We got a dog! I’m happy, my family is happy, the dog is happy. We’re all having a great time getting to know each other and playing outside, doing all the things that new dog owners do. But, there was an unanticipated consequence of this event that taught me an object lesson about marketing and about Out of Home media. So, what does a new dog have to do with billboard advertising? Hang tight, and I will explain.

The Dog in the Digital Bubble:

(Bonus points if you get that reference). First, a little bit about me as a consumer persona. I have a deep interest in all manner of music gear, particularly vintage bass guitars. I’m a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Got Six?). I’m interested in all things related to J.R.R. Tolkien, and we recently planned a trip to Disney World (it was awesome, thanks for asking). Consequently, my digital experience, online and in social media feeds, includes – you guessed it – bass guitars, Steelers gear, the Tolkien Legendarium, and lots and lots of Mickey Mouse. I can tell you’re not surprised.

We’ve all had this experience – visit one website and be followed forever by ads for that site. Browse some items on Amazon, and everywhere you turn you will be inundated with similar products. My digital footprint tells advertisers that I am interested in these topics and this in turn dictates the ads that I will see. This is the way.

But… It doesn’t paint the whole picture. My digital footprint doesn’t tell advertisers everything I am interested in or everything I do – only those things that can be tracked online. For example, my online footprint won’t tell you that I am an avid hiker and birder (yes, nerdy, I know, whatever). It won’t tell you that we are big supporters of local farms and spend the summer picking fresh berries and fruit almost every week. It won’t tell you that we like to go for family bike rides or that we love zoos and museums of all sorts; art, history, trains, you name it, we’re there.

Incidentally, location-based behavioral data would tell you all those things, but that’s another post. My digital footprint wouldn’t have told you any of those things about me. And it certainly wouldn’t have told you that I like dogs or that I was planning to get one. So what does that dog have to do with this? (yes, he’s finally getting to the point!)

“My digital footprint doesn’t tell advertisers everything I am interested in or everything I do – only those things that can be tracked online.”

Clifford the Big Red Billboard:

The other day our family adopted a dog. The kids have been advocating for a pet for some time, and we had more or less agreed that we would be getting a dog at some point. We knew that it would be a rescue, just because, so we weren’t researching breeds or anything like that. And while we had decided to adopt, there was no imminent plan – and thus, we had not purchased any dog owner paraphernalia.

So, when a series of happy accidents found us leaving the shelter with our new friend late Friday we were completely unprepared. No leash. No toys. No crate. No treats or blankets or bed. Nary a piece of kibble in sight. So, it was off to the local pet warehouse to stock up on some essentials to get started. But when we walked into the store it was like being on another planet. We didn’t know one brand from the next. My mental availability for any of the brands in the store was effectively zero. If you’re a marketer – That’s bad.

So there we are, with a dog, in the store, cash in hand and ready to spend with absolutely zero brand awareness for any of the supplies we were about to drop a chunk of change on. So what did we do? We guessed. Honestly, it was mostly “ok, that one looks good”.

Why? Because I haven’t gone to dog breed blogs. I haven’t browsed online for puppy pads, or undercoat de-shedding brushes, harnesses, pooper-scoopers, or folding gates. Dog ownership had not entered my digital bubble (it certainly has now, I can tell you that). But just because I hadn’t demonstrated interest in dog ownership online didn’t mean I wasn’t interested. And this meant that all those associated brands were not targeting me.

Every Brand Will Have His Day (or not):

So how do brands reach those potential customers who haven’t demonstrated interest or intent online but may be a perfect audience? How do you break through that digital bubble and reach potential customers? Obviously, the answer is Out of Home Media. (And just because you could obviously see where I was going with this doesn’t make it not true).

If any of the brands at the pet store had done even the slightest bit of Out of Home in my area I would have had some familiarity with them. They didn’t. If they had placed any media on my path to purchase, they would have had a huge leg up over the competition on the shelf, and the decision wouldn’t have been left to me essentially going “eeny-meeny-miny-mo”. They didn’t.

Brands have invested enormous amounts of money in digital media, and with good reason. There is certainly a valid strategic reason to advertise to potential consumers who have shown an online interest in your product. But what about everyone else? Out of Home can break through that digital bubble to help build awareness, and perhaps even interest, in an untapped audience. And it can do it efficiently and cost-effectively. And with Out of Home’s recent advancements in targeting, it can help surface those audiences through other related behaviors that brands can identify. The potential value to brands is enormous.

And, of course, I can’t leave without the payoff. This is Mac. He’s a four-month-old shepherd mix recuse. He seems to be really smart and very sweet with other people, kids, and other dogs. Time will tell. The shelter said he was going to be “medium-sized, 40-50 lbs.”, our vet said more like 80. So, I guess we’ll be buying twice as much dog food as we had anticipated. If only those dog food brands had invested some time and energy in cultivating me. C’est la ville.

Image of a really cute puppy
Who’s a good boy?