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Creativity in DOOH is about delivering an oasis in a visual cacophony

Anne van Rensburg

Anne van Rensburg

May 29 . 4 min read . Opinion


Rather than bludgeoning the audience with more stimulus the art of creativity within DOOH is to read the audience so as to understand their receptivity potential within a world of messaging posturing. To place oneself in the market’s literal shoes and truly understand their capacity for engagement within the context of their out of home experience.

The worrying thing about DOOH is that whoever creates it simply isn’t considering the environment where it’ll be consumed and how it’ll be seen by the commuter (or consumer) – are they in a car, on foot, jogging perhaps? Maybe they’re lunching, chatting, shopping?  Whatever they’re up to we can be pretty certain it’s not gazing mesmerised at our billboard, riveted to the point of rapture. The clue is in the name itself “out of home” meaning outside – and there’s quite a lot going on outside at the best of times. This suggests that one has to interrupt, to create arresting work, but what of the consumer experience?

Your objective might be to shout, scream, punch people in the face – but is that a good experience?

All too often the quest for creativity in digital out-of-home results in messages being swallowed into the chaos of flickering LEDs, vying for attention and jostling for a space in our frazzled minds

So let’s assume that the objective is to enchant, arrest and enthrall the consumer while they’re moving around in a high-stimulus environment, this is where real creativity really needs to come into play. Smart creativity. Relevant, situational, contextual creativity. Now you have my attention.

Consumers are people. They lose focus, they multi-task, they pay scant heed when we really want their undivided attention.  They’re humans and their brains are full. The trick is to think about how they behave? How do YOU behave? Start there then apply that learning to DOOH.

Consider too the environment you’re working within. What are people doing?  How are they behaving? Where are they situated when potentially seeing your work? Are they standing directly in front of your anamorphic execution at exactly the point to do justice to your creativity or will it still work once they move off to the side?  It has to. That’s the creative challenge.

There are so many really exciting innovations available within OOH – 3D, anamorphic, deep motion – incredible, right? The potential that anamorphic delivers when it comes to repurposing the execution as video is fantastic and we see a lot of videos of this kind being shared on social, with millions of views, garnering so much positive sentiment. Those kinds of campaigns drive so much earned media value and it’d be great to see far more of these online, leveraging the beautiful OOH execution to its fullest within the online space. 

But the original execution needs to work in the physical out of home space first which means taking into account the audience. They’re not sitting in a cinema, perfectly positioned within the precise perfect vantage space, waiting and watching. They’re swarming like ants somewhere in the vicinity of your billboard and your task is to need to lead them along the sugary path to your message.

In chatting with Group Executive Director of PHD, Kimon Sitas his view is as clear as a static billboard. DOOH so often looks like digital banner advertising that has simply been resized for DOOH. Still more worrying is that so much DOOH is being bought programmatically meaning the thinking is driven by digital people (and let’s be honest, banner advertising, for the most part, is often somewhat lacking creativity). This perception is sadly supported by research which indicates that banner ads generally score the lowest of all media when looking at attention studies – this is both due to their nature, but also because creatively they are (dare we say this) uninspiring.

What Kimon finds still more concerning is that digital banner advertising has been stuck in a world of precision marketing for a long time. Sure, the data & targeting has become more sophisticated, but the creativity has been left behind (with his worry being that we do the same to DOOH).

So perhaps creativity in DOOH is about turning the process around and vastly improving our creativity in banner ads. We should not let lack of design in digital affect other mediums – especially when they can be so much more impactful (as is the case of OOH).

We still have a long way to go when it comes to creativity in DOOH. To succeed we need to embrace the very fundamentals of out-of-home.  Simple, yet creative.  Irresistible.

Less is more.

We’ve forgotten the OOH basics. It’s time to revisit the founding principles of out of home advertising, the good old fashioned rules which used to apply to any OOH billboard way back in the pack-and-brag days (run-up, colour usage, font size, visual simplicity) and then apply this to DOOH too. Along with some sensible design principles:

  • DOOH is not digital 1-to-1 advertising, its broadcast media – 1-to-many.
  • Consider size of screen – image & copy legibility.
  • Image vs video creative.
  • Stop with the visual cacophony of trying to communicate too much – too much copy, too many offers & things to read.
  • Think more brand building.


So often a digital banner is simply translated to an OOH board.  Slap-bang.  Done. But is our market consuming this banner (now a giant digital screen in a psychedelically stimulating environment) in a one-on-one, lean-forward way or are we doing so outside at the V&A Waterfront, licking an artisan ice-cream and enviously watching the sunset cruises leave the harbour while holding a scintillatingly intense conversation with a fraught friend as we navigate chaotic crowds?

Now there’s the creative challenge.

Anne Van Rensburg is the Managing Director of PHD, CT – a 3 times Agency of the Year award winner during 2022 alone (across AdFocus, MOST and Marklives Agency Leaders awards). 

Anne is a media stalwart having worked in the industry since billboards were simply boards outside and digital out of home meant wearing a watch outdoors. 

She’s judged at Cannes, Loeries & Bookmarks and having spent a large part of her career heading media within creative agencies Anne’s well equipped to comment on creativity within media.