Building a brighter future for airport media

In this interview about the future of the airport media landscape, oOh!media Chief Commercial and Product Officer Robbie Dery talks about a new world of experiences, engagement and consumers.

What implications are there for Out of Home media and airport advertising in particular as travel becomes a new and very different experience, perhaps forever?

 “While there has been an enormous impact on the sector, we believe the integral appeal of the airport remains the same in a post-COVID environment. There are three key drivers which are fundamental to what is unique to airports, and these drivers will need to be reinforced heavily throughout the recovery phase:

Audience: Who and how many

  • Environment: quality and ability to impact at multiple stages throughout the journey
  • Engagement: dwell time and the mix of media platform

“While these factors have not changed, there are undeniable impacts on the airport media sector that have forced all media businesses to re-evaluate the balance of revenue and return on time and investment in the sector.

“Revenue is clearly closely linked to the economy, consumer confidence, and the fundamental belief in the environment’s ability to perform and deliver against brand metrics. In order to reinstate this confidence, a level of detail and sophistication is required to compete against other media, particularly digital and online.

“Audience data, and specifically transactional purchase behaviour, mapped to location, has provided our advertisers with robust evidence of who and how many we reach within the airport environment. However, the profile of the airport customer has significantly shifted and is not yet fully understood. Previously we could rely on rolling 12 month data sets to understand how to reach very defined audiences built over time, but only now, in the midst of COVID and the very recent opening of Australian state borders, are we starting to see those volumes return. Recent purpose for travel, and the release of pent-up spend of Australians desperate to see their families or holiday interstate, does not necessarily paint the same picture of the traditional airport audience.

“In Australia, our domestic market is the bedrock of the airport media sector. The airline route between Sydney and Melbourne is among the busiest of any market in the world in terms of passenger volumes, largely driven by business travel between our two largest cities.

“Looking at the future of airport audiences in Australia, Qantas is expecting domestic travel to be back at ~80 per cent in early 20211 . However, if that should be driven by leisure travel for the foreseeable future, this leisure audience could potentially be acquired for less investment in other media environments, as the context of the audience in a business mindset has shifted.

“In Australia we’ve seen key markets closed, so flying domestically was essentially shut down for some time and international borders were shut. As such, the volume and visibility of who is in airports is minimal – it was ground zero, but now it is pleasing to see that we are in full recovery mode.

“When people feel safe, they’ll fly. In a recent Qantas customer survey, of those who stated that in-flight social distancing was important to them, 60 per cent said they would fly as long as the airline had the appropriate measures in place, along with other measures (eg increased cleaning, availability of masks/sanitisers, social distancing at airport, and sitting with family members)2. As another proof point, we know that many brands are ready to roll out airport campaigns again, but are waiting for the audiences to return.”

“Given the relatively COVID-free Australian bubble, local tourism is high on everyone’s agenda, as it has been for our neighbours in New Zealand. Air travel has certainly changed due to COVID, but with promising vaccines on the horizon, and health protocols in place to keep travellers safe, the airport space has been desirable, and trusted for brands to re-enter.”

In practical terms, are the shifts in advertising we are seeing here – shorter campaigns, more immediacy, direct to audience, prompt ROI, new, more measurable solutions – to stay? ‘Agility is the new norm’ we hear during the Virtual Expo. What does and should this mean?

“Brands which invest long term in the airport space have long been rewarded for that investment, in many cases becoming synonymous with the prestige nature of the airport environment. From a positioning perspective, it’s a powerful channel, and the reach of premium audiences without wastage builds over months and years. A great example of this is luxury boutique buyers, who over the 12 months prior to COVID could be reached at unprecedented levels – and more than 80 per cent of all luxury boutique spenders could be reached at oOh!s domestic airports3.

“This trend has of course been impacted by the pandemic, so for us, the key thing now is to rebuild confidence by focusing on audiences and their end to end journey – their compositions and movements before they get to the airport, as they move through the terminal, in the air and as they arrive at their destination, reinforcing messaging at multiple touchpoints along the way. This will help mitigate some of the COVID impact and help regain momentum as conditions ease and premium audiences return.”

How can digital experiences and content be more directly integrated with the sales opportunity, including via ecommerce?

