Underground, overground, measuring spree

Underground, overground, measuring spree

Route, the audience research body for out-of-home advertising, has commissioned an expanded and renewed six-year research project worth £20m. James Whitmore explains what happens next.

Good news in the world of joint industry currencies. Route has guaranteed an increased level of funding until 2023 and signed a new long-term agreement with Ipsos Connect, the research company, and its geo-spatial information partner, MGE Data.

Investment has exactly doubled, which means that we are able to push the currency further, to evolve and keep pace with the rapidly moving world of out-of-home media.

The brief is to provide data that are more precise, more discriminatory and that work at a more granular level. More flour and more grains.

The key thing is that we will survey more people for longer and we will do so with a new generation of passive tracking meters. What we get out of it is a more accurate measure of the medium; a richer calibration with which to quantify the nuances of digital display.

I'll start with the most techno-tastic part. Since 2008, Route has used GPS meters to yield a passive measure of people's movements through public spaces. Bespoke and dedicated devices deliver second-by-second tracing of survey participants' travels.

From last month, we have a new way of tracking - MST or "multi-sensory tracking". The latest technology augments GPS with a 3D accelerometer, a gyroscope, a magnetometer, a barometer, a thermometer and a wi-fi module. These -opes and -ometers serve up an array of measures that can be cleverly combined to produce a precise picture of movement deep indoors and far underground. This is an example of someone in an indoor shopping centre...

It is a significant advance on what we do now. At present, we use behavioural and observational studies to inform models for movement in interior spaces. In future we will have exact knowledge of what different types of people are doing.

For example, we could differentiate between those that stride purposefully through shopping centres and those who slowly wander. Determine exactly how long people remain stationary on platforms and how much they walk about. If we are to improve our knowledge of the exposure time to posters and screens, it is vital to know the direction people are facing and how long they do so. MST gives a leap forward in accuracy and as a result, a far more precise account of the viewing experience, by type of person and by time of day.

As we require more data, we must survey more people. The sample will increase from 4,300 to 7,200 per annum. As now, the fieldwork is evenly distributed through the year and each participant will carry the device for a minimum of fourteen days.

A further challenge is to create a standardised method of mapping indoor spaces; the MST meters require uniform cartography against which to trace movements. The industry will undertake a major project to re-map all interior spaces using a common source of maps, which will be provided by HERE.

At the end of all this, we'll have a uniform second-by-second measure of screens and posters for the entire country. It will not matter if the person or the display is on a road, in a tube corridor or on board a train. Or indeed they could be in a supermarket car-park, or in a shopping centre or an airport. Perhaps they'll glance at a bus or a taxi. You get the idea.

The first fruits of the new work will show in early 2018. Full ripeness is expected in 2020. The aim is to standardise the measure and thereby give advertisers more precision about who is seeing what, for how long and to what degree. Ultimately we will provide "spot ratings" for screen advertisers.

Route can already tell you that poor people spend the most time in public spaces but rich people see more ads. You can learn that graduates spend longer getting to work. But it doesn't explain what type of person stands on an escalator as opposed to walking up it. I don't know about you but I have always been curious about that. Soon we will know.

This piece was originally written for Mediatel Newsline.

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