Vistar Media is changing advertising forever, but you’ll never notice the difference
Nobody really knows how many adverts we’re exposed to each day. Back in the 1980s, it was claimed we saw 5,000 ads a day. The same number was still being toted in 1998 and, thanks to the advent of internet advertising in the mid-2000s, it then supposedly rose to well over 10,000. Now, another ten years later, it’s likely we’re being exposed to more than twice that already absurd number. Just look at the number of ads on this page alone, and then think about how many ads you see online combined with those you spot when walking around any city.
While we can’t easily put a concrete number on the ads we see, it’s clear that ad clutter is a problem. That’s where New York-based startup Vistar Media comes in. By using the techniques of the online advertising world, Vistar Media plans to cut through the clutter and use data to make real-world out-of-home advertising relevant again.
Michael Provenzano – CEO
“People think of [out-of-home] advertising as a dead medium,” explains Vistar Media’s co-founder and CEO Michael Provenzano, when we meet at SAP’s SME Summit in New York. “I tell brands that print advertising is dying, and you could die if you let mobile eat you up. You should be speaking the same language [as mobile], not letting it destroy you.”
Provenzano and his team believe that traditional out-of-home advertising – billboards, elevator screens, the ads you see on the Tube and buses and so on – isn’t a dying medium, it just needs re-inventing. His company, Vistar Media, aims to bring the data intelligence and analysis found in internet and mobile advertising to billboards, bus stops and Tube station posters, revolutionising how brands reach consumers via traditional markets.
Currently, when a brand decides it wants to slap a up a billboard ad, it’s hard to actually see any gains from advertising investments. That’s exactly the problem that Vistar Media is here to solve, and it’s doing so through the power of data-crunching tools and your smartphone’s location information maping out the perfect locations for adverts to capture your attention.
“A lot of brands and media are obsessed with driving people to buy things online,” Provenzano replies, when I ask why Vistar Media has focused on out-of-home advertising. “The stat I always throw out is that, in the US, around $360 billion is spent in online commerce each year. Driving that is around $56 billion of online advertising. However, each year $4.7 trillion is spent on offline purchases. You don’t buy hamburgers, coffee or cars online – Walmart and Target keep building new stores for a reason.
“Yes, ecommerce is growing rapidly, but people forget that it’s still less than 10% of what is purchased in the US. Globally I’m sure it’s even less than that.”
This approach – bringing data analytics into traditional billboard and out-of-home advertising – is something that isn’t really being focused on by other marketers. Not only is this far less intrusive to people’s lives – “nobody wants [mobile push messaging], it’s stupid”, Provenzano exclaims – but Vistar Media’s approach means that no existing out-of-home media needs to be updated to work with their platform. It’s advertising insights that benefit the advertising real-estate owners, big brands and consumers with little to no added cost.
“Data is key to understanding what purchases people make and where they shop with the biggest brands in the world,” explains Provenzano. “We believe that, if you can take that data, and look at it statistically, it allows you to see that those people who go to Starbucks three to four times a week, move around the city in this particular way each day.”
“Data is key to understanding what purchases people make and where they shop”.
By using customer data gleaned from publicly available smartphone location information, Vistar Media is able to map out where customers go and help brands purchase ad space in the right location at the right time of day.
“We spend most of our time building systems that analyse movement data and activate media against that data – measuring traffic to see if store footfall increases and sales lift. What we want to see is, did that household that was in the market for a BMW 3 Series go through with the purchase, or did they buy an Audi instead?”
As with any company using people’s personal data, there are a lot of minefields to avoid. Thankfully it sounds as if Vistar Media are playing it safe without compromising the information they provide businesses. Vistar can do this because that personal information is – worryingly – already widely available in the first place.
“[Mobile] carriers already sell that data,” explains Provenzano. “There’s a lot of controversy around [data privacy], as you can imagine, but it’s all about the way you handle it.”
Thankfully, the way Vistar anonymise data (by assigning individuals an ID number that refreshes every 30 days) means they have no idea who’s who. When plugged into SAP’s Digital Consumer Insights platform, that data outputs heat maps for the company to use and show to clients – no-one’s personal data is being seen or used to target specific adverts at individuals.
“It’s not one-to-one targeting, it’s general population movement, and that’s why it’s not tracking individual people. The output isn’t ‘this person does this’, it’s ‘these are the areas, and the times, where you should be targeting your adverts’. We decided from early on that, if there are [general] data privacy concerns, we’ll be okay.”
The future of advertising?
It’s a no-brainer that Vistar Media’s approach to out-of-home advertising is the future – this dumb advertising needs to get smart if it’s going to survive. However, telling advertisers that fact is a little harder than you may think.
“Helping people understand the value in what we do is always the most difficult thing”.
“Helping people understand the value in what we do is always the most difficult thing,” Provenzano explains. Currently advertisers are thinking about how best to capture someone’s attention in a YouTube pre-roll ad, rather than capture their attention on the Tube but, as Provenzano put simply, “out-of-home advertising isn’t going anywhere”
The hurdle of education can easily be overcome, as Vistar Media is discovering – however, one development that has Provenzano and his team a little perplexed is the advent of the self-driving car. “How does [out-of-home advertising] change when there’s no driver and you’re all sat facing inwards?” he ponders. “When you’re not driving a car, my guess is you’re watching some sort of entertainment system – at which point you’re not even looking outside at all.”
Regardless of what happens, Provenzano isn’t phased – not only is it a long way off from being adopted en masse, but it will be an exciting time for all those involved in the advertising and media industry. “It’s going to be fascinating,” he states before summing up the situation perfectly: “Unless consumers stop going outdoors, there will always be eyeballs and value to out-of-home advertising.” Vistar Media wants to help unlock that.