DOOH, D’Oh, or Dough

The exciting (dough) business of digital out of home advertising (DOOH) and the biggest mistakes (D’oh) we’ve made. Welcome to the Ads on Top Official Medium Channel. www.theadsontop.com

Ads on Top’s mission is to change how out-of-home advertising is bought and sold:

https://youtu.be/kfaU8mZOKNc

Ads on Top started in November of 2015 by Abhinav Khanna (Princeton ’16) and David Pal (me) (Princeton *16). We had one goal in mind: let’s put ads on the roofs of Ubers and Lyfts. We were in NYC and saw tons of ads on taxis, but never on an Uber or Lyft. After working on to develop the new Tiger Challenge program with IDEO in SF, both of us knew that we’d need to start by asking a lot of questions. Without getting a, “no, you can’t do this,” Ads on Top was born. (For correctness, it was Ads on Ubers at the time, with a really terrible logo.)

The initial product was a plastic sign with a beacon that would be attached to the roof of a car by a magnet, so it could be removed at night, with an LED light and cigarette plug, so it could be seen at night. The advertisements were stickers that were printed and applied to the signs. Every month, the drivers would return for their payment and receive a new advertisement. The beacons were coupled to a mobile app that would alert our system when the sign was on and plugged in, and where it was going. We could track mileage and then make a rough calculation of impressions.

We hired an incredible saleswoman, but it didn’t sell. That’s not true, we sold 1, to my friend Daniel Fine at Glass-U. We had many “Yes, but…” and even got to the final negotiations only to be shot down by a supervisor without any analytics or targeting capabilities.

At the same time, the rideshare drivers loved us. We would give them a few hundred dollars per month extra to ride around with these signs when they were on-duty and take them off other times. The reason people loved it, was also a reason why advertisers hated it. It also became hard for us to track our advertisements exactly, with many scenarios when someone could fool the system. But when we went to talk to advertisers they were intrigued by the idea, and when we went to drivers they loved it, so we knew we were close.

“both of us knew that we’d need to start (again) by asking a lot of questions.”

By asking many questions throughout the process, to nearly anyone who would talk to us, we had many insights and nuggets that we could build from.


There were a few main insights that we learned and built our current platform on:

  1. Agencies are walking on thin ice and are risk averse.
  2. Most advertisers think that there is a lot of wasted investment in OOH.
  3. Digital OOH is going to be huge, and targeted advertising is going to be essential.
  4. There is a “Holy Grail” — attribution.
  5. Inventory owners are doing well, revenues are increasing, and it’s always easier to maintain the status quo.
  6. SMBs want OOH but can’t always afford it, so they pay what they can on Facebook and Google.

Let me know what you think I missed in the comments.


Back to the foundation.

So, we set out to build something that solves those problems. (If you haven’t already, watch the video above.)

While we’re focusing on car top advertising and the sharing economy, this is just the beginning. We’ve built a platform that gives any ad network the flexibility and robustness of a programmatic buying platform. It gives inventory owners the abilities to sell (or advertisers, buy) based on demographics, locations, and any set of custom triggers. All of this is built on amazing visualization, a reporting and analytics platform and amazing user interfaces. This makes it very simple to implement and train people on.

This platform is flexible in its uses — use it only for your sales team, give different users different opportunities, or allow anyone to use it. It can be used with any custom data set, cell phone movements and demographic information, and any digital screen.

Throughout the course of this blog we’ll talk about things that we’ve done well, things we guessed wrong about, maybe a few jokes, and some important information. Here are some of the topics that we’ll talk about (and feel free to suggest some more):

Landscape / Ecosystem /Structure of OOH

The Story of Google Doubleclick — Can we prevent it from happening in DOOH, or will Google?

AdTech development and new companies to watch

Is there a better currