IPA Touchpoints report dispels OOH lockdown myths

February 2021

By Russell Smither, Head of Research & Insight

The release of a new IPA Touchpoints report always makes for interesting reading and the publication of its third edition of Making Sense: The Commercial Media Landscape did not disappoint.

This edition of the report compared media consumption and behaviour both before (6 Jan-23 March) and during lockdown (24 March-17 May) in 2020 and it revealed some “astonishing” findings: that out-of-home (OOH) and commercial TV remained the highest reach channels both before the pandemic and during – yes during – lockdown.

Weekly reach for OOH pre-lockdown was at 96% of the population and slipped modestly to a weekly reach of 78% during the lockdown, while commercial television continued to achieve almost the same levels of reach during the lockdown as prior to, at 83% and 85% respectively.

Put in simple terms, despite a national lockdown, OOH still reached roughly eight in 10 people per week – the same as national television, and as the report succinctly states, OOH generated significant reach, it just had to surrender its top spot position to TV during the lockdown period.

OOH maintains its reach

The findings in the report provide a thought-provoking comparison and demonstrate a balance of change and consistency in media consumption, both reaffirming assumptions and dispelling some myths.

We all assumed we would see an increase in time viewing TV/video as we spent more time at home, especially in the evening. The Touchpoints data showed ‘Commercial TV – Live / Recorded’ increased from 1.88 hours to 2.01 hours per day during lockdown, a 7% increase, with 28% adults viewing this at the peak 9pm time compared to 26% pre lockdown. This overall increase was broadly in line with the 9% increase recorded by BARB for average minutes per day during the same time period, so clearly there were changes in TV viewing, but perhaps not as profound as some may have expected and the general viewing pattern was consistent.

For those of us in the out-of-home industry, the IPA report is further evidence of what we have seen and experienced throughout the pandemic – that despite the drop in time that people have been able to spend in out-of-home environments and the share of OOH media time over the past year, this has not translated into an equivalent drop in reach. And that’s essentially because people haven’t entirely stopped going out, they’ve just changed the when, where and frequency of going out.

Throughout the pandemic Posterscope has been tracking consumer mobility, via a partnership with Three, and while, of course, we’ve seen a drop off in consumer mobility, it hasn’t been anywhere near as much as advertisers may assume. Right now, during a full national lockdown, consumer mobility still sits at 63% of pre-Covid levels, but perhaps what’s more important is where this mobility is taking place and how the pandemic has impacted people’s attitudes to the out-of-home space and the advertising within it.

Posterscope’s ‘Mobility Mindset’ research in September 2020 demonstrated that almost nine in 10 adults ages 18-55 stated that they noticed out-of-home advertising across any environment/format. More profound was that almost half (45%) said they found OOH advertising even more noticeable and felt more positive towards it, largely due to the increased awareness and attention people are paying to their immediate surroundings/their communities. This was having a “knock on” confidence and familiarity effect to the brands using the public OOH medium within their communities and places of work.

Demonstrating a strong connection between out-of-home and ‘Functional Internet’

Another interesting and initially surprising point highlighted in the IPA report was the decrease in time spent using ’Functional Internet’, classified as commercially-funded websites, for activities such as search, shopping and research. Weekly reach remained fairly consistent pre lockdown (78%) vs the first lockdown (75%), but time spent dropped significantly from 0.9 hours a day to 0.7 hours.

This is initially surprising as with many physical retailers closed, there was a strong uplift in the proportion of retail sales online (ONS Retail Sales: Grocery / Non Grocery – Jan 2020 19% online vs April 2020 31% online). Also, it would be fair to assume that with people at home more, use of ’Functional Internet’ would have increased, but as it’s largely driven by people being out of home, it did in fact decline.

The IPA report explained that with many restrictions in place and the corresponding changes in patterns of daily life, in particular, the drop off in travelling to work and being in the office, people’s search, browsing and purchase of tickets for events, holidays, weather and activities was actually significantly reduced.

From an out of home perspective, this insight clearly demonstrates the strong correlation between OOH and ’Functional Internet’ as people’s usage of search, retail sites and a whole host of online activities are directly linked to the physical world. According to a range of sources, almost half (46%) of all searches on Google have local intent, often leading to a physical action such as a store visit. With many retailers and other local activities closed during lockdown, then it makes complete sense that time spent using such ’Functional Internet’ would drop. In fact, the phenomenal rise of ’Near Me’ searches in recent years demonstrates the growing importance of local, and Google Trends clearly illustrates the direct correlation with UK lockdowns experienced in 2020/2021 and the significant drop in ’Near Me’ search.

Looking back / looking forward

Posterscope’s ‘Mobility Index’ has already demonstrated that post lockdown in 2020, mobility quickly increased as people returned to regular day-to-day activities. As the government begins to suggest that the end of lockdown may be in sight, we expect to see OOH to take a strong upward trend, and reach its forecasted position as the second fastest-growing medium in 2021.

So, as we wait for more details on the easing of restrictions, advertisers can take comfort in the fact that this well-respected IPA report demonstrates that even during a national lockdown, OOH is still a very effective reach channel – and everyone knows the importance of reach in driving business returns.

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