Out-of-home (OOH) advertising has always been a crucial consumer touchpoint for brands, and as Kelly Khoo (Chief Executive Officer, Clear Channel Singapore) and Amanda Woo (Chief Development Officer, Clear Channel Singapore) have put it, its future is only just beginning. With more data-led and insight-driven strategies leading the industry, various consumer trends and behavioural patterns can now be observed and predicted as advertising platforms evolve. In a time where brands are constantly at war to increase top-of-mind awareness with consumers, modern OOH advertising may hold the answers to getting ahead. Discover how Clear Channel’s OOH strategies may be useful for your business and learn all about their custom-built office in SPECTRUM with this extremely insightful chat:
Hi Kelly and Amanda, can you give us a brief introduction to Clear Channel and what you guys do?
Clear Channel has been in Singapore for 20 years now, marking this year our 20th anniversary. It all started back in 2001 when we were awarded one of the world’s – not just Singapore’s – largest street furniture contract to design, build, and operate (DBO) about 3,200 bus and taxi shelters across Singapore. Today, our bus shelter coverage in Singapore is second to none. And this coverage allows us to create a variety of consumer touchpoints through a variety of media formats. Our bus shelters don’t just come with basic advertising lightboxes, we go on to do so much more than that with a variety of different formats to suit different advertisers and their needs.
As a company, we’re part of one of the world’s largest outdoor advertising companies with about 500,000 displays in 22 countries across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Our parent company, Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, is a listed company on the NYSE and employs around 5,000 people globally.
In the last 20 years, we’ve accelerated the business and transformed it from what we call a pure-play out-of-home business into what it is today. Now, it is a high-growth digital and tech-led company. And we lead the way in making out-of-home scientific via data-led, fact-based, and insight-driven tools and systems, to meet the evolving needs of advertisers.
Do you think leveraging data is a key component of OOH advertising and how important is it for Clear Channel’s business model?
The landscape of advertising is ever-changing, and leveraging data is the smartest way to keep up with it. We are known in the industry as out-of-home experts. As early adopters of tech, we’ve paved the way in the industry to providing award-winning products, data, and creative solutions.
We’ve launched multiple market-firsts: the first-and-largest bus shelter digital network, Play; the first audio-visual immersive display, Play-In-Motion; the first to introduce a goal-based approach in digital selling, Play+; the first and largest street-side digital billboard, Electric City; the first offline to online mobile solution, OutSmart Connect; first audience attribution tool, OutSmart Pin; and very recently, our first built-for-purpose programmatic exchange for digital out-of-home, called OutSmart Pro.
From the demand for more dynamic and contextual displays for the advertising messages, to flexible buying models that allow brands to own exactly what they need, to fulfilling offline to online journeys using location intelligence to inform where their audiences are—at the end of the day, it’s really all about using data to streamline processes and minimise wastage of time and resources.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the evolution of OOH advertising and how Clear Channel contributed to its evolution in Singapore?
Out-of-home advertising is actually one of the oldest advertising mediums in the world. And if you think about it from its inception up until a couple of years ago, it hasn’t really changed significantly over that time. But in recent years, it has been on a fast track to becoming one of the most modern media formats there are. With smartphones and other mobile devices becoming more omnipresent every day, there is a growing awareness as to how out-of-home can be integrated with all these new devices and touchpoints to become the new platform for online consumer engagement.
Out-of-home advertising, in its very nature, is a ‘reach’ medium—it exists to reach people in the public space. Like mentioned before, Clear Channel’s coverage across Singapore is extensive, which gives us unparalleled audience reach. We see ourselves, at least with our capabilities, bridging the online and offline worlds by combining our outstanding audience reach with personal engagement through mobile devices. Through our range of services, we combine the traditional purposes of out-of-home advertising with the power of modern technology and give brands deeper consumer engagement on a public forum. There is power in a public message in a way that gives brands a public sense of commitment and delivery.
How does Clear Channel bridge the offline and online worlds in their advertising strategy?
As early adopters of tech, we are pioneers in this area. We were the first to launch these offline-to-online mobile solutions called Connect. Having started in 2014, we first enabled NFC and QR code scanning to drive commuters to take action on their mobile after seeing the out-of-home ad. And since using QR codes, we have evolved to further digital capabilities, where commuters could even use their phone to interact directly with the screens.
