Really "green" advertising?!

Out-of-home advertising is positioning itself as one of the most environmentally friendly media of all: With innovative solutions and ever smarter advertising media, the genre could even improve the carbon footprint of the media plan. What is the truth of this promise?

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Before the monsoon sets in, a very special melody resounds in some parts of India: people long for coolness, the fields for water. To invite the rain and influence nature, people sing the melodic "Raag Megh Malhar" - an emotional, mystical chant that brings the atmosphere, joy and beauty of the rainy season to life. Artists perform the "Raag" at rain festivals, concerts and ceremonies - and since the end of last year, the rain has even been singing the song itself: This is made possible by a giant poster measuring more than 200 square meters from the tea brand Taj Mahal Tea, which hangs in Vijayawada in eastern India.

"Outdoor advertising is one of the model students when it comes to CO2 emissions."

It is the largest billboard in the world that can interact with the environment - and even earned a place in the famous Guinness Book of Records last September. The highlight: the billboard, which was developed together with the agency Ogilvy India, plays the traditional song with every shower using special strings and a clever arrangement of weights that fill with rainwater. This is not only guaranteed to attract attention, but also impressively demonstrates that outdoor advertising and the environment can obviously complement each other perfectly.

Fresh air oasis in the city

Whether it's analog posters that clean the air and absorb pollutants, digital outdoor advertising with a self-sufficient power supply from alternative energies, giant planted posters and facades, poster tarpaulins made from recycled ocean plastic or bus shelters that attract bees: Whether analog or digital, the industry is extremely creative when it comes to the climate. With Goldbach Germany as its marketing partner, the start-up Green City Solutions offers moss filters for advertising spaces that filter the smallest particles such as fine dust, viruses, bacteria, but also odors and gases from the air and enrich it with oxygen. The evaporative power of the mosses cools the air by a few degrees Celsius. This turns the digital advertising media into small oases of fresh air in the middle of the city.

"Every second less that has to be produced, uploaded and broadcast saves energy - and budget."

Mediaplus and Climatepartner recently calculated the CO2 emissions of individual media types, according to which outdoor advertising is considered one of the more environmentally friendly channels compared to others. In figures: According to this calculation, out-of-home (DOOH) produces 5 to a maximum of 80 grams (large surface area) of CO2 emissions per 1000 contacts, compared to around 280 grams for online moving images and around 9000 grams for newspapers (Nordic format), for example. For Markus Ehrle it is clear: "Out-of-home advertising is one of the model students when it comes to CO2 emissions." By this, the President of the Swiss Outdoor Advertising Association (AWS) means not only the medium itself, but also its differentiating and informative character: "Advertising campaigns also enable more ecological products to find their markets. For example, out-of-home advertising investments by brands in the field of electromobility increased significantly in 2023."

OOH in the media mix

A study by the German Outdoor Advertising Association (FAW) and the consultancy Bynd has investigated how environmental sustainability affects the media mix - and whether budget shifts in favor of outdoor advertising have an impact on the ecological footprint. The result: for given budgets, there was a simultaneous improvement in the carbon footprint as well as the impact on various KPIs when OOH was added to the media mix. According to the study, even a slight increase in OOH can ensure a lower-emission media mix without significantly reducing the impact on the KPIs. For the industry, it is therefore clear that every euro that is shifted from other media to OOH is also a euro for the environment.

One-to-many medium

And word is getting around: "The topic has only now really caught on with advertising clients - also thanks to the initiatives of the Swiss Advertising Clients Association (SWA), which is committed to sustainability in marketing and communication," says Markus Ehrle. After all, the medium has good arguments in terms of its carbon footprint: as a one-to-many medium, outdoor advertising reaches thousands of people with one poster or digital spot - and not just one, as is the case with other channels. Providers are also making an effort to make their business model as sustainable as possible. APG|SGA, for example, has been using 100% green electricity since 2012, covers purchased electricity for buildings, electrical advertising media and vehicles with renewable energy and has photovoltaic systems on some of its premises. The company aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2035. Sustainability is also a major issue for Ströer; the outdoor advertising group's strategy even landed it in the final of the German Sustainability Award, Germany's largest award for companies that act sustainably.

"The pressure on advertisers to be as 'green' as possible in terms of their marketing measures is increasing."

A lot is happening in the field of digital out-of-home advertising - DOOH - in particular: screens are becoming more powerful and require less power, are more durable, are renewed more frequently and are switched off more often at certain times. And: "Thanks to programmatic, DOOH has not only become even more efficient, but is also much more environmentally friendly in this area than the other channels that can be booked and controlled automatically," explains Nadia Abou El Ela, Managing Director of the Institute for Digital Out of Home Media (IDOOH), an interest group for digital out-of-home advertising. "Whereas with one-to-one media, a new booking and playout process has to be initiated for each individual contact and the spot has to be loaded onto each individual device, a single spot broadcast on a DOOH screen generates numerous contacts." There is also another way in which CO2 can be saved relatively easily with moving image media: by shortening the length of the ad. "Every second less that has to be produced, uploaded and broadcast saves energy - and budget. With the ideal spot length of ten seconds, DOOH is already doing well here," explains Abou El Ela.

Record year for DOOH

These advantages are well received: According to the latest Nielsen advertising trend for 2023 (in Germany), DOOH can look back on a record year and was able to increase sales by a quarter compared to the previous year. The average market share of digital advertising media within out-of-home advertising has also risen to 41%. Is this rise due to the medium's pleasing ecological balance? Not necessarily, says Nadia Abou El Ela: "In fact, the positive eco-balance of DOOH compared to other media channels does not yet seem to have penetrated the market everywhere. We see a need for clarification, especially among some traditional media agencies and advertising clients. This assessment is also confirmed by the poster media agencies: although demand for digital out-of-home has risen significantly in recent years, this growth cannot be clearly attributed to the eco-balance of the medium. Rather, other important factors such as costs, reach, targeting options and general market conditions are likely to have had at least as great an influence on bookings to date. However, we are convinced that we are only at the beginning of environmentally conscious media planning and that the topic will rapidly gain relevance."

Climate-neutral advertising increasingly important

This is confirmed by the "Green Media 2.0" study by Annalect. According to the study, climate-neutral advertising is becoming very important for 40 percent of the marketing managers surveyed. For Abou El Ela, the to-do for the new year is therefore clear: "We need to capitalize on this momentum and present DOOH even more clearly as an environmentally friendly alternative." IDOOH is therefore planning a new "Green DOOH" working group for 2024, which will develop economically viable solutions on how each individual industry participant can become climate neutral or at least offset their CO2 emissions. In addition, solutions are to be found on how the entire industry can reduce its footprint.

And soon this will no longer be a nice-to-have, but for more and more companies sustainability reporting will become a real obligation. The pressure on advertisers to be as "green" as possible in terms of their marketing measures is increasing, says Nadja Abou El Ela, "and they will pass this on to the advertising and communications industry, which will then no longer be able to avoid DOOH as one of the most environmentally friendly media.

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