Clear Channel Brings Outdoor Ads to Life On Smartphones

With New Mobile Ad Platform ‘Connect,’ Out-of-Home Company Shifts Toward Digital

Those billboards and bus stands you pass every day could soon spring to life — and leap onto your phone.

Clear Channel Outdoor is launching a technology platform for connecting out-of-home advertisements with consumers’ smartphones. The platform, called Connect, turns outdoor structures — like mall kiosks and airport signs — into digital interfaces that passersby can activate through mobile location sensors. It’s a bid from the outdoor advertiser to position itself as a partner for marketers stumped by the difficulties of reaching consumers on small screens.

The company has already introduced Connect in a few European markets and is now bringing it to 28 U.S. cities and Toronto. For its roll out in North America, Clear Channel Outdoor is partnering with the New York-based ad tech firm Blue Bite.

“It’s just the first step in what I think will be a continuum of products interesting to major global brands,” said Suzanne Grimes, president and chief operating officer of Clear Channel Outdoor.

Ms. Grimes would not specify which advertisers would be involved with the new U.S. initiative. In Europe, the company has worked with some sixty marketers, including McDonalds, Levi’s and Google. Disney promoted its new film “Maleficent” in France, running interactive displays on roughly 600 digital shopping mall kiosks.

The new initiative continues the outdoor ad seller’s steady digital evolution.

    “If you and I talked five years ago,” Ms. Grimes said, “I would sell you a billboard.”

A publishing veteran, Ms. Grimes joined in January 2013 and has been working to roll out the platform since then. She brought in a head of strategy, a chief information officer and several new product engineering staff –positions, she said, that were not “necessary in the old model” of the company.

At first, the platform will serve ads to consumers that willfully engage with the displays. For instance, an ad for a car company on a bus stand could ask the consumer to swipe for more information, then send them to a mobile website or an app. “Great creative in our industry will invite a consumer to participate,” said Josh Kruter, VP-digital product at Clear Channel Outdoor.

For now, the platform taps into smartphones with QR codes and near field communication technology. But Mr. Kruter said the company is exploring ways to utilize location-based tools, such as beacons. Clear Channel has partnered with a variety of location data partners, including Verizon’s Precision Market Insights.

PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates the out-of-home advertising market will exceed $40 billion by 2018, with the share of revenues going to digital growing at a faster clip.
In the first quarter, Clear Channel Outdoor posted revenues of $635.25 million.

by Mark Bergen