“Creativity and creating synergy will be crucial in integrating digital experiences with sales channels, and we expect to see real gains in this area. Tailored content to appeal to specific audiences, enhanced by a sense of place and coordinated with other channels such as social media, will help unlock sales revenues.

“The creative needs to be well executed and customised to market and location, especially as we know that creative accounts for 41 per cent of Out of Home ROI4.

“Great creative that is emotionally compelling can also drive wider conversations on social media, for example, building brands and opening up those ecommerce opportunities. The key is to think about creativity specifically in terms of the Out of Home format within the airport environment.”

To take Robbie’s key points forward: What does the future of airports look like?

“In our view, the future is bright for airports, but in media terms, it’s going to be about finding the right balance between risk and reward as the sector rebuilds and media businesses also look to increase efficiency in acquiring audiences.

“Airport operators want two things – the best return, and premium advertisers. This needs to be a sustainable model that ensures all parties benefit from the commercial arrangements over many years. It also needs to guarantee that the media offering delivers benefits to the airport traveller such as entertainment via content, in addition to integrated utility like walk to gate times, destination weather and more. This type of innovation has been the foundation of success with our long-term relationships with Brisbane and Melbourne airports, as well as Qantas, however it comes with a commensurate cost to build, resource and manage.

“Sophisticated data, including both first- and third-party sources, along with greater transactional efficiency through buying platforms, will be the future. But this relationship is very much in its infancy and we are watching, testing and learning with a degree of conservatism. Online has made many mistakes, as you would reasonably expect given it pioneered new territory, and we can learn from those mistakes. We need to ensure we retain the value from both our business and our airport partners, ensuring we can ultimately deliver great media opportunities at the right price for our customers and, in turn, a positive airport experience.

“Partners who offer data, technology, content and scale are future-proofing the airport advertising space beyond monetary exchanges, and will be best positioned for the years ahead.”

Do you (and importantly do brand partners) question the quality of the audience, environment, experience at airports today in light of the crisis? If those pillars remain sound, how do you leverage them more effectively to deliver the right content in the right context?

“Airports will continue to resonate as premium environments, especially when we overcome COVID. In Australia, there has been a multi-year investment cycle that has seen practically every major airport upgraded, delivering world class terminals across the country. Our country has airports that are a pleasure to visit, easy to navigate, provide a strong traveller experience and are visually appealing. Australia is a flying nation due to our geographic scale and distance between major cities.  Even at 80% domestic capacity, our two largest cities will have more Qantas flights a week than all US airlines flying between Los Angeles International and New York5.

As an end to end media opportunity which can reach travellers with the right messages in what is a unique, high dwell environment we expect that  once trust in audience volumes and profile return, that local and international brands will return over the medium to longer term. The pillars of the proposition are sound, but we have a job to do to re-establish and inform advertisers of who and how many are back in airports.

How do airports need to adapt their environments and approaches to create a more robust platform for you and your partners? How can business terms & conditions going forward better reflect the increased cost of doing business at the airport for media operators?

“Airports are data-rich environments, and if you can deliver more scale of attractive audiences in compelling ways, the value proposition will resonate with brands. When we sell airport media, we talk audiences and their journeys, not panels or individual locations. This takes confidence and understanding in what you’re delivering, how and why it is valuable, and how it will work for our clients.

“For airports, it’s important to remember that visitors are one subsection of a much larger brand audience stretching across the country, and even around the world for global advertisers. We therefore encourage operators to consider how best to future-proof their media revenues, because competition for audiences is increasing and the significant investment into data, tech and content by partners representing airport advertising space, have increased costs and pressure to find efficiencies.

Ultimately what this means is that, if media businesses cannot make the appropriate returns on their investment, they will look to invest somewhere else where the returns are tenable.”

This article first appeared in The Moodie Davitt Report’s eZine

Source: 1 Qantas Airways ASX Market Update Dec 3, 2020
Source: 2 Qantas Internal research, Qantas Advisory Panel members. Timing October 20’ wave.
Source: 3 oOh! Datascience, Quantium data FY18
Source: 4. Analytic Partners, 2019
Source: 5 Skyscanner flights from Los Angeles to New York how many flights are there a week from Los Angeles International to New York