Today, we can increase conversions with cross-device, cross-channel targeting programmatically as well. In other words, we’re creating a double exposure: for those who’ve seen the out-of-home ad, to those who took an action to click-through on a mobile banner ad, and later walked into the retail stores. These mobile devices are tracked from exposure right through to conversion. We help advertisers drive potential customers one step closer to conversion, for instance, by clicking on a downloadable promotion, or just simply leading them to an e-commerce site to shop, or sending them an online form to receive a product sample. So, we’re really helping brands close the loop on transactions.
What are some of the current problems in OOH advertising that you’ve seen over the years and how do you think Clear Channel has taken steps to overcome them?
Until COVID-19, all we have been seeing in out-of-home advertising has been opportunities and possibilities, but with COVID-19, it naturally started to surface new challenges.
As you know, out-of-home by its very nature exists in the public space. However, due to COVID-19 and its various restriction measures, a lot of us have been forced indoors. So, it didn’t bode well for out-of-home advertising spending, especially during the Circuit Breaker, because advertisers simply inferred that without people out there on the streets, there was no need for advertisements. It was a tough two months for us during the Circuit Breaker.
But the Circuit Breaker allowed us to gather data. We collated COVID-19 induced patterns and learnt what these patterns meant to us as a business. When do people stay home? When does footfall decline? When will footfall pick up again? In the present day, we have gone through two Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) and we actually have charts to monitor the ebb and flow of out-of-home footfall, to give us valuable and actionable data that we can bring to advertisers.
Using this data, we can help our advertisers to validate their out-of-home investment decisions, for example, we’ll furnish them with facts and figures on where the audience really is, what footfall patterns are like, and give insights into the ever-evolving consumer behaviour. We also provide these advertisers with actions and activities, to kickstart what we call the ‘reimagination experience’. It basically means if people are going to be at home due to a lockdown, we all know that it is going to be inevitable that people are going to be back out on the streets again. So we’re serving the advertisers some inspiration or reimagination pieces on how best to target the consumers when they are back out again.
With the insights and data that you’re able to analyse from the public, what kind of behavioural changes can you expect to see regarding the COVID-19 situation?
We have an award-winning audience-understanding video analytics tool, called LEXI. It provides us with anonymised data that allows us to study the weekly footfall at our shelters, and understand the shifts in audience concentration. According to our most recent data, footfall has returned 75% as of last week, compared to the highest level of footfall in 2020, before the Circuit Breaker hit. Whilst we faced slowdowns due to the earlier Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) measures, we expect to see footfall returning, as the government has increased social gathering to group sizes, dine-ins are allowed again, and when more employees can return to the office, we will see more significant shifts.
With global vaccination rates, including Singapore’s, going up, we are confident that more people will return out-of-home as we saw after the end of the Circuit Breaker. As media owners, we can only continue to share ideas on how we can reimagine a new normal, and a new future during, through, and even after COVID-19. Most importantly, the lesson learned for us as a business is that we need to make sure we can adapt to these changes very fluidly.
Yes, and with 8 in 10 people already being fully vaccinated, the government is also treating this more like an endemic. So, if you think about it like dengue, we are going to be able to learn to live with it and deal with it better with appropriate health and safety measures put in place. And that’s very positive—all in all, looking like a promising recovery. What’s more, MTI (Ministry of Trade and Industry) mentioned that they are adjusting the GDP Growth forecast upwards from “4.0 to 6.0 per cent” to “6.0 to 7.0 per cent”. So, we shall remain positive and expect ourselves to transition towards what they call ‘COVID resilience’.
That’s what we’re all hoping for, even for us at SPECTRUM. We would love to see a little bit more buzz and community back in our spaces.
I know! I’ve heard so much about the pre-COVID buzz at SPECTRUM. I can’t wait to experience it!
Yes! We’re always organising events and networking sessions, so it’s a bit sad to see the spaces empty. Hopefully, you guys will be able to experience it soon!
I’m confident we will be able to share some of this buzz before the end of the year.
That said, with the relaxing of restrictions, are advertisers now using Clear Channel’s media to attract consumers to their F&B outlets?
Some of our F&B clients are focused on making sure that their brand awareness levels are maintained at pre-lockdown heights. There are also F&B brands who want to run tactical campaigns to reassure the public that their outlets are safe to dine at. However, I believe that because we went through several months of very fluid and quick changes with the policies, you’ll find fewer such tactical campaigns. It is very challenging for an advertiser to put one message out there suggesting certain measures, only to have it debunked the following week, so we’re seeing less of that. What we do see is a drive towards making sure that their brands remain top-of-mind with consumers.
