CMO profile: How JCDecaux is making advertising dynamic by default

Chief marketing officer of out-of-home player details latest data-driven creative optimisation and audience management tools

Essie Wake
Essie Wake

‘Dynamic by default’ is fast becoming the catchcry for JCDecaux’s chief marketing officer, Essie Wake, as the business extends its data-driven offerings and audience-based approach in response to Australia’s fast-changing out-of-home landscape.  

The marketing leader recently caught up with CMO to discuss the state of play of out-of-home as well as launch of JCDecaux’s latest data-driven offering for advertisers, Optix. This new deep learning technology tool provides dynamic creative optimisation by predicting the visual saliency of creative campaigns for out-of-home advertisers.

It’s been built by OOH provider’s global Data Corp team, a dedicated data and analytics division launched in 2018 to exploit big data utilisation across the buyer journey from pre-sales through to execution, reporting and attribution. Officially debuting last week, Australia is one of the first global markets to roll Optix out.

Wake said the value-add free service has initially been made available across transit campaigns but is expected to become more widely used for campaign management as the year progresses. The aim of the game is improving effectiveness.

“We felt we were so focused on improving on the quality of our media channel and the role our media channel plays, but there was a gap around understanding how to plan that message. And it will change depending on your objectives, the format you’re on and moment of exposure,” Wake said.

“We have lots of capability and tools around network planning and optimisation and we have now filled this gap in the middle, which is about helping advertisers ensure their creative is going to engage and hopefully get the right attention. Optix sits pre- as well as post-campaign, so learnings from previous campaigns can help understand what we could do differently and predict the results of the next campaign.”  

Wake agreed Optix could be perceived as JCDecaux “playing outside our lane a little bit” and said it won’t be for everyone.

“Having said that, we’re one week into launch and have had about a dozen conversations with advertisers across the sphere, such as Westpac, who would love to understand what this new technology and ability can tell them as they want to get that right,” she said.   

Changing the game through data

Optix is just of many new offerings created by JCDecaux in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic. As one of the media channels most impacted by lockdowns and displacement of audiences across both outdoor and transit, out-of-home players have been forced to look for new ways of responding to the rapidly changing environment and consumer movement.

“We had to make decisions very early on to support our advertisers with the flexibility, audience data and absolute transparency around what was happening,” Wake said of JCDecaux’s response over past year. “Across the classic portfolio, we worked to created greater speed to market, greater flexibility to pull down and move, and to just make the network work better for marketers so they could adapt and still speak to audiences but have that assurance we would work with them to change messaging.”

2020 also proved an important time for JCDecaux’s executive leadership team to reprioritise and bring forward investments into digital and data capabilities.

“We saw that shift towards digitisation accelerating, and a change of in how advertisers approached optimisation of digital opportunities towards dynamic, rich creative that’s hyper-relevant,” Wake explained. “We kept up investment in audience data so we get more granular visibility of what was going on. As an organisation, we have gained better alignment and visibility of who we are, what we stand for and what we want that business strategy to be over coming years.

“A lot of that right now is still recovery, but we are building the foundations for a very new organisation. There was a silver lining for us [from COVID].”  

The big pivot was accelerating digital. Wake pointed to Outdoor Media Association figures that show digital out-of-home revenue between the end of 2019 and 2020 rose from 55.8 per cent of total channel revenues to 56.1 per cent. Overall OOH revenue decreased by 39.4 per cent to $566.5 million.

“But now advertisers are coming back and are very confident to OOH and the audiences, I think 2021 will be a leap [for digital],” Wake said. “And we are certainly behaving that way: Rather than a traditional OOH media business with a lot of digital screens, we’re behaving more like a digital organisation.

“It’s about where the audiences you need to reach right now are, how might that change throughout a week, or day, and how you use API data, news and technology to feed into your message to make it pop in the moment.” 

An audience play

To this end, Wake flagged plans to start talking to the market “in a big way” about programmatic and JCDecaux’ capabilities in the next month. It’s a big shift for the out-of-home space, and one bringing it closer into alignment of programmatic buying across digital channels.

Of course, audience-based campaigning has already been gaining ground as more data sets come to OOH through digitisation. Examples of how JCDecaux has been working to increase targeting include use of time of day and weather, transport APIs - best illustrated through the group’s work with MyPayNow on creative telling people how long they have to wait for the next bus - and location-specific messaging.

Also being employed are SMS and user-generated content, social media feeds, face recognition and eye-tracing, and back-end sales and product data sets to drive dynamic execution. One example Wake highlighted was a campaign with Amazon where JCDecaux read API data to optimise pricing on creative as it changed on Amazon’s site throughout the day.

“We’ve reached the point where it is dynamic by default. People know it’s a missed opportunity if they just put up the same poster but in a different format,” Wake said. “And it’s more efficient to do these things than it ever was.

“Years ago, when these capabilities were just beginning, advertisers would have conversations and want to do this, but the cost of the $20,000 creative agency brief would have deterred them. Now we’re able to do this directly with advertisers. It’s not about cutting out the creative agencies - but we have the connection and pipes to enable it quite seamlessly.”  

In the last year, JCDecaux has also built a CMS, originally for Flight Centre, for self-managing distribution of offers across its network. Using pre-approved creative parameters and sets of data, offers and locations, this meant Flight Centre could decide on a Monday morning to run a specific offer on Military Road in Sydney’s suburb of Neutral Bay and implement the change themselves.

