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As Cities Reopen, Consider Above Ground Reach & Frequency Media

OOH Formats Focused on Audience

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As cities reopen, first thing to consider is Above Ground Reach & Frequency Media


Lonnie Passy 

by Lonnie Passy

Connector of Brands with Audiences on the Go, Xennial, Digital Top Maven, Expert in Transit Media, Mobility Junkie


“We only want large format and it has to be that location”. “The client only cares about seeing it on social media”. Over the last few years, this strategy became very common for brands investing in Out-of-Home Advertising. Granted what senior level marketer didn’t want to see their creative displayed inside a packed subway station or on the side of a giant warehouse? These formats are beautiful, eye popping, and compatible with your smartphone. It is also a huge reason why OOH made headlines in the NY Times and WSJ and was having its moment in the sun. There is just one problem now. In a decimated economy and a public health crisis, the cost and diminished audience for these kinds of locations are very hard to justify for brands.

Before Covid-19, demand for this kind of inventory surged which had many operators salivating. Many began to focus more on real estate and OOH was going through a development bubble. Everywhere you looked, high cost screens and signs were popping up in cities all over America. The problem as I saw it was that many brands started to put a lot of weight on these attractive, contextual formats and not enough on formats that focused on audience. 

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Today with many budgets paused and people avoiding public transit, brands are going to need to deliver more share than ever for a fraction of their budget. It’s a reason why OOH is going to have to rely on a few select formats as our cities continue to reopen. These are formats that have been there day in and day out and have always over delivered. It’s also a format that will help convince brands to come back to OOH. The formats I am speaking of are “Above Ground Reach & Frequency Media” and if you aren’t familiar, here’s the definition:  

Above Ground reach and frequency media is static or digital OOH that delivers very high recall and enables a brand to reach eye level pedestrian traffic outside

This performance driven media includes taxi tops, street furniture and above ground transit and they have been around for decades. While not as flashy as the big and bold formats, they focus more on reach. I like to compare them to pawns on a chessboard or the white blood cells of the body. There are a few hundred thousand in cities across the US and have always been available to brands as one of the most cost effective formats.

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A veteran buyer once told me that when creating a media plan for a city, you should always consider the reach & frequency formats first. This will allow you to cover your base and create your foundation. After this, you focus on large format inventory to turn heads and excite creative directors.

While tourism and daily commuters are gone for the moment in many places, we can’t let brands forget that 3 out of 10 Americans still live within the confines of a city. This audience is known as your urban core and more than 50% do not own a car. Like many city dwellers, they have always relied on public transit. That’s more than 50 million people in the US who live in a city and don’t own a car. As marketers, do we turn our backs on them? Are we going to forget about the 4 million people who live in NYC and do not own a car? The answer is No.

So how will 50 million city slickers in the US get around in a post-covid world? The answer is walking…A lot of walking! Do you remember that concept? I do and according to Apple mobility reports, walking in the US came back to the normal baseline for the first time since March 11th. Sure, driving came back sooner but for the city folks who don’t own a car and won’t take public transportation, how does a brand reach this audience moving forward?

First is by utilizing above ground reach and frequency formats to hyper-local target specific POI’s (point of interests). Today, the most common POI’s are supermarkets, pharmacies and hospitals. Most above ground reach and frequency formats allow you to cherry pick a street corner and this will obviously continue. For moving media like taxis, Curb offers its Smart Digital Taxi Top technology to target a POI.

Second is by going old-school and taking over a city! Many brands might think this is a waste but I think a takeover using these formats is a cost-effective way to deliver mass reach. Imagine you’re a brand launching a new service running on a few hundred taxi tops, links and bus shelters. Combining all three networks delivers a very powerful message and can reach everyone in Manhattan. Plus operators like Curb are being more flexible than ever, offering shorter flights and better cancellation terms.

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There is also plenty of data and measurement to convince brands that above ground reach and frequency media makes the most sense right now. At Curb, we have a ton of data to measure taxi top campaign performance. Through our payment devices, we are able to provide, time stamped latitude and longitude coordinates for every taxi top location. We can then utilize this data and match them with a list of exposed mobile device ids so we can deliver post-campaign audience reports as well as measurement studies. The good news is that “unrouted” moving media has never been able to deliver this kind of measurement before and its only getting better.

So now what? Well for starters, it’s time for clients to rewrite the playbook and include more above ground reach and frequency media in their campaigns. The good news is that I see it starting to happen already. Brands are going to rely on these formats as we continue to rebuild together. They are going to use it to match their creative with public health announcements, promote their reopened stores and help launch new products and services. To my fellow city slickers, even if you don’t own a smart watch get ready because there will be a lot of walking in your future. This is going to be very beneficial for brands who continue to believe in the power of Out-of-Home and Above Ground Reach & Frequency Media. 


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