‘Playing Safe’ – Play in the Near

13th August 2020

Now we are a few months into the Government’s recovery strategy, we are fully aware that our time at play will not be returning to the way it was for some time yet.

Much like other parts of Europe, we have seen a staggered re-opening of shops, leisure and entertainment venues over the last couple of months.  Whilst, yesterday’s address from the government on lockdown restrictions, announced that from 15th August, casinos, skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor play areas, including soft play area, indoor performances, close contact services (such as eyebrow threading), wedding receptions and celebrations for up to 30 people, can open and activities resume, provided they all follow the Covid-19 secure guidelines.

Pubs and restaurants have now been open for several weeks, however it will be a while longer yet before the hospitality sector returns to a sense of normality as by its very nature it encourages socialisation with other people.

 Food, Drink and Socialising

When the economy is shaken up by unexpected events, consumers tend to spend less as they worry about job security. This alongside nervousness around being in enclosed public spaces again means that socialising outside of homes or eating out hasn’t been the priority of many, hence the recent announcements by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, offering additional incentives to both the hospitality industry and consumers to stimulate employment and spending across the sector, such as the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, launched earlier this month.

Despite these efforts, it is likely that more mid-market restaurants will still go out of business. By catering to the masses, these chain restaurants have huge running costs and rents due to the high number of outlets they have. In recent weeks popular chains such as Byron, Las Iguanas and Café Rouge have all hit the headlines with restructures, closed outlets and administration, The more luxury/high-end restaurants will be less affected as their customer base will be less directly impacted by economic squeezes, and they tend to have comparatively much fewer outlets. Similarly, ‘cheap and cheerful’ outlets with low running costs, e.g. food trucks or business in shared premises like food markets halls will be impacted heavily in the short term but due to low rents (or in some cases no rent) and few staff, most should be able to return albeit with an anticipated lower footfall, over the next 6-12 months.

Food halls were already going through a transformation before Covid-19 with new venues popping up all over UK cities – one of the newest taking up residence in the old BHS building in London’s Oxford Street.  With consumers wanting increased choice at affordable prices, and business owners wanting less risky alternatives to large restaurants with long expensive leases, the food hall is a happy solution for all. However, while social distancing will be required for some time yet, the market hall may not be the immediate choice, encouraging lots of people into an enclosed space and dining amongst strangers.  They may need to adapt their dining options to cater for the current climate, such as offering pop-up outdoor options during summer months.

As we continue to with social distancing measures and the economy continues to work towards its recovery, it’s expected that consumers will continue to stay closer to home, preferring not to travel to inner cities when it’s not necessary.  And with many friends and family living nearby, people are primarily socialising in their local areas.  Much like we have seen consumer support in the retail industry focused on independent and local shops, so too do we expect local pubs, bars and restaurants to be supported in a similar way.

As we see restaurants and food chains starting to close stores permanently, there will be a surplus of empty units on our High Streets.  This could spur innovators in the market set up ‘ghost kitchens’ using the empty – yet fully functional food preparation space – as means to offer delivery-only fresh meals.  Ghost kitchens can especially benefit from empty units in lower footfall/less desirable restaurant locations where cheaper rents can be negotiated with the landowners. We expect this to be a huge growth area in the next year or two, with many successful examples in the USA bucking the economic trend and going on hiring sprees (CNBC).

Street parties, festivals and closed-door sporting events

Where we will see longer lasting – even possibly permanent – changes in the way we socialise will be at larger scale events such as sporting events, gigs, and festivals.  Sports events are opening up with some of the more recent including the Cricket Test between England and the West Indies, and the FA Cup, but remained behind closed doors with no spectators.   However, the piloting of a small number of sporting events to test the safe return of spectators will resume from August 15 with a view to reopening competition venues for sports fans, with social distancing measures in place from 1 October. This will commence with the final of the World Snooker Championship at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre during 15-16 August, with a full pilot programme to follow.