“It’s incredibly powerful as an advertiser to be given that capability into your hands,” Wake said.  

Alongside this, JCDecaux has been investing in movement reporting granularity around its 9000 nationwide assets. To do this, it’s struck a global partnership with Adsquare, a mobile app data aggregator providing audience location intelligence. The team is being fed hourly daily and weekly data to better understand peaks, troughs and uplifts across 3.6 million Australians.

This lies in contrast to the OOH industry’s traditional currency, MOVE, which is set on traffic modelling that’s stable, rather than the viewability of eyeballs. Thanks to the dramatic impact of COVID-19 on people movement, the OOH industry has been looking to find more granular and real-time ways of reporting on reach and impact.

“At first we thought was a lot of bumps and movements and it wasn’t stable. In actual fact it’s very stable, it’s just very sensitive,” she explained of Adsquare. “During school holidays, for example, we saw audiences drop everywhere, so there’s a level of understanding around seasonality we’ve never had before or been able to talk to advertisers about before.

“If you get a hot weekend, we have always had a hunch our assets in Manly and Bondi are performing well. But now we can trade with advertisers almost like a cost-per-click model in that, showing this is the audience you’ve reached this weekend. That has been a positive shift.”  

For Wake, granular data insight from pre- to post-campaign should help strengthen out-of-home’s position in the marketing mix throughout the funnel and in meeting a wider range of marketing objectives.

“If you think about the classic funnel, OOH always sat at the top driving efficient, broadcast reach. Everyone knows it’s time to buy when there is a new movie or flavour of product,” she commented. “With the new data capabilities and more efficient targeting, what we’re seeing is out-of-home moving down the funnel.

“The conversion piece is starting to come through with richer targeting capabilities and flexibility around choosing time of day, as well as things like mobile retargeting and opening up capabilities to drive people to a more traditional conversion channel. This is all while making sure advertisers have connected data showing consumers have been exposed to the broadcast campaign. But then we’re going further.”  

As an example, Wake pointed to a recent campaign with real estate brand, Realestate.com.au. The largely transit-based campaign used location-specific creative referencing sales by specific suburb, while emphasising the brand’s number one real estate site messaging.

“The results and competitive conversion that drove surprised even us. REA’s marketing leader can’t quite believe that old-school, traditional media buy drove greater loyalty than they’ve ever seen for that platform,” Wake claimed.  

“How we communicate the different capabilities for advertisers now is a really interesting challenge for us. It’s about making sure we really understand what role they see out-of-home fitting and the ecosystem of the campaign. Is OOH is working as a secondary medium to remind people of the characters they’ve seen on the TVC? Or are we to raise awareness? Is it that point-of-sale, or focus on recency targeting to get people to try the new flavour?”

Dynamic creative optimisation

Then there’s the creative part of the puzzle. The new Optix tool produces a heat map based on the saliency of the campaign being tested by employing a proprietary neurodynamic model built on a visual saliency model by the University of Oxford. It’s essentially estimating thousands and thousands of different possible views of a creative then predicting average results to gauge impact.

“We can give people feedback on predicted visual impact of their creative, which can be fed back to the creative agency,” Wake said. “This could be scaled across every campaign we run every day. It is also not just for static campaigns but can help predict visual impact of video content.

“The quality of creative matters just as much as placement, but it’s an area we really haven’t been able to influence. We have lots of presentations around use of colour and the golden rule for number of words in copy - that sort of thing. But Optix is taking this to a much richer and more powerful level.”

In its first outing, Optix was used to analyse a street furniture campaign run by Fiat in Paris. The feedback to Fiat was the choice of a black and white car image wasn’t grabbing a lot of attention, nor was the logo big enough. The brand tweaked creative back an increased logo size and results improved.

Locally, JCDecaux has tested 20 different creatives for Westpac. Wake said it was immediately able to define results based on CTA impact versus branding to understand how different creatives have a role – or don’t – in the mix.

Other case studies of pre-existing material looked to assess impact across the funnel. One such example was Pepsi’s Creaming Soda summer campaign to launch the new flavour in early 2020. The transit component of the campaign was seen to be extremely successful, with strong recall, awareness of campaign, and dollar-for-dollar spend more powerful than TV and other channels in the mix.

However, while consumers understood Pepsi was making a creaming soda drink, what they didn’t understand was that it was under the Pepsi Max, or no sugar, part of the portfolio. The halo effect of the Pepsi Max brand was therefore weak.

"Interestingly, if we had this capability before that, we could have possibly predicted it. With the creative on the back of buses, we could see a lot of attention on the ‘creaming soda’ wording but not the ‘Pepsi Max’ logo,” Wake said.  

Adobe tie-up

As to other data investments this year, Wake flagged expanding Adsquare’s mobility data feed into a new planning capability. In H2, 2021, this data will then be tied into measurement and attribution.

From an audience targeting perspective meanwhile, JCDecaux has struck a partnership with Adobe to integrate directly with Adobe Audience Manager. This will see the OOH provider’s assets connected to Adobe audiences, allowing marketers using the latter platform to create proprietary audience segments they can then target with OOH campaigns.

“We’ll have the ability to look at where those audiences sit in our own network and the audience profiles, and how DSPs and advertisers can trade omni-channel and make sure that within a digital campaign’s ecosystem they’re connected on multiple touchpoints,” Wake said. “We are working with Adobe to build that solution right now, but it’s a real tipping point for us.”  

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