What is Out-of-Home Advertising… And Does It Really Matter In the Days of Digital?

The irresistible rise of digital media has totally reshaped the way a brand connects with its audience. That’s a plain truth. Its immediacy and precision are a new standard, leading some marketers to ponder the relevance of out-of-home advertising (OOH).

One might wonder – in the era of hyper-targeted digital campaigns – does out-of-home advertising still hold its ground? Isn’t it put to pasture by sophisticated algorithms and dynamic content?

OK, point taken. But let’s confront some eye-opening statistics. 

OOH ads, on average, capture a paltry 2 seconds of attention. Yet, paradoxically, these ads are seen incredibly frequently: close to 100 times a day, according to The Drum, and their reach is staggering, with up to 98% potential market exposure. 

Clearly, there is value there. The key, then, lies in understanding how to execute out-of-home advertising, and align it with your wider brand marketing efforts.

While the mention of out-of-home advertising may conjure images of towering billboards, paper posters lining city streets, or flyers distributed hand-to-hand, it’s important to note that digital posters also fall under the OOH umbrella. 

But more on that later. First things first…  

What is Out-of-Home Advertising?

Out-of-home advertising (or OOH, to its friends) encompasses a diverse array of promotional activities that target consumers when they are – you guessed it – outside their homes. 

That includes any branded commercial or promotional collateral customers might encounter as they go about their daily lives: from flight magazine advertorials, to street promotions, to bus-side placements (known as ‘King Kongs’ or ‘Ultra Kings’), and everything in between. 

This versatile medium seeks to engage audiences in the wider arena that is the public sphere, marking it as an influential force in the advertising landscape.

OOH Advertising Examples

  1. Billboards: The route one of OOH advertising, billboards are strategically placed in high-traffic areas, ensuring maximum visibility.
  2. Transit Advertising: Plastered on buses, trains, and even subway stations, transit ads reach commuters during their journeys.
  3. Street Furniture: This includes ads on bus shelters, benches, kiosks, and other structures commonly found along city streets.
  4. Point of Sale Displays: Placing ads where consumers make purchasing decisions, like in malls or supermarkets.

The Digital Poster

While traditional OOH formats persist, the digital age has enabled a new page in the out-of-home advertising playbook: the digital poster. 

Breaking away from static images and paper, digital posters bring an interactive and engaging dimension to out-of-home advertising. 

They use electronic displays to deliver dynamic, engaging content. Increasingly, digital posters can be found in our streets, malls, airports, and transit stations, offering a more interactive and flexible form of OOH advertising.

How (and Why) Does Out-of-Home Advertising Work?

Like all brand-growth-focused advertising, successful OOH goes beyond delivering a message; it’s about evoking emotion. 

As Orlando Wood found in his work Lemon and Look Out!, by focusing on right-brain fundamentals, brands infuse emotion into their campaigns – and we know that when people feel more, they buy more. 

This emotional connection is the catalyst for consumer actions, fostering brand loyalty, and driving both short-term sales and long-term growth. Some of devices marketers can use to trigger a right-brain response include:

  • Emotional Storytelling: OOH ads should strive to tell a story that resonates emotionally with the audience. 
  • Vivid Characters: Whether it’s a distinctive mascot, relatable individuals, or animated figures, characters bring life and relatability.
  • Betweenness: Character dynamics, or ‘betweenness’, creates a connection that viewers can relate to, fostering familiarity and understanding.
  • Humour: A well-executed and funny ad not only grabs attention – it also builds a positive and long-lasting memory structure.
  • Melody: When it comes to music in advertising, melodic (rather than rhythmic) soundtracks elicit a lasting impact on the audience.

Room For Improvement 

With that all said, the reality is that, on average, OOH ads often fall disappointingly short in terms of performance metrics. Our analysis reveals a landscape where there is substantial room for improvement: 


Average Star Rating: 2.9

OOH ads, on average, fail to achieve high levels of sustained brand growth.

Average Spike Rating: 1.02

Similarly, out-of-home advertising only returns middling short-term sales impacts.

