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Comment: Surviving rail delays – Zombie apocalypse or an opportunity to sell pizza via posters?

Euan MacKay, Route Research

Euan Mackay, general manager at OOH audience measurement specialist Route Research, has an unusually positive spin on the dire current state of the UK’s railways – at least if you’re one of the people working in advertising on them…

“New data has identified the rail stations most subject to delayed services in Great Britain. The list does not make good reading for commuters in in the North, with six of the top ten offenders being in the North West or Yorkshire.

Does every cloud have a silver lining? In the out-of-home (OOH) advertising industry we’d like to think so.

OOH is the only medium that’s unequivocal about giving back, in terms not just of delivering information, entertainment and generally brightening up the public spaces it inhabits, but also in helping to fund infrastructure too.

A report published earlier this month, conducted by PwC and underwritten by the medium’s Outsmart trade body, indicated that nearly half of UK OOH ad revenues are reinvested in projects for the public good.

Rail delays (and the impact of these on the audience figures we produce for the industry) will give OOH media owners every incentive to work even harder in northern rail hubs.

The most-affected stations over the last six months are:

  • York
  • Manchester Oxford Road
  • Huddersfield
  • Cardiff Central
  • Milton Keynes Central
  • Crewe
  • Manchester Victoria
  • Manchester Piccadilly
  • Wolverhampton
  • Sheffield

There are a total of 502 OOH ad locations in these stations which, according to new data released by Route this month, are seen 57.4 million times in a typical week.

Perhaps this data can help brands and agencies think a little differently and take advantage of the delays as part of their media plans. Perhaps, too, these delays can be used to select potential stations for deploying “special” builds or more experiential campaigns.

An excellent recent campaign by Sprite dispensed free samples to help keep people cool using targeted environmental triggers such as delays within the station (though granted, given the scale of delays and cancellations in some of these stations, more industrial-sized vending machines may be required).

Of course, not everyone will be spending every second fixated to the OOH ads around them – though as academic research and data from a recent Lumen and Teads study shows, the bulk of the needle-moving for spontaneous awareness-building occurs in the first few seconds of exposure (in other words, you only need to see an ad for a very short time for it to register and shape your opinion).

Meanwhile, if you’re not actively staring at the OOH ads while awaiting for your delayed trains to emerge, here are some suggestions of ‘things to do’ to pass the time – care of Sami Shah via Medium:

  • Prepare for the Zombie apocalypse.
  • Eat a chocolate from the vending machine.
  • Think about that novel you’ll write one day.
  • Make a list of your enemies. Discover you don’t actually have any.
  • Make a list of people who annoy you. Discover that list is quite long.
  • Fall in love — the stranger waiting on the same platform, that you’ll never see again.
  • Plan the perfect murder. Find yourself smiling.
  • Stop smiling.
  • Think of something elaborate and exotic you can cook for dinner.

The next time you are awaiting the delayed 18:03 from Manchester Piccadilly to Leeds, you can always dig out this list (once more) and work your way through it.

Alternatively, you could have a look again at the rather captivating digital billboard in front of you. The one showing the ad for, say, Uber Eats. Pepperoni pizza for tea?

Go on, treat yourself. You might be late home… but it’s not all bad.”

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