Dan in Cannes – What Happened to Digital Outdoor?


It was a cause for celebration back in 2009 when Cannes Lions gave the Digital Outdoor medium its very own award category. As the fastest growing sector in Outdoor for several years running and with global revenues now topping $7.88 billion in 2012 – we were all looking forward to seeing some great examples of creative excellence at this years festival.

Instead, what we got was an un-awarded category and the sense that the most innovative side of the Outdoor market had been all but forgotten.

Digital Outdoor received 87 entries at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Of these 9 entries were shortlisted and none were awarded. Given the significant improvements to the technology, ad serving infrastructure and the growing sector expertise and understanding of how to use the platform creatively this seemed surprising.

The category rules as defined by Cannes Lions for Digital Outdoor:

Including digital escalator panels, LCD screens, cross-track projection sites, digital roadside billboards, bluetooth enabled screens and interactive posters including consumer generated content

Entries into Digital Outdoor MUST have been designed specifically for use in digital outdoor sites; for example any video submitted must have been designed and created for use in digital outdoor sites rather than TV or cinema ads simply played in an ‘Out of Home’ situation.

Odd then that the shortlisted campaigns consisted of two mobile / tablet campaigns (Volvo, Columbia), five special build stunts (Guinness, BMW, Asics, HSBC, VEnergy) and one ambient (Heineken) submission.

In fact, of the nine shortlisted campaigns just ONE met the category criteria for Digital Outdoor – using an established Digital Outdoor platform, Media Owner owned, Media Agency planned, and Outdoor Specialist bought – and that was DLKW Lowe’s campaign for The Microloan Foundation.

The other eight may have been ‘digital’ and performed ‘outdoor’, but they were not Digital Outdoor as we know it, or as the Outdoor industry knows it, or as Cannes Lions define it in their category rules. Yet these campaigns would have been perfectly suited to the Outdoor Ambient categories: C03 “Special Build” and C04 “Stunts and Live Advertising”.

Every other category in Outdoor had submissions that were ‘Outdoor’ executions in the traditional well defined sense. Every other Outdoor category also turned out at least one Bronze from the shortlisted work.

Looking through all of the 87 original entries there were plenty there that met the rules and requirements, but were simply not shortlisted. So in some ways it is not surprising that the judges failed to award a Lion in Digital Outdoor (C06) – there was only one Digital Outdoor campaign to choose from.

This raises a number of serious questions about the Digital Outdoor category and the judging procedure:

  • Why were special build, stunts and live advertising submissions not moved to the correct C03 and C04 relevant categories prior to judging?
  • Why did the judging panel not stick to the criteria outlined in the category rules when forming their shortlist of best work for the Digital Outdoor medium?
  • Why did they not deem any of the 87 entries as award worthy?

Digital Outdoor offers the ability to run dynamic, responsive, interactive, geo-targeted and personalised campaigns that are closely integrated with online, social, and mobile communication. As budgets have increased, so too has the number of truly groundbreaking campaigns that are being delivered across the medium.

But the feeling from this year’s event is that the Digital Outdoor sector and its criteria were not understood or adhered to and that good creative use went unrecognised. For a medium that now commands almost 20% of Outdoor revenue in the UK, it seemed that it did not command a proportional amount of consideration at this years leading award programme. Creative’s who invested time and budget into their Cannes submissions this year will now be wondering as to whether it is worth doing so again in 2014. Whatever happened, it was a disappointing day for Digital Outdoor.