Average Fast Fluency: 43%

Fast Fluency (measuring brand recognition after 2 seconds of exposure) reflects challenges in creating a memorable brand impression.

Average Emotional Intensity: 1.05

OOH ads struggle to provoke real emotional impact or forge deeper connections with consumers.

How To Create the Perfect Digital Poster

In collaboration with JCDecaux and Specsavers, we conducted a study on out-of-home advertising to determine how brands can do better.

9 Guidelines For Out-of-Home Advertising

Rules of Brand Product & Performance Composition & Creativity
Demand attention Expand product images Shorten copy
Deploy distinctive assets Shout your CTA Show faces
Be brand bold Sell, sell, sell Drive familiarity


Below, we’ll drill into three out-of-home advertising best practices in more detail; and you can view the full out-of-home exposition and download the presentation for free now.

Moto e Azione 

Moto e azione – that is an Italian phrase, where painters find and reveal the turning point in a story through dramatic gestures and expressions that reveal deep insight and understanding.” 

Andrew Tindall, Creative & Media Partnership Director, System1

In out-of-home advertising, it’s easy to let static visuals dominate. This is where the concept of moto e azione – or ‘motion and action’ – can prove a transformative principle. 

First realised by the old Italian masters, the core concept is this: characters, even in stillness, can resonate deeply and emotionally with an audience through expressions, motion, and gestures – what we now know as ‘betweenness.’

Leveraging this enables OOH marketers to illuminate a narrative that captures hearts and drives engagement.

Distinctive Brand Assets

Fluent assets are like a secret brand language understood implicitly by your audience. 

Distinctive assets – whether that’s a unique colour palette, an iconic emblem, a memorable tagline, a recognisable character, or even the brand logo itself – are the closest thing we’ve seen to an advertising hack, serving to tell your brand story across multimedia campaigns and build a long-term audience connection. 

Case in point: OOH ads lacking distinctive assets achieved an average 2.4 Star Rating and 57.2 Fast Fluency – whereas OOH ads with a distinctive asset achieved a 3.0 Star Rating and an impressive 79.4 Fast Fluency.

Face Up

“People like to look at people.”

Data & Insight Director : JCDecaux


In out-of-home advertising, showing a human face can mean the difference between a glance and a genuine connection.

Characters and expressions – fundamental elements of right-brain (or broad-beam) attention, attract interest and hold it. When your ad features people, you invite the audience to be a part of a human story. 

Our research shows that showing people’s faces increases view time more than any other feature and, in terms of advertising impact, uplifts the long-term Star Rating by a significant +0.25.


“We’re all about the green, you’ll see a lot of green and white in our campaigns. [But] we tested this vibrant orange colour, and really interestingly, we saw a 12% increase in Star Rating across the Specsavers ads – and a 22% increase across all the ads involved.”  

Sonya Mooney
Marketing Communications Lead, Specsavers


More than just visually appealing, vibrant colours are a powerful and surprisingly subtle force that can influence emotional responses. They naturally evoke feelings and positive associations, creating a more memorable connection between the viewer and the ad.

What’s more, big and bold colours are a focal point of contrast in the audience’s worldview. They cut through the visual noise of the environment – the greys, blacks, silvers, and whites that tend to dominate the modern urban colour palette – ensuring your message is differentiated and stands apart.

Access the Full Research

Stakes have never been higher in the out-of-home advertising world. 

From the power of faces to the vibrancy of colours, each element weaves together a narrative that either resonates… or fades, unnoticed, into an urban backdrop.

For a deeper dive into the art and science of creating the perfect digital poster, take a look at our full research piece. Collaborating with JCDecaux, industry leader in outdoor advertising, we dissected over 50 ads using cutting-edge measures like JCDecaux’s VIM test, Lumen’s real-world environment testing, and our very own Test Your Ad platform.

How to Create the Perfect Digital Poster

Everything you need to know about successful out-of-home advertising from System1

At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident, creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our powerful ad testing platform (Test Your Ad) and our idea testing platform (Test Your Idea) help brands predict the commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand monitoring platform which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health, ensuring long-term brand growth through predictive success.