Cities are built around transport systems and Londoners spend more time with theirs than most. So how is one of the world’s oldest evolving to remain relevant in an era of accelerated technological innovation? Transport for London’s John Pizzamiglio gives his thoughts.
2016 was some year, one that will live in the memory for a long time, and maybe not for the most positive of reasons. For the Out-of-Home industry in general though and for Transport for London’s media team in particular, it will be looked on as a true milestone – a tipping point – the year that OOH finally looked like living up to its digital potential. And that makes 2017 even more interesting, exciting and challenging.
“The London audience will remain one of the most valuable media audiences there is”
Last year saw JCDecaux take over Transport for London’s bus shelter contract and begin to transform a large chunk of our nearly 5,000 bus shelters into a network that can challenge any media estate anywhere in terms of quality, flexibility, audience and return on investment.
Outdoor Plus began to develop a number of high quality large format screens on our underpasses around London, improving the large format opportunities in the city.
Our roadside estate is also being upgraded and rationalised under new partnerships with Primesight and JCDecaux, further enhancing the quality of roadside advertising in London.
And of course our advertising contract for the Tube and all TfL rail modes was launched as Hello London, the revolutionary partnership approach with Exterion Media, which will see tens of millions of pounds invested in our media infrastructure.
Clearly Transport for London is not alone in investing in OOH infrastructure around London and the rest of the UK. But this investment – welcome and necessary as it is – arguably creates a new conundrum for this year and the years ahead. By definition, this outlay has vastly improved the standard of what is available and what can be done with the medium, but this improvement in standards means that what once was “ultra-premium” is rapidly becoming the norm. Big, new and shiny is still good – but it’s not always enough.
This year may also see a proliferation of screens on the streetscape, again with added value to the proposition this is a good thing, keeping the industry honest and giving clients more options to deliver creative and effective campaigns. As we all know though, more screens do not automatically mean more money. Commoditisation is a real risk for 2017.
I would argue however, that Transport for London can look forward to the year with anticipation and enthusiasm. Our customers, “The London Audience,” will remain one of the most valuable media audiences there is and our continued investment, not just in media infrastructure, but also in the transport network, will enable better environments in which to engage and excite that audience. With our partners we will also continue to invest in more research, more insight and a more data led understanding of how brands can gain real cut-through and traction with our tens of millions of customers every day.
In a pure transport sense, in 2017 we will continue to carry out one of the largest transport infrastructure programmes in the world to enable a healthier, more inclusive city and its growing economy. This includes introducing the first Elizabeth line train into passenger service from Shenfield to Liverpool Street later this year. When the line fully opens at the end of 2019, it will provide a 10% increase in the capital’s rail capacity, carrying more than 200 million passengers a year from Shenfield in the east to Reading in the west, slicing travel times through central London, connecting the City to Heathrow. This illustrates just one example of how our expanding network introduces expanding opportunities to our audience and the media marketplace, with a whole raft of new sites, formats and authentic media firsts.
“Big, new and shiny is still good – but it’s not always enough”
Some of these new formats we know about. Some we will refine, discuss and develop over 2017. Maybe digital panels in-carriage? Maybe audio in certain environments? Certainly more integration with our other commercial touchpoints such as retail and online opportunities. And absolutely more partnerships with brands that can both add value to and benefit from our customer base and its inherent value. Hello London, the new OOH media brand, sets a benchmark in this regard. Placing insight and audiences at the heart of its integrated offering, it will be unmissable in 2017 and beyond.
But for all of the challenges that this year will bring for media owners, landlords, agencies and clients, the key issue will be for their messages to remain relevant to the audience. Irrespective of digital innovation, technical excellence, VR, AR, or whatever else the glorious world of tech will deliver, being able to convey a relevant, interestingly delivered message to the right audience will remain the function of all of us in OOH. Get this right, by combining the right environment, format, daypart, audience segmentation and many other variables, and we will deliver value for our customers and a return on investment for brands. Only by doing this consistently as an industry, will we grow OOH’s share of ad revenue in 2017 and continue to compete successfully with other, less accountable forms of communication.
As far as Transport for London is concerned, I am absolutely confident that the foundations we laid in 2016 with our media partners will help ensure that we do just that and that for all the right reasons, 2017 will also be a year to remember.
John Pizzamiglio is lead Advertising Strategy at TfL.
Transport for London is a local government body responsible for the transport system in Greater London, England.