After the pandemic upended its business in 2020, the Irish out-of-home advertising sector is cautiously eyeing a recovery this year and next as “some level of normality” returns to the economy and stay-at-home orders are lifted once more.
Agency specialists at Kinetic Ireland are forecasting 17 per cent growth in spending on out-of-home ad formats in 2021 and a 32 per cent increase in 2022 after a year that saw urban centres drained of people and roads fall quiet – disrupting the footfall and traffic patterns on which the advertising is sold.
Instead of the expected 8 per cent growth in the out-of-home market, when major events such as Euro 2020 and Tokyo 2020 should have contributed to a buoyant mood among advertisers, spending instead plummeted from €107 million in 2019 to €63 million, Kinetic said. This was 45 per cent lower than what had been projected at the start of the year.
"I don't think it's any secret that out-of-home has been one of the hardest hit channels by the Covid-19 pandemic," Kinetic Ireland deputy marketing director Aoife Hudson said at a virtual briefing for the year ahead. "Hopefully in 2023, we will be back in line with where we were in 2019."
Ms Hudson said that despite the challenging year, owners of out-of-home media had continued to invest in their digital platforms.
Among the new digital options set to come on stream are Exterion Media’s four “digital bridges” in Dublin. These upgraded formats – 18m by 2m screens located at existing railway bridge ad sites on Pearse Street, Drumcondra Road, North Strand and Amiens Street, near Connolly Station – are expected to become available to advertisers from June, said Exterion marketing manager Antoinette O’Callaghan.
The expansion of digital out-of-home infrastructure across Ireland is likely to encourage a greater number of advertisers to run more reactive campaigns where their message is adapted to reflect the weather, time of day and events such as sports results.
“The advertisers that take these opportunities get the benefit of them,” Ms O’Callaghan said. “If you continuously put the same thing out there, it can become wallpaper.”
After a surge in demand in December – reflecting the brief optimism that accompanied the end of the second lockdown – a quiet first quarter is likely to be followed by a period of growth, with “major demand” likely in the second half.
“We anticipate, as of now, that things will start to pick-up from April onwards,” she said.
Other investments include JCDecaux’s installation of “Digishelter” screens as new bus shelters are added to Dublin’s O’Connell Street and Westmoreland Street, while ClearChannel is in the process of converting former Eir phone kiosks into free-standing digital panels.
The sector has also seen the merger of Wide Eye Outdoor – which evolved out of cinema advertising agency Wide Eye Media – and Adtower to create a national network of 1,000 screens.
While some of these screens are located in venues such as cinemas, pubs and gyms that are currently closed, the majority are situated near “lockdown-proof” supermarkets and convenience stores, meaning the merged group should benefit from consumers’ increased tendency to shop locally.
"Our network is in your local Spar, it's in your local Supervalu. We don't have a huge concentration in the city centre," said Wide Eye Media chief executive Eoin Wrixon.
Cautioning that his crystal ball is “broken” three lockdowns in, Mr Wrixon said he anticipated “a flurry of investment” in out-of-home advertising over the next 12 months as fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), media, telecoms and other advertisers seek out digital formats that can give them real-time data.
Certain city centre and transport hub sites may have “an issue with numbers” beyond the current lockdown, however, given the phenomenon of five-day commuting is likely to take some time to make a full comeback.
“Will that impact on numbers? I think it probably will do.”
Buses, though almost empty, retain high visibility. At Exterion, which holds the contracts for advertising space on Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, Ms O'Callaghan said its Work Shop Play research, conducted in September 2020, suggested bus ads were the format people most recalled seeing in their local area.
“Buses by their nature don’t stand still.”