A driving force of change within the Saudi OOH advertising industry
As the Out-Of-Home (OOH) media industry in Saudi Arabia continue to evolve, it currently finds itself in a particularly robust position, thanks to companies such as Saudi Signs Media (SSM), one of the largest OOH providers within the Kingdom.
In a conversation with SSM CEO Waleed Hussein & Deputy CEO Hasan Zaini, we discuss how Saudi Signs Media has pioneered the OOH advertising industry over the past two decades, the transformation of the outdoor media scene in Jeddah and Riyadh over the past two years, as well as the future of the sector in Saudi Arabia.
Industry experts say 2021 saw a 300-percent increase in outdoor revenue in KSA. How do you explain this unprecedented growth in interest for OOH media and what are the factors and categories driving the sector’s growth?
Outdoor revenues have increased since 2021 for a number of reasons. First and foremost, we cannot deny that Vision 2030 has created a monumental shift across the board. Economically and socially Saudi Arabia is thriving, and has brought about much change. The rapid expansion and development of business zones, entertainment centers, cinemas, international dining experiences and the general availability of new activities have changed local consumer behavior and attitude. Residents of Saudi Arabia are constantly on the go throughout the week and are spending more time outside of their homes compared to previous years.
This, coupled with a growing urban population, has given advertisers a clear indication that their audiences are spending a significant amount of time on daily commutes, hence providing a timely opportunity to relay brand communication.
Second, the Kingdom’s strong economy has given way to the private sector’s growth [with the entry of new players and increased competition] and we have also witnessed an active move forward in communication from governmental entities. Awareness/promotion of new and exciting social programs, local events, destination tourism among many others have also contributed to the rise in outdoor spend compared to past years.
From a hardware standpoint, the digitization of formats and benefits they provide has played a key role. Ours have repeatedly proved to be impactful and aid in delivering on our clients’ communication KPIs. Their sizes, placement, network distribution and line of sight exposure to audiences makes them impossible to ignore and are leaving a lasting actionable impression, which has become heavily sought after.
How would you describe the evolution of the OOH scene in Jeddah and Riyadh over the past 20 years?
As with any industry, the evolution of OOH is constant. Be it in terms of format life cycles or representation, periodical change is required in order to keep the sector ahead of the curve and help meet advertisers’ changing requirements. This innovative drive in particular is embedded within the company’s culture and has significantly contributed to the market dynamics over the years.
From a format characterization perspective, for many years the market has been comprised of “moons” and “stars.” Moons have the qualities of being large in size, limited in numbers yet strategically placed, while Stars are identified as high frequency, mid-small sized panels.
Today the true hero products that have effectively helped evolve the scene are our novel “Moonstar” formats. These are a dynamic mix of the two that is advantageous for advertisers for several reasons, including avoidance of over-planning and cannibalization of investment, whilst benefiting from an incredibly powerful and strategically placed digital network that secures solid exposure.
Historically, Jeddah has been known to have a cluttered media scene and acts as a breaking ground for new formats within the Kingdom. Affording brands an opportunity to stand out, Saudi Signs Media introduced its Digital Steel Bridges, which have simply captivated audiences and raised the industry bar in what to expect next. These unique mediums are unlike anything else within the region and have truly transformed the urban landscape of the city whilst providing safe pedestrian crossings across major highways.
Riyadh has always been far more limited in terms of available formats, and for many years has maintained a certain status quo in regards to its offerings, with the occasional face lift helping to periodically reinvigorate the scene. Concentration of presence was also predominantly skewed towards its central areas and select outer skirts supported by a high-frequency approach.
Today, however, the scene has changed dramatically as the city’s expansion has outgrown the confines of traditionally placed formats. This rapid growth and shift put pressure on OOH vendors to meet a growing demand by advertisers to begin securing presence in areas and routes which were rather limited.
This call for change was answered by Saudi Signs Media in 2020 with the installation of 75 Digital Bridges, a debut format that truly redefined outdoor communication. Located across seven major congested highways covering incoming/outgoing traffic to a vast majority of existing and new vicinities, their size, placement and geographical reach have fundamentally shifted the approach to OOH in Riyadh. Stretching across the entire breadth of highways, experiencing little to no obstructions, and installed consecutively across major exits and junctions, there is no denying the impact they’ve wrought on the sector.
How has SSM contributed to improving the face of outdoor in KSA and the robust position it reached today?
Saudi Signs Media historically has been a driving force of change within the industry. Our executive team by no means avoids change and is constantly willing to dare and take chances on something new and innovative as befits the market.
Earlier when static structures were the only format type available; we were the first to introduce digital printing in the market for advertising canvases. In 2006 we created a new touchpoint by introducing In Mall Mupis, which today have become a cornerstone of indoor advertising within the largest shopping malls across the kingdom. This was closely followed in 2009 with the introduction of Hyper Digital Screens found inside major super market chains predominantly helping FMCG brands to enhance their presence and stand out in such a competitive environment.
Yet there is no denying that Riyadh’s Digital Bridges and Jeddah’s Digital Steel Bridges have made the biggest impact of change and driven both the company and the face of local outdoor forward.
These are just a few examples of Saudi Signs Media’s contribution to OOH in KSA from a product perspective. On a service level, we are extremely customer centric and result-driven, continually educating our clients and staff about industry insights and best practices.
The channel’s benefits and potential have always been evident. Were there any recent developments that drove the medium forward? For instance, were there any investments made on technology – DOOH innovation, programmatic, creative technology such as large format outdoor screens and curved screens, delivering experiential communication, which is setting OOH apart from other media?
