Marketing and Space, Why Millennials and Gen Z Prefer Outdoor Marketing

We all are attached to our phones, they follow us everywhere, hear our intimate conversations, record our favorite moments. For advertisers, the phenomenon of being able to reach the majority of people at every moment in seconds seems ideal, the perfect way for older generations to connect to their strange tech addict consumers. The reality, however, is far more complex; research has revealed that most people find advertising, which invades their personal spaces threatening and intrusive. For Millennials and Gen Z, these private spaces include their phones, their laptops, their technology which stores, captures and communicates their lives. 

If you look closely, you can see behaviors within these generations, which reflect their intimate attitude towards technology. Therefore their natural repulsion to the invasive advertising and marketing strategies used by so many companies makes sense. Walk into any Starbucks or local coffee shop and see laptops open across every other surface; then look at the webcam, over half will be covered by a sticker or some tape, anything to protect them from the assumed surveillance from an unwanted third party. HP even used this paranoia on their most recent ad campaign for the HP Spectre x360, which has a ‘webcam kill switch.’ Their campaign ‘Keep it Human’ is cemented in Millennial and Gen Z’s desire to keep the personal aspects of technology without it being mutated and used to control and surveil their consumer habits. We see young people spending intimate time together and alone with their technology at hand and the happy freedom they experience knowing they aren’t being watched or tracked at that moment. 

We can also see these behaviors in their use and development of technology; over 20% of internet users use online ad blockers; this costs online publishers around $1.2m a year. When given the option, 82% of Gen Z users will skip an ad as fast as possible. Here we see an immediate rejection of the digital ad campaigns; they are unwanted and seen as inappropriate in the generation’s personal online space. These behaviors force platforms to develop strategies to combat the young people’s repulsion of the advertising intrusion. 

YouTube, for example, from January 2018, put ads in place which viewers cannot skip, these began as 10-15 second ads but have extended, some lasting over 30 seconds. These systematic changes from YouTube have ignited considerable frustration and resentment from their users. You can find multiple articles across the internet with young people expressing their horror at the latest monetizing strategies their favorite YouTubers have forced on their watchers. Of course, this frustration will only decrease consumer engagement in the actual ads. 

The real question is if these advertising strategies are so unwanted, are they even effective? 

Sixty-nine percent of Gen Z users will actively distract themselves from digital ads by doing an alternative activity for its duration. You could argue that customers absorb the messages subconsciously, but considering the amount of money that companies invest in these campaigns, I am sure business owners expect much higher engagement. So perhaps the technology isn’t the best way to reach Millennials and Gen Z, as marketers and advertisers begin to understand young people’s attitudes towards their technology, they have started to reconsider their advertising strategies.

OOH – Out Of Home Advertising 

New research shows that many young people find outdoor advertising such as digital billboards much less intrusive and, in some cases, even relaxing; ‘OOH’ (out-of-home advertising) engages 84% of Gen Z-ers (source: UNiDAYS). This research, funded by UNiDAYS, one of the biggest discount platforms for students in the USA, UK, Ireland, and Australia, sheds a fascinating light on adverting engagement within younger generations. It shows that spatial context is critical in the minds of the tech-savvy youth; they don’t hate advertising; they hate advertising in what they consider to be private spaces. Move these same campaigns to public spaces; on the side of the road, in shopping centers and on cinema screens, and they transform from intrusive and threatening to ‘comforting’ and engaging. Therefore, finding a balance between digital campaigns and OOH advertising, rather than favoring one over another, is vital for the future of advertising and engagement of Millennials and Gen Z-ers.

Netflix, the largest subscription streaming platform, has actively responded to this research, increasing its investment in OOH. They now put up billboards across the world in an attempt to trigger short term consumer purchases of subscriptions as well as further develop their long-term brand image. 

Spotify has also followed suit, in 2018 winning the biggest OBIE award for their intimate OOH advertising campaign. Spotify’s campaign shows the irony of Millennials’ and Gen Z’s attitudes towards advertising. Spotify generated the campaign by using young people’s intimate relationship with technology and their positive attitude to OOH advertising, through analysis of their users’ use of their app, they reveal quirky and personal statistics on billboards across the world. The ‘Wrapped up’ campaign is also elective online, and viewers can choose to see their statistics and decide to broadcast them to their friends through social media. When the intrusive advertising is comical and displayed to strangers, it’s not seen as threatening, because it is in the correct spatial context. When the personal digital advertisement is voluntary, it gets a broader and more positive response. 

Once companies put these OOH campaigns out into the world, Millennials and Gen Z-ers could kick off the company’s digital campaign for them. With the use of social media. An engaging and exciting OOH ad campaign could be shared around the world in minutes. Young people want to share what is going on in their world with each other, so if companies allow their brands to be a part of their world, they will share it. Spotify’s campaign was so successful because it made them, the consumer, an integral part of the message while maintaining an appropriate distance from the personal space. This move then allowed the ad to slide into their private space as it was voluntarily shared on social media by young people. 

