by Margie Carr (@margiecarr1) The sudden quietening of our streets has certainly cast doom onto the out-of-home (OOH) ad industry. There have been various reactions from clients’ side, and those hardest hit by the total loss of trading are deep in discussions with their media partners to see what can be done to save their businesses, and to find some form of win-win scenario.

I have never, in all my 22 years in this industry, seen a media channel so affected.


The most-obvious loss is the loss of audience. Our streets are quiet; the airports and malls have been turned into echo-chambers; our niche-markets are lost in the chaos. The sudden covid-19 lockdown has left some advertisers exposed, too There are price-sensitive ads or sensitive campaigns that couldn’t be removed or replaced before the lockdown, with installation teams unable to go out to billboard sites to install relevant or refreshed campaigns.

There’s also been an increase in vandalism on sites that stand unattended as maintenance teams are locked down. Printing companies have had to shut down their operations, unable to supply much-needed artwork for new bookings with had start-dates falling into the lockdown period. No planned artwork changes for 1 April 2020 have happened, and all mid-month walking campaigns have come to a standstill.

The good news is that most digital out of home (DOOH) formats are able to upload artwork changes, due to remote uploading facilities.

Time to stand together

But now is the time to stand together. Someone moved our cheese, and the question is — what are we going to do about it?

First of all is the realisation that there are unique opportunities still available during lockdown, including digital ads placed on ATM screens across the country. It’s also possible to reach specific geographic or demographic audiences using geo-fencing technology. There are digital advertising opportunities at garage forecourts and smaller roadside media en-route to essential services in local communities.

I’m blown away by how media owners have come to the party. Campaign cancellations have been accepted, payment holidays have been arranged, and rentals reduced to the minimum for the period of lock-down. It’s been the exception to come across a media owner who doesn’t want to be a part of a solution, but unfortunately, that too, has happened. The loss of income will ricochet through to the landlords, a high volume of them relying heavily on the income, including schools, old-age homes, and other care facilities across the country. Media owners are desperately trying to recoup lost income, with heavily discounted offers crossing our desks.

Positive examples

Jim Liu from WOO reported that OOH media spend in China was down by 90% during full lockdown but then recovered to 40%, and then 70%, in the two succeeding months, with an expectation of it being back to normal in the months to come (1). In Singapore, two rival OOH companies combined forces to offer their clients the best exposure and, in Australia, JCDecaux’s inhouse creative team designed messages of support to thank key workers, from doctors to farmers, warehouse workers and childcare workers, for putting themselves at risk for the betterment of their communities.

And, as always, once we’re all back on the road, OOH will be there to welcome us back — as was the case in China in the city of Fuzhou, where healthcare workers were given a hero’s welcome on their return home after doing their bit in Wuhan. DOOH screens across the city were flooded with images celebrating doctors, nurses, paramedics and ambulance drivers as they arrived back home from coronavirus-hit Wuhan after no new cases had been reported at that point for the first time since the start of the covid-19 outbreak. Images of nine of the different medical workers were projected on more than 7 000 digital screens, including on buses, metro stations, public squares and in shopping centres. The highest-impact images could be seen on city’s skyline, displayed on the large canvas offered by the tallest buildings in the city.

Navigating our way

There is light at the end of this tunnel — the trick is going to be navigating our way back to it, and then to remain relevant post-covid-19!

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Margie CarrMargie Carr (@margiecarr1) is the founder of In Touch Media, the only independent through-the-line OOH media house in South Africa.

This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.

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