The OOH market in Saudi Arabia and available formats are greatly beneficial for advertisers. Today, for example, we see the likes of pure online players (local and international) heavily invested behind the media, as they have experienced its benefits to their business. There’s no shortage of demand and recurring inquiries, which helps highlight the fact that OOH continues to play an integral role in awareness and sales.
Development is a rather broad discussion, but the immediate driving factor behind our success isn’t just about our available mediums, but also the balance it shares with our people, workflow process and fruition of the business strategy. This congruent model between hardware, software, people and culture has really made our work a success and is evident with the overwhelming positive response from both newly onboarded clients as well as existing ones.
Currently, the majority of our inventory has become digitized and is powered by the latest industry software. It has allowed our clients to capitalize on day part messages as well as have the option of taking live several ad copies at once, which was a distant possibility not too long ago. This flexibility has given way to creativity, opportunity to communicate additional features/offers of a single product/campaign, and aid in aligning visual rollout with digital media presence.
Programmatic is definitely the industry’s next big step forward. However, it does require viable audience data and measurement to make it the effective tool it was designed to be. By no means do we wish to launch a platform that doesn’t provide the fundamental measurement requirements for planning, but nevertheless programmatic and its application is inevitable for the industry as a whole.
In addition to the above, Saudi Signs Media will soon be launching its uniquely designed Web-Mapping Solution. An online tool we’ve been working on for months that will help answer many concerns industry players have had over the years. Most definitely we will keep you posted the moment it’s rolled out!
To spend marketing budgets efficiently, brands must understand emerging DOOH technologies, as well as design best practices for creating eye-catching outdoor campaigns. How do you help advertisers in this regard?
Aside from product progression, the hardship faced by brands post-COVID in 2020/21 really instigated change from the company in terms of the support and services provided. Today, we are invested heavily with client teams and have become an extension of their marketing departments.
Approaching communication needs with full-fledged OOH strategies, recommendations, round-the-clock support and trainings, be it of media and/or OOH best practices, added a remarkable mutual benefit for all parties.
We do not shy away from informing our clients that a submitted artwork or intended approach, for example, may not work. On the contrary, this honesty and support has helped build rapport with the market that has become notable, evident and, most importantly, developed trust among our partners. We spare no detail in advising clients on how to improve their investments and communication rollout, and deliver to the market what works best.
What can you tell us about the progress being made in Audience Metrics in KSA? Does it provide emote credibility to OOH media?
Audience measurement for outdoor, whether locally or internationally, is a major challenge that is being addressed. Vendors are beginning to employ various measurement systems, however it’s by no means yet unified in terms of definition of metrics and the data analysis process. Different systems integrate different data signals from different sources and deduce the information in uniquely different ways. This is chaos by definition, and we believe it will take significant work from the industry as a whole to come together and agree on a common standard, but this shouldn’t deter progression.
Saudi Signs Media did have a preliminary measurement system in place earlier in 2020/21, whereby pre-campaign planning and post-campaign reports were shared and well-received by the market. However, due to several new privacy policies rolled out by both the local regulatory authority as well as those from Android and IOS, the data was no longer viable to generate concise measurement. As a result, audience measurement was halted although we are in talks for an alternative solution. Truly, these measurement systems are far more complex than a plug & play approach; it should either be done correctly with the best technological ability at hand or not done at all.
Although the benefits of measurement are many, the bottom line is the reflection OOH communication has on our clients’ businesses. Despite a solid measurement system not currently in place, we are happy to know that the outcomes of presence across our inventory have proved to be extremely beneficial and are reflected in the growth of our business.
“Programmatic is definitely the industry’s next big step forward. However, it does require viable audience data and measurement to make it the effective tool it was designed to be.”
In your opinion, what are the major problems that the OOH industry faces today and if you were in position to rectify these problems how would you go about doing so?
No market is perfect and of course there are short falls, which need to be addressed by all stakeholders. Today, fluctuations in the media scene and consumer behavior have seen investments behind certain media decline while others have increased. However, this growth projection, as great as it may seem, is also challenging to navigate and forecast.
Fast growth and/or change in representation can be temporarily disruptive for OOH players such as ourselves and should by no means be taken lightly. To ensure growth, we are constantly planning different approaches to the market, we continue to be daring with the projects we pursue, while keeping a very close eye on economic changes, which inadvertently effect category clients and their approach to paid media.
Unified measurement, as mentioned earlier, is also a major problem faced by the OOH industry, not just locally but across the globe. This is a long-term problem we are actively exploring to help agencies and brands feel confident with the quality of data being shared so as to make calculated investment decisions and approaches.
How do you view the evolving role of OOH in the local Saudi media landscape?
OOH over the past two years has proven its worth in delivering for our clients and is beginning to take on a larger share of the overall media-mix investment. We believe that this sentiment will continue to grow considering the Kingdom’s economic indicators as well as the increase in the number of private establishments entering the Saudi market, hence introducing new players.
Additionally, brands today are facing a challenging obstacle in targeting their audiences as the marketplace and avenues of communication have become not only fractured, but also require significant time investments to create contextually relevant artwork for each. Outdoor remains simpler in this regard, accommodates much less clutter and ensures effective reach within growing cities.
Yet, we believe that the future of OOH is to be effectively connected to the digital world to be able to communicate to audiences in a more harmonious and integrated manner. OOH isn’t a passive medium anymore – it’s a real-time, connected digital channel. Its ability to reach audiences stretches far beyond the billboard. This marriage of both worlds will unlock incredible opportunities and a new phase in the evolution of the Saudi media OOH landscape.