Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

A new dawn for the OOH industry

Karan Singh, General Manager UK, Vistar Media is a man on a mission. A mission to forge a new future for out of home advertising. 

A future shaped through the power of programmatic. 

Singh is an adtech veteran who played a large role in shaping the development of the UK’s programmatic advertising market while at Xandr and at Microsoft following its purchase of Xandr in 2021. He is the newly-appointed General Manager UK of global OOH tech giant Vistar Media, which offers an integrated marketplace  for buying and selling OOH, including a demand-side platform, supply-side platform and ad server.

Programmatic OOH has been in the headlines for a while now but it’s clear Singh believes the true story hasn’t even begun. 

The power of programmatic strikes again

Four weeks into the new role and Singh has never seemed more excited and enthusiastic about the potential of programmatic to revolutionise a new medium.

“It’s been said that OOH has been sitting on its laurels as an advertising medium. It’s time for that to end and I see Vistar Media as a big driver of the change needed,” he says.

His fervent belief in the need to property kick start the industry is palpable.

“We’re starting with acres of greenspace. In the UK, the market is still very nascent. We need to educate the market about what’s achievable within programmatic OOH, how it complements traditional buying, and to create the category. Today, programmatic OOH makes up only a tiny proportion of digital OOH, so the opportunity is absolutely huge.

I’d love for it to be 40-50%, that magic mix of  50% traditional buying and 50% programmatic. We’re a long way off that. But even if we start to move the dial from five to 10 to 15 to 20%,  those shifts become huge. It’s like a domino effect.” 

Changing behaviours

He’s in no doubt of the challenge ahead but, having seen the transformative impact of programmatic technology on the online ad industry, knows his mission is one that will deliver a similar impact for both advertisers and publishers in OOH.

“We’re trying to change behaviour and we’re trying to educate the market on why you would use programmatic to complement traditional buying. Back to the domino analogy,  it’s always most difficult to get the first one down and then use that momentum. We’re trying to get people to do something which they’re currently not doing or doing inefficiently.”

Singh is never one to criticise other players in the market but he does feel strongly that another industry obsession, omnichannel, means a lack of specialist focus can result in agencies and brands being let down when it comes to programmatic OOH. 

“Omnichannel buying is a big buzzword and there are omnichannel tech providers, which have just bolted on the ability to buy OOH programmatically. 

The truth is, if we talk about the reason for doing programmatic OOH, it’s the ability to be smart, with targeted creative. to plan well by looking at customer journeys and patterns throughout the day.  All those things don’t really happen very well with the omnichannel players because it’s not their bread and butter. Their products are developed to work across a lot of different things. Our platform is designed for one thing and one thing only.”

This purity of purpose is something obviously incredibly welcome to Singh, who spent so many years in an online programmatic advertising industry bedevilled by problems caused by unregulated and unconstrained growth.

“We  moved too far with programmatic display in terms of using the cookie to create relationships with consumers, way overstepping the mark, retargeting to the point of intrusion.

“We’ve known for years now that the programmatic ecosystem is unnecessarily complicated and convoluted with complex supply chains. Vistar Media, with its marketplace proposition, cleans the supply chain for both buyers and media owners. Programmatic buying doesn’t need to be complicated. 

We work essentially the same way that eBay does, providing a marketplace to make sure a fair transaction takes place.”

Putting creative at the heart

It is however not only the efficiencies that programmatic offers that makes it so transformational for the OOH sector but its creative potential, especially when it comes to innovations like DCO and DMO. 

The best OOH ads have always been some of the most creative of the ad medium and Singh believes the power of programmatic will drive creativity back to its heart.

“We’ve got an opportunity to put creativity back at the heart of OOH. OOH ads are driven by really great creativity and programmatic allows us to be even more creative, adding targeting to be able to do things around a specific location or if a product sells out in a certain location, all triggers that can change the creative of an ad in real time.”

To the  brand marketers that I speak to, they’re really keen to kind of get back to what got them into marketing in the first place. building that long term relationship with brands rather than, looking for a 0.5% click through rate.”

As Singh embarks on his mission to transform another industry through the power of programmatic, his ambition is boundless. 

“I also think  the impact of OOH screens on retail media is probably underplayed,” he says “We’ve not even scratched the surface in terms of what programmatic OOH can do within this kind of new world.” 

Singh’s enthusiasm for the programmatic potential of OOH is infectious. OOH advertising has quickly become one of our most innovative and exciting sectors and there is arguably no one better to lead the charge into its new programmatic era than Karan Singh. Exciting times ahead indeed.