That makes a lot of sense, it isn’t very productive to go back and forth with those messages—we’ve experienced the inconvenience ourselves for our bar, DOOR XXV.
I do have to add to that point though, that I think Singapore does stand out as one of those countries where we pivot very, very quickly from policy announcements. I really don’t think there is another country in the world like ours. To have the Multi-Ministry Task Force making announcements and businesses responding immediately, you have to agree that this—this has got to be world-class.
That’s for sure. And it probably has a lot to do with the entire country’s trust in the government. Speaking of trust, with the recent privacy measures surrounding cookies, how has it affected Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) advertising and Clear Channel’s business model?
Cookies as we know are codes tagged to mobile devices when you visit particular websites, and the cookie follows to determine your interests and behaviours. This, in turn, allows for brands to be more precise in their targeting, in regards to who they send their communications to.
Users concerns on privacy over time has made the tech, mobile and media industry more responsible in the use of such data. The new iOS feature gives control back to us as users, where we can decide if we want to let brands learn about our preferences.
On the impact to our business, we offer location intelligence solutions, which inform on mobility patterns, interests, and behaviours. What we’ve heard from our location intelligence partners, surprisingly, is that this impact is not as significant as they thought. The demand for services on our end has not declined, in fact, it has grown. I believe as the iOS app developers catch up on these new requirements, the supply of location data from these Apple devices will start to come back.
Even as a user, myself, I can see the value of convenience of sharing my location whenever I’m using e-commerce apps for delivery, or when I call my rides, or when I get to save money from promo codes because I allow them to look into my non-personal data. Simply allowing these apps to just know me better, gets me better deals and content that I actually would consume and enjoy at the end of the day.
How do you foresee the future of advertising?
The opportunities are limitless, especially with digital and tech. It’s really about helping advertisers purchase advertising spaces more seamlessly in the whole digital ecosystem. In 2020, in the face of COVID-19, we introduced OutSmart Pro, which is our first built-for-purpose exchange in out-of-home. The timing of OutSmart Pro, could not be better. Given the volatile situation, businesses had to adapt to weekly changes in COVID measures, and marketers were challenged to quick turnaround times to tweak their brand messaging and roll out campaigns overnight, and needing control as to when they should start or stop their media buys.
Mobility patterns became very unpredictable as well, with people moving from offices to homes and back, businesses closing and resuming, as different measures took place. Advertisers needed intelligence to inform them, on where the audiences are now. These demands shape the proposition of our OutSmart Pro solution that is at the end of the day to deliver speed, control, and intelligence to advertisers.
On the 12th of August, we announced that our programmatic service has now come onboard the omnichannel ecosystem, making a frictionless digital ecosystem for brands a reality. We are now integrated with both Hivestack and Vistar Media, and brands can now buy Clear Channel’s digital inventory across 20 DSPs (demand-side platforms), including Amobee, MediaMath, The Trade Desk, Verizon Media, and they are trading online mobile and other digital channels.
We see a growing demand of marketers who want speed and control over their campaigns, and the need for intelligence such as data that informs of their investment from optimisation to attribution, all of which OutSmart Pro has developed over time to provide.
The versatility and relevance of programmatic DOOH (pDOOH), although a relatively new concept, is definitely weaving its way into traditional advertising channels and we look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve.
How can advertisers take full advantage of your programmatic tool for their brands?
OutSmart Pro’s unique selling propositions are speed, control, and intelligence. In the more traditional ways of buying, advertisers would buy a full week and require more planning as time is required to print and post posters. However, when it comes to speed for programmatic digital out-of-home, it’s a very quick turnaround—as fast as one day.
On control, advertisers have access to a dashboard, where they log in and plan their campaigns, and decide on how much they want to spend, who they want to target and when the campaign should start. They can even upload different creative visuals in different locations. And at the end of the day, advertisers want their ads to appear where their audiences are. So to find audience concentration, we use location intelligence. For example, if I were a fast-food brand, I would want to look for people who’ve been to my competitors in the last 30 days. The programmatic system will find the concentration of these people and make sure their ads are displayed wherever they are.
So, compared to the more traditional ways, advertisers don’t have to lock in advertisements at fixed locations anymore, and their campaigns will appear dynamically to where their potential customers are. That’s the key difference.
