).  On mobile the same figure is 59%.

For OOH static panels, consumers have a 66% chance of noticing the ad (i.e. having at least one fixation on it).  For digital OOH panels the same figure is 69%.  Please note that in situations of less dwell time e.g. amongst motorists or in a London Underground station, digital panels get noticed more.  Where the dwell time is longer, static ads ‘catch up’ and can have as much chance of catching the eye as digital.

Two: what happens when you build in the fact that not all ads are served?  After all, some are simply not seen by the audience, e.g. when less than 50% of all pixels are in view or when a digital OOH ad is in a loop of six.

The answer is that on desktop an ad has a 13% likelihood of being seen.  For mobile the same figure is 25%.

For static OOH the number stays the same at 66% (i.e. no change because the ad is there all the time) and for digital OOH the number is 39% (because some people will see other ads in the loop instead and because the ad won’t catch every eye).  For a total OOH number, the average of these two is 53%.

Notably, the OOH numbers are higher than the online numbers, which, of course, proves JC Decaux’s point about the value of OOH ads.

It’s a neat little study with a clear aim – and it is a great addition to the advertising measurement debate

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