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Is your Billboard Full of Ants?

Brandon de Kock

Director of Storytelling


Brandon de Kock

Brandon de Kock

24 April . 5 min read . Opinion

Brandon de Kock, Director of Storytelling for BrandMapp, shares some thoughts on how consumer insights can help solve mysteries and sell OOH media.

(Credit: unsplashed, Thomas Kinto)

I once asked a grizzly old market researcher what he thought about big data. His answer was a story that went something like this: you’re a scientist in a forest and you notice something strange happening on the trunk of a big tree. As you get closer, you realise it’s millions of ants, all going up the one side. So you do some observation and calculation and write in your journal: estimated three million ants ascending north face of tree trunk. Then you walk around the tree and notice a couple of stragglers coming back down the other way. So you note down: six ants descending on ulterior side. Fascinating. You bag the book and go on your way. That’s big data.

When you get back home and submit your research paper, the person marking it simply writes: great, but where were they going, and why were six coming back down? Answering that question requires traditional analytic skill. It is next-level insight: ‘small’ data if you will, that answers pretty big questions. In effect, that’s what we do at BrandMapp.

As consumer insights specialists, we find the ‘who, what and why’ answers needed to compliment the ‘how many’ or ‘how much’ stats that’ are relatively easy to establish in the 2020s. Indeed it’s hard not to drown in the veritable ocean of transactional data that washes up on our shore on a tidal wave of CRM and loyalty programmes, to the digital treasure chests overflowing with data from search engine usage, social media platforms and every single app you have on your mobile device.

What’s this got to do with media? Well, in the heyday of print media, for example, there were two metrics, sales (circulation) and readership (eyeballs). They caused a never-ending argument between media owners looking for the best possible sales story and advertisers who were reticent to pay a premium for a newspaper or magazine that was allowed to claim a greater pass-on rate or total reach just because it was freely distributed in office blocks, doctors waiting rooms or airport lounges. Playing, as it does, in the forest of humanity, OOH media has the same ‘big data’ issues that just about every other media has, or has had.

In recent years the industry, particularly on the digital side, appears to be increasing its collective appetite for filling in the blanks and embracing all opportunities to enrich OOH data by fusing, comparing and appending with third-party data. And for good reason. For every media owner selling a billboard on the side of a highway based on a daily traffic flow of X hundred thousand vehicles and X times Y hundred thousand commuters, there’s a sceptical media planner who just can’t wait to fire off an email saying, “Yes, but how many of them are actually see the advert, who are they and does it have any impact?’

As insights specialists, we’ve always believed that marketers and brand owners should use all means at their disposal (and every possible data source) to answer those questions in a meaningful way. And that’s where we come in because BrandMapp’s primary reason for being is to profile consumers. We can do it in all sorts of ways from target market cohorts (eg. women under 35 who drive German luxury saloon vehicles in Gauteng) to identifiable consumer groups (eg. people who shop at Checkers) to brand fans (eg. people who wear Levis) and even by radio station listeners or people who watch MMA on Dstv. You get the idea. So although we never set out with the intention of finding a home for Out of Home, BrandMapp is certainly helping the industry’s cause and proving it’s value to a growing base of media owners.

Last year, for the first time, we included specific OOH measures in the annual BrandMapp survey to gauge absolute effect in the eye of the consumer. Since we’re an annual survey, we couldn’t try to measure something as complex and granular as recall or visibility, so we came up with a simple question: In the past few weeks, which of these outdoor media have carried an advert that caught your eye? And the menu of options included 14 variables ranging from billboards on the roadside and store signage to digital signs at petrol stations and billboard trailers.

The phrasing of the question is important. If we had asked, ‘which of these advertising media have you seen in the past two weeks?’ we would simply have had another ‘big data’ view. But by qualifying the criteria, what we effectively did was to create an actual efficacy measure and when you know that, you realise that the results are exceptionally good. In total, we measures about 75% of all adults saying that had seen some sort of OOH ad that caught their eye. That’s a radical result when you think about it. I mean, we’d expect 100% of people who have left their house in the last couple of weeks to have seen some sort of OOH, but the fact that 75% of them actually perceive it as being effective is a completely different story.

So for the first time, what we are able to do in BrandMapp is identify what the demographic profile (including geographic footprint) is of the different groups of consumers who recognise different forms of OOH as being effective – and we can go so far as to tell you where they bank, what shoes they wear, what pizza restaurants they visit and 240 other interesting things about them. And in doing so, we were able to tell some really interesting ‘landscape’ stories about the medium. For example, the younger a consumer is, the more like he or she is to recognise the effect of digital billboards. That’s a nice little nugget right there to throw into conversation with, say, a financial service provider, don’t you think?

But that single question aside, for media owners with more sophisticated insight teams (i.e. in-house data analysts), the BrandMapp data, built on the responses of over 33 000 mid-market+ consumers living in households earning R10K per month or more, is the ultimate toy store. If you’re trying to create compelling sales stories for ad pitches, you can delve into the data pool and come up with all sorts of fascinating views, stats and angles to make a case for why Brand X needs to be speaking to the audience who is viewing, or likely to view, your beautiful digital display, building wrap or airport arrival hall takeover.

For media owners with more limited resources, we found a simple dashboard solution through a collaboration with Erik Warburg and the team at Outdoor Auditors whereby BrandMapp consumer data can be appended to their planning tool, and the result is an exceptionally easy to use, integrated insight tool riding piggyback on a platform that many of you will be familiar with. In simple terms, imagine that you are looking to plan a campaign for Kanga-Chunks dog food. Now imagine how easily and effectively you could put an outdoor plan together if you overlay areas of high pet-ownership onto the available OOH opportunity map using the Outdoor Auditors visualisation tool. Bingo.

The thing is, you may not always be able to find every answer to every question, but all you need for a competitive advantage is to know one more thing than the next guy. 

It’s like the ants. 

It turns out they’re female carpenter ants relocating to a new nest inside the tree and the six coming down are temporarily lost and if you just hang about long enough, you’ll see them circle back back on track with the rest of the swarm. Mystery solved. 

Which just goes to show that having tons of data in hand and using it properly are two very different propositions. And if you learn to do the latter, you may well end up seeing the forest, not the trees.

Brandon de Kock is director of storytelling for WhyFive Insights, the marketing and communication consultancy behind the annual BrandMapp study of middle-market+ adults in South Africa. 

To find out more about how they can help you, contact Julie-Anne on 082 650 9228 or visit