Clear Channel CEO: ‘Brands want to build fame and emotion – you cannot do that with online ads’

The chief executive officer of Clear Channel International has called out-of-home media the marketing industry’s “most under-told story” as the company plans double down its investment in digital screens and programmatic buying in Singapore.

Clear Channel’s Lexi-powered billboard for McDonald’s

William Eccleshare, who has led the media company’s global efforts since 2009, said he was on a “mission” to convince marketers of OOH’s value at a time when it has become more of a “fashion thing” to invest in online and social media advertising.

Speaking to Mumbrella Asia following the roll-out of Clear Channel’s Lexi trackers – digital screens containing cameras that measure passing footfall –,  Eccleshare said that contrary to some perceptions, OOH is a “very technology-led business”.

“Our medium has shifted very significantly over the last few years,” he said. “Ten years ago it was seen as being very old-fashioned; you were just sticking a bit of paper on the wall. Over the last five years, it has become a very technology-led business. It’s gone through a bigger change than any other medium.

“And if you look at the data, OOH has grown faster over the last few years; faster than TV, radio, newspapers [a further 14 per cent growth is expected by 2021] – the only one to grow faster is the internet.”

Fuelling this growth, according to Eccleshare, is the rise of digital screens, that have moved beyond typical cityscape ‘spectaculars’, the like seen at Time Square in New York and Shibuya in Tokyo, to everyday billboards and bus shelter screens.

Currently Clear Channel powers 200 such screens in Singapore; rival JCDecaux has 230 screens, including in locations such as Changi airport and ION Orchard, with plans to increase the number to 300 by 2019. Meanwhile, Moove Media said it intends to pour investment into the technology, but was unable to disclose any specifics.

Clear Channel is the only to use tracking technology to measure its audiences – and their attention to a outdoor ad – in Singapore, and according to, Eccleshare, deliver the kind of ROI expected from media owners in today’s digital world.

When asked whether employing such tracking on the streets was an invasion of people’s privacy, Eccleshare stressed the screens only measured a “sample” audience rather than every passerby.

Eccleshare: ‘To create that emotional value, which is what a brand is all about, you need mass reach media.’

“By using that sampling, we can tell the demographic; whether they are younger or more affluent. We really know that the better the audience measurement system, the better the share of outdoor advertising will be.

“In terms of privacy, people are so used to being filmed so I think they are oblivious to it. And we are very transparent: if there is a camera on a screen, we make sure people are aware of it.

“There is a bigger issue about using people’s data, because we do aggregate data from mobile devices to track movement so we can tell you demographic of the audience. But we are very conscious of not making that data attributable to any individuals. It’s obviously something people are very aware of.”

Meanwhile, given the sudden inventory volume increase now available for OOH providers – 100,000 slots over a two-week period rather than one single panel, as Eccleshare puts it – it is no surprise media owners are now shifting focus onto automated buying in order to maximise selling power.

In Singapore, JCDecaux plans to introduce its programmatic buying system next year – its first market outside of the UK and France to adopt the technology. For Clear Channel, investing in programmatic buying is the “next critical step” for the company in Singapore. “While you can have the digital screens, you need to have the back office platforms to really make it work,” Eccleshare added.

However, despite Eccleshare’s claims of plateauing digital expenditure, recent figures from GroupM have hinted no immediate halt to the rise of duopoly Google and Facebook. According to the report, global ad spending will increase by about US$23bn, or 4.3 per cent, next year, with digital accounting for the bulk of it. “That means Google and Facebook,” Adam Smith, futures director of GroupM, told the FT.

When asked whether, despite its relative growth compared to other traditional mediums, OOH could compete in such a landscape, Eccleshare said outdoor still had a crucial emotional sway over consumers that is unrivalled by digital ads.

“There’s no denying the story of online and the power of Facebook and Google to develop that one-to-one relationship, but advertisers are recognising the value of mass communication and building a brand,” he said. “You build an emotional connection with a brand through creating fame. Apple is our single biggest advertisers worldwide; they used OOH to build the fame. They and Coca-Cola want to be out their; building their brand and being proud of who they are. You cannot do that with one-to-one online advertising.

“To create that emotional value, which is what a brand is all about, you need mass reach media. The challenge is that television is becoming more fragmented and suffers from more and more ad-skipping or avoidance. Print is obviously migrating online and people are buying fewer newspapers and magazines. So we call ourselves the last broadcast medium for mass reach.”



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