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The inside track on OOH in a post-COVID world

Recently, Global, TfL and Metro ran a webinar to discuss what life on the underground has been like as we move into a post-COVID world. Led by Mick Ridley, Global’s Data Director of Audience Planning and Integration, the event focused on answering some core questions advertisers have about utilising OOH opportunities on the tube. These included:

  • What new patterns of use are we seeing on the underground?
  • Who is using the tube network, how often and why?
  • What does ‘busy’ mean in a post-lockdown world?
  • What are the predictions for the rest of the year?

Overall, the story was positive. Basing ‘normal usage’ on pre-COVID figures, we are seeing mobility around the capital return. In March this year the underground was at 20% normal usage, with an almost overnight surge after April 12th to 35% and now sitting comfortably at 50%.

Londoners and the underground

Londoners are showing confidence in the underground with the past months sporting events demonstrating this – 110,000 people passed through Southfields station during the Wimbledon fortnight, and 34,000 passed through Wembley Park during the England final – 67% of the normal usage.


Reaching the right audiences

Reaching the elusive younger audiences is also possible again, with their movement back to where is expected in summertime London. Older audiences are a little more cautious, with many not living in London and commuting in from the home counties, the transition back to office has less uptake. Moving into the back end of 2021 and into 2022, usage should continue to rise with the main impact of COVID being how often and when we travel.


Flexible working 

Flexible working is here to stay, with 80% of businesses in the centre surveyed planning a gradual return to office between now and September with the long-term plan to be in the office two to three days a week rather than the traditional five. Employers are also offering staggard starts and commuters are actively trying to avoid the usual peak rush meaning this is ‘smoothing’ out these peak times, spreading the same volume of people just over a wider time.

Seasonality means we’re not expecting to see a surge after July 19th like there was in April, with summer always being a quieter time of year with summer holidays – however we should see this surge in September/October when usage is expected to return to 60%.

During the summer though, the Mayor of London has invested in a large-scale marketing campaign to bring domestic tourism in, providing new audiences to reach. In terms of the longer-term outlook, March 2022 (two years on from the original lockdown) is expected to see 80% of normal usage.

All Response Media viewpoint

The underground is traditionally a very cost-effective way to reach audiences, with high impacts and the right buying approach, providing low CPTs. The environment also provides a long dwell time as the ads are a welcome distraction from other travellers. While frequency is down from pre-COVID, reach is steadily growing across the entire network and will only continue.

Due to the nature of the commute being the same each day, despite not travelling to work five days a week, a COVID adapted approach to OOH is to run longer campaigns (e.g. 4 weeks instead of 2) to ensure a similar frequency to pre-COVID shorter campaign bursts. Alternatively, upweighting elsewhere in the media mix (particularly with local targeted media such as social and radio) to create broader touch points with the campaign improving the frequency. Either option, or both combined, means that clients can still achieve frequency to match campaigns run in early 2020 and before.

Pricing has changed slightly with Global adjusting prices to align with the new, longer commute peak hours – however this is also very much managed on a brief by brief basis, and with their still being availability across the network, now is a perfect opportunity to get a great deal and jump back into advertising on the underground or add it into a media mix to be there as London opens up.

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