When discussing the ideas of advertising to young audiences, I have to consider the importance of social media. Social media and these OOH advertising campaigns are deeply connected. Most young people follow their favorite celebrities on some form of social media, such as Twitter or Instagram, allowing them to feel a personal connection to their idols. 

So, when Netflix rolls out a new billboard campaign, and the actors involved in the project tweet photos of their faces plastered across Time square, not only does this OOH campaign reach millions of more people, but it also doesn’t feel forceful. 

Millennials and Gen Z voluntarily follow these accounts, so the content they produce is not forced on them but welcomed by them; they feel a connection to this person, so the context changes from digital marketing, like an ad before a YouTube video, to a voluntary intimate communication between friends. 

‘OOH’ campaigns can also be significantly more noticeable and memorable; it’s estimated we are exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 digital ads per day, with younger generations being at the higher end of that scale due to their frequent use of technology. This is a saturation of ad content. For one brand to stand out and be effective while competing against thousands of others every day would be a near possible, especially when most of the time the ads are seen by Millennials and Gen Z-ers as unwanted and prying. 

An OOH campaign can catch a person’s eye in an unexpected or meaningful moment and remain in their mind for an extended time, standing out from the crowded digital world and reach them on a personal physical platform. Once brands first reach consumers through this physical platform, young people are 48% more likely to engage with digital campaigns. 

DOOH – Digital Out Of House Marketing

But, creating an OOH ad campaign that is engaging and exciting is undoubtedly easier said than done, especially when targeting a demographic who are notorious for having extremely short attention spans. This is why DOOH (digital-out-of-house marketing) is vital. DOOH is when you combine OOH with AdTech, such as geofencing and tracking. These campaigns are more expensive than basic OOH but open up a whole world of choices that can be used to engage and entice Millennials and Gen Z. The moving and varied content this platform allows is reminiscent of the social media platforms that have kept these generations enchanted for years now. The bright lights attract them, and the opportunities that the technology provides captivate them, making them more receptive to the messages. 

DOOH technology has an abundance of potential in reaching Millennials and Gen Z. Firstly, this form of digital marketing can’t be ad blocked or skipped, but it also isn’t paired with the frustration a person feels when these functions are prevented online like on YouTube, making it a lot more likely for them to engage with the ad. It is also in the correct space, out and about Millennials and Gen Z won’t see the ads as encroaching on their personal space and so won’t resent it.

The technology can also allow for the ads to be more personalized. Although many see Millennials and Gen Z as a widely generalizable demographic, the levels over variation between the two and within each one are so vast that no one ad campaign could genuinely engage young people everywhere. This difficulty is where technology such as facial recognition can come into play; this can allow the ad to change or alter depending on who is watching it based on their online presence. 

This is deeply invasive as we have seen that personal campaigns engage young people, so this level of personalization has endless and exciting possibilities for marketers. For instance, GMC’s personalized campaign used facial detection to alter its sales pitch for each person who watches the digital sign, seeing if the viewer was smiling, if they were male or female, and adjusting the campaign accordingly. This innovative campaign not only became more targeted depending on its audience but also simply attracted more attention from passers-by, young people stopped and videoed the event presumably to share with friends and so expand its audience. 

Like an OOH ad campaign, DOOH campaigns can be used and transferred to digital marketing through the use of social media, but the possibilities which DOOH provides allow the campaign to increase dramatically in uniqueness and so increase its likelihood of going viral. For instance, I remember outside the LEGO shop in Leicester Square; they put up an interactive digital sign which asked people to scan their handprint, and it would create a LEGO figure on them on the digital board. LEGO then proceeded to ask them to share their figures on social media through the sign. This strategic marketing not only got thousands of tourists to engage with the ad actively, but also got them to share it across multiple social media platforms, increasing awareness, and so engagement. This type of engagement is what it takes for Millennials and Gen Z to be indeed affected by an ad campaign, voluntary participation. 

Not long-ago digital marketing was seen as the future of marketing; however, as we see attitudes towards what is private and what is a public space develop and these boundaries blurred, the way we market must adapt. Just because young people are always on their phones doesn’t mean the phone should be the first point of connection between the brand and the consumer. Technology is becoming more connected to the person. People hold their whole worlds on their phones. Brands should aim for customers to invite them into their technological worlds. To do that, they should use OOH and DOOH marketing strategies. Although traditional digital campaigns can have quick and frequent exposure, this does not mean that the viewer is engaged. However, with creative DOOH marketing strategies, you will know your campaign is successful because it will be invited into the digital world by Millennials and Gen Z-ers.

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