On a lighter note, how has your experience with SPECTRUM been so far?
The atmosphere is great. And I think a lot of this is also because of the people in SPECTRUM, from the SPECTRUM team to the Golden Equator team to the other members. For the SPECTRUM team, Chris and his people have always ensured a very positive experience for all of us—being there when needed, getting things done. And I’d like to specially mention Karolina and Kabir who always makes sure a visit to SPECTRUM always feels like a return home. Where the other members are concerned, there is always camaraderie and cheer amongst some of us. And we’ve said this a couple of times today, I can only imagine how much better this gets if all the members could all be back at the same time. Personally, I’d like to spend more time at SPECTRUM but with the recent measures, I haven’t been, but I cannot wait to be back.
What were your criteria for choosing a suitable office? Why did you go with SPECTRUM?
We probably saw about 20 offices before deciding on SPECTRUM. But the thing was SPECTRUM was actually the first office we saw. And after we saw SPECTRUM that first time, the remaining ones we saw simply had to match what SPECTRUM had to offer in terms of its location, its presentation, the standards that SPECTRUM keeps in terms of cleanliness, conveniences, etc. After nearly six weeks of office viewings, we simply went back to the one that we wanted in the first place—you guys. Personally, I was looking out for bicycle accessibility since I was planning to ride to work sometimes. So, the ability to ride and then park my road bike in my own office instead of the car park was a huge draw for me.
You’ve also specially requested a custom office at SPECTRUM. How was the experience for you and are you happy with the final result?
When we first saw the office, it didn’t look the way it does today because there was a space that we wanted that was actually being used as a meeting room. So, we factored that into our tenancy request that to accommodate 30-odd people, we really needed the space to be bigger. Since the offices ahead of us were taken, we actually requested for that meeting room to be a part of our office. And Chris, Ben, and the SPECTRUM team actually made that happen. They were especially accommodating with our requests and again, efficient in getting these requests executed very quickly. Given that we had a very short turnaround time between our old Suntec office and SPECTRUM. For this, I would like to also thank them once more, because we can’t thank them enough. We’re definitely happy with our office. And we have been there for nearly six months now. And if the opportunity ever arises in the future, and I’m sure Chris will be very happy to hear this, we’d like to add on some extra square footage.
That’s great to hear! What about DOOR XXV, what do you most enjoy about it?
DOOR XXV is a space that we can call our own and a place to interact with like-minded individuals.
It’s like our local spot for SPECTRUM members like ourselves. And to Amanda’s point about meeting like-minded individuals—I remember when we first came to view the space, I think it was Chris, who said that the members at SPECTRUM were really, rigorously curated. So I think there is a certain comfort and guarantee that you are going to meet people, your fellow members who are either in the same business as you, the same industry as you, or we are going to complement and support your business. So there’s a huge benefit for us.
Yes, we really take pride in creating a great atmosphere at DOOR XXV! What’s your favourite drink at DOOR XXV?
You need to give Amanda more time to answer this question because she has got a lot of favourite drinks!
I will keep this short and sweet! Usually, when we go to DOOR XXV, I would ask for Mark and Carene’s creation and it’s always a surprise! But what I really, really want are the bottles in the centre and middle shelf with ‘25’ on them.
Those are actually 25-year-old bottles of whiskey collected to pay homage to the name DOOR XXV! We’ll see if we can get Mark to share some with you guys when we’re back in the space!
Since we’re going on record, I would like to put a small request for my favourite drink at Door XXV—I don’t really have one only because I’m actually more of a beer drinker. I know you have recently introduced Peroni to the menu and even have a 1-for-1 deal. However, I do prefer draught beers! We shared this with Mark before and I think he said that it didn’t really quite go with the concept of the bar, being a speakeasy. That’s why they cannot have a beer on tap, but I think having a draught beer on tap is going to be a huge draw. And there are many, many ways you can make a draft tap look nice as well. Until that happens, I’ve been mostly enjoying the Shirazes and champagnes.
We agree with you, 100%. We love draught beer so having a tap would be a value-add for sure. Let’s see if we can talk to Mark about that, or even start a petition for it!
Thank you for joining us on this interview, we’re definitely looking forward to seeing both of you around at SPECTRUM and DOOR XXV!
You can connect with Amanda via [email protected] and Kelly via
[email protected] to know more about Clear Channel and the work they do.
As always, you can keep up-to-date with what is going on around SPECTRUM here.