Currently, there remain tight restrictions around large-scale events where people would attend in their thousands or tens of thousands, although it has been confirmed that some types of open-air performances can begin to go ahead, albeit with limited audiences.  Larger festivals will likely be significantly downsized if they choose to go ahead, with stay-at-home experiences being significantly enhanced with mobile technology such as mixed realities, with those fortunate to own VR Tech at home receiving fully immersive experiences.

In the absence or limitation of larger festivals and gigs we could see a resurgence of grassroots and local celebrations taking their place.  We have seen the appearance of drive-in cinemas with order-to-car drinks and food, as well as the creation of car-based raves and silent discos.  Street parties, which had dwindled in popularity, may spring up again to celebrate newfound social freedoms, but also to celebrate the newly discovered, or re-discovered, local communities.

More recently we have also seen the reopening of gyms and swimming pools, but with wide-ranging health and safety measure, a return to these facilities however may be slow while consumers get used to these new measures and grow in confidence.  Many more may still feel compelled to cancel the gym membership they signed up to in the new year, particularly after experiencing new indoor exercise routines or developing new running/cycling habits picked up over the lockdown with 30% of people claiming they are extremely likely to retain the behaviours adopted in lockdown (toluna-group).

Playing Out of Home

No matter where your audiences are across the country, OOH, especially when used across multiple environments, is still an incredibly effective and efficient channel to deliver broadcast reach across the country, with latest data showing it reaches 98% of the UK population each week, and can just as easily and successfully target localised and residential areas.

As pubs, bars and restaurants continue to reopen getting customers back into their premises will be critical to a quick recovery.  Using OOH, and particularly DOOH to signpost premises, and special offers, is a great way to nudge consumers and drive footfall.  Alcohol brands have for many years used proximity messaging to drive footfall into the on-trade, with successful tests proving that dynamic DOOH messaging with call-out to a local bar drove incremental footfall by 4%. To ensure OOH does not drive people into bars already full, it is possible to use sensors or beacons to track venue footfall, and only trigger a dynamic message into bars when capacity is below 50%.

Another tactic to get people into venues is simply through offers. Vouchering has traditionally been done via mobile but more recently we have also seen brands starting to use vouchering mechanics on dynamic DOOH to reach a wider audience. Again, these messages can be triggered to only go live when capacity is at an acceptable level.

Over the Christmas period last year, Guinness offered free pints in participating pubs via the DUSK app, which enables people discover new favourite bars across the city. This was amplified on DOOH and using our dynamic Liveposter platform, integrated data from the closest participating venues to update consumers on DOOH with the real-time number of free pints left to redeem in proximity venues.

Beyond restaurants, bars and pubs, Digital OOH can also be used to amplify outdoor performances and gigs as they begin to take place.  Full Motion Digital OOH has the capability to live-stream events and if large events are limited in numbers, DOOH provides a way to reach a wider audience and share these experiences within communities.  This capability also brings other opportunities to create deeper engagement with mobiles connected to OOH screens. Gamification, AR and vouchering mechanics are all set to rise as brands look to re-establish connections with consumers. QR codes too have seen a renaissance as a safe and seamless way for consumers to order food/drinks in restaurants and bars, now this technology is more understood by consumers now could be a good time to explore Codes once again on the right OOH sites.

DOOH is also ideal for reaching fitness fans, who have opted to exercise outdoors and will continue to do so.  Using ECOS, Posterscope’s proprietary platform, we can identify and map out key running, cycling and fitness routes across the UK and skew OOH to target these locations.

Overall, no matter your audience, a multi-environment OOH approach can reach audiences as lockdown restriction continue to relax but also as they adjust their lifestyles to keep safe and social distance far beyond government enforced restrictions. This might also include ambient formats on plans which will compliment wider reaching Roadside environments, such as ATM advertisements, POS, car parks and service stations.

Brands and OOH

As our opportunities to play continue to open up, it’s time for advertisers to get back to playing in the out of home medium.

Using a combination of data-led planning to identify audience hotspots and movement patterns, optimising the best mix of environments and formats (digital, static and ambient) and relevant and engaging creative, OOH can deliver high reach quickly, produce shifts to established metrics, move brands top of mind and create excess SOV to gain market share.

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