The Possibilities of Programmatic Digital Out of Home Marketing


With open, outdoor spaces being favoured over crowded indoor areas worldwide, many advertisers are starting to think more about DOOH advertising. It’s a bit of a broad category, but digital out-of-home media or DOOH is usually defined as: “digital media that appears in environments accessible to the public.” DOOH generally includes digital advertising channels such as digital billboards, outdoor signage, and outdoor screens positioned in high traffic areas. Digital out-of-home, until now, has worked for a particular type of advertiser with a specific message. Not every campaign calls for a giant OOH billboard but, as COVID continues to reshape our world, more brands are starting to look to this type of advertising. As it goes with lesser-used technologies, they are left to fall behind with outdated modes of operation and little-to-no standardizations. DOOH advertising is no exception. While nearly all digital advertising is done programmatically, or automatically, the same cannot be said for DOOH. Programmatic Digital out-of-home, or pDOOH, would change the DOOH game, making it accessible to those unfamiliar with it and allowing those who have worked with it before to do so much more efficiently.

To target, and in turn address, the main factors pDOOH faces, IAB and PwC UK conducted a study with senior industry executives across Canada and the U.S. The focus of their research was to query “enthusiasm about the potential of programmatic digital out of home (pDOOH) campaigns to drive innovation and growth by delivering real value for advertisers.” While the reception was enthusiastic, the study uncovered three main roadblocks unique to pDOOH that would need to be addressed before it can reach its full potential and become a viable option for marketers across the board.

“95% [of respondents] indicated that greater education is required in order to accelerate the adoption of pDOOH.”

The Biggest Challenges Facing pDOOH


The main stumbling block for pDOOH identified by the interviewees is education. According to research, “95% indicated that greater education is required in order to accelerate the adoption of pDOOH.” As DOOH hasn’t been as widely used as other modes of advertising, parties like media planners and agencies need to be fully briefed on the benefits of DOOH and understand the metrics behind its viewability, measurements, and brand safety.

On the client-side of things, education is just as important. The benefits of “buying” an audience may be lost on some clients due to a lack of experience with the medium. But in the new, COVID world we live in, being able to programmatically buy OOH spots will allow the brand’s reach to grow exponentially—even if impressions are slightly lower.


As there are no standards as of yet in pDOOH, there is no inventory system that shows all available real estate. Instead, there is a multitude of platforms with varying listings of the real estate available for DOOH advertising, which requires advertisers to not only know what they’re looking for but exactly where to find it. This convoluted, disunited process plays a part in the challenges of pDOOH being adopted, according to 62% of the study participants. There are many requirements on each platform for both media owners and buyers—none of which are standardized—that would allow them to integrate and communicate their advertising needs with the other. Of course, if the selling and listing of DOOH are fragmented, that means that the buying side is also. As standardization on the selling side is non-existent, this translates to no forecasting or planning tools available for buyers to properly plan and execute their DOOH campaigns.

Lack of Data Standardization

In nearly any medium, the efficacy of advertising comes down to the impressions, and consumer actions are taken from those impressions. As OOH advertising is a one-to-many avenue, defining the number of impressions or audience can be, understandably, tricky. There is a multiplier applied to the general foot traffic in a specific area to estimate the OOH audience. The problem here is that there is no standard multiplier, or formula, to decipher this data. Various agencies calculate this multiplier differently, using different methods and relying on multiple data sources. Not only does this result in uneven counts that are a crucial part of evaluating the success of the placement, but it also creates uncertainty at the buying stage. A standard measuring method and backup data usage must be adopted by all parties and implemented market-wide for pDOOH to be a viable channel for all brands, so says 43% of the IAB’s respondents.

Further Issues

In addition to the three main pDOOH concerns the study raised, some other problems that execs have when considering getting pDOOH to the level of reliability and accessibility that other advertising channels offer. 29% of those surveyed agreed that there is a severe lack of reporting tools available for pDOOH. With proven success in the DOOH sphere, pDOOH could become more accessible to more marketers. But without the proper reporting tools and standardized data, it can be challenging to show concrete successes.

Part of the reason that pDOOH has fallen by the wayside and into such murky waters is that there’s been no clear responsibility for DOOH in agencies. Without a clear planner and buyer for OOH marketing, it can be a difficult market for brands to find their footing in.   

And still, despite these roadblocks, the U.S. and Canada boast reasonably accomplished OOH systems. Many players who want access to the OOH placements needed for their brand have created systems that work for their individual needs, but not for the needs of other brands or marketing campaigns. The IAB’s report shows over 3.3 million OOH displays in 2018 in the USA and over 960,00 in Canada. They report the U.S. saw about $10 billion in OOH revenue, and Canada about $661 million in revenue, both in 2018.

4 Pillars of Attribution Data

With standardization missing across OOH and pDOOH on all fronts, it’s no surprise that there is a consensus of the exact information missing around user actions or attribution. In a nutshell, these are:

“1. Visibility: There is minimal visibility on the buy-side over the tools used to verify conversions from exposure to DOOH ads, and a lack of tools to understand a consumer’s path to purchase.

2. Verification: There are a number of pDOOH trading platforms active in the U.S. and Canadian markets which offer attribution solutions through brand lift studies, verified walk-ins, and mobile re-targeting. This attribution is not third-party verified which was highlighted as a limitation.

3. Cost: Third-party attribution partners are typically used on the buy side, but the willingness of clients to perform attribution often depends on media budgets as a specific volume of data—and associated media spend—is required.

4. Multi-touch: In defining multi-touch attribution models, the contribution of DOOH is still being determined.”


IAB compares attribution in DOOH similar to the growth of mobile advertising. Proper, provable and reliable attribution is required for DOOH for progress as a medium. With the appropriate building blocks in place, pDOOH is poised to contribute to OOH advertising’s expansion and boom worldwide.