The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t in the rear-view mirror quite yet, but there is a lot of optimism brewing about life returning back to normal—or at least, some semblance of it. One of the leading indicators of this is consumer mobility, which has recently returned to its pre-pandemic levels across the country. In other words, after a year of people spending much of their time at home, they are finally moving around again in lockstep with the economy on its path towards full reopening. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the latest consumer mobility trends to explain why now’s the time to book your OOH ad buys before prices go up.

When looking at dashboards like the Cuebiq Mobility Index (CMI), which quantifies, in aggregate, how far mobile devices move each day at the national, state, and county levels, it’s easy to see that people aren’t simply staying at home anymore.  

The Cuebiq Mobility Index provides insight into consumer mobility trends.

Although each state is obviously reopening at its own pace and with its own set of restrictions and safety measures to mitigate the ongoing impacts of the pandemic—in relation to the massive vaccination campaign that’s currently underway—it’s safe to say that we’ve finally reached the point where the entire country is moving around again at a “normal” rate.

Simply knowing that people are leaving their homes in droves once again, however, is only one part of the equation. To truly understand how consumer behaviors have changed in the face of the ongoing pandemic, you have to look more closely at how people are actually moving about.

This is where Apple Maps Mobility Trends Reports come in handy. By looking at the data from the beginning of 2020 through to the present day, give or take, you begin to see a clearer picture about how consumers have changed their mobility habits at different points throughout the pandemic—whether stemming from newly imposed lockdowns, as a result of spiking case numbers, or as a byproduct of seasonality or troublesome weather patterns.

Apple Maps Mobility Trends Reports show how consumer movement patterns changed at various points throughout the COVID-19 pandemic

What’s most interesting, however, is that while walking and driving have rebounded significantly over the past year and, in some cases, are well above baseline levels, moving around via public transit hasn’t even gotten close to its pre-pandemic levels when looking at the data in aggregate across the country. That being said, if you look at this same data on a state-by-state basis, you’ll quickly see that there are certain parts of the country behaving differently than others.

For example, many so-called “red states” have seen a greater uptick in public transit usage than their “blue state” counterparts. But even in those specific cases, there’s still a ways to go before we’ll likely see public transit reach its pre-pandemic levels. In other words, until commuters feel like we’re “in the clear” from this pandemic, independent modes of transit will likely prevail.

This is important because looking at overall mobility alone simply says that people are moving around again. This data from Apple Maps confirms that people are moving around again but sheds a little light on how they’re going about it.

For marketers, these kinds of insights are absolutely critical. After all, if your target consumers in any given market aren’t using public transportation but, instead, relying heavily on their cars— or even their own two feet—to move around, this can make a huge impact on how you choose to engage with them via out-of-home advertising. However, before you decide to write off OOH ads in public transit, it’s just important to note that these movement patterns, regardless of the mode of transportation, are not necessarily indicative of people’s daily work commutes.

To validate these assumptions with greater accuracy, we have to look at other data sources like the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Ridership Trends.

APTA’s ridership trends data reveals the impact of the pandemic on public transit across US regions.

Unfortunately, in this case, ridership data corroborates a lot of the Apple Maps data, revealing that across various regions in the US, public transit ridership is sitting anywhere between 36% to 48% of pre-pandemic levels. So although consumer mobility is back to roughly normal-ish levels across the country, the pandemic—and likely a continued fear of public transit as a source for virus transmission—has caused people to rely more heavily on their own modes of transit.

How do mobility patterns translate into OOH advertising pricing?

This part should come as no surprise. Although out-of-home advertising has always been a great deal—and one of the most effective and ROI-positive marketing channels—OOH ad pricing has dropped significantly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Our own historical pricing data has revealed that OOH CPMs have experienced an average decline of 24%, while out-of-home placements in public transit have been discounted by as much as 60%.

We’ve always known, albeit anecdotally, that there is a strong link between consumer mobility and OOH ad pricing. It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic hit that we saw our assumptions play out in real life. But this doesn’t mean out-of-home advertising is less effective now than it was pre-pandemic; all signs are pointing to a massive rebound once the economy fully opens up, which, if you’re following along closely, will bring pricing back up to normal levels again, too.

The time is now to book your OOH ad buys

Long story short: Demand for out-of-home advertising has not yet caught up to consumer behaviors and general movement patterns. But it’s not far off. The simple fact that consumers are walking and driving more—versus taking public transit—still means that they are out in the real world and can now begin to engage with OOH ads once again.

While pricing for OOH ads in public transit may take a little more time to rebound than other out-of-home placements, the channel as a whole is showing all of the signs of making a comeback in ways that we couldn’t have even imagined pre-pandemic. So, for marketers, this means that if you want to get on the OOH bandwagon and get your brands in front of consumers who, after a year of a challenging pandemic, will want to spend the warmer Spring and Summer months outside, the time is now to buy OOH ads while prices are still hovering at historic lows. And trust us, they won’t stay there for much longer.

To learn more about planning and buying OOH ad campaigns to engage your target consumers as they’re newly out and about, reach out to our OOH experts to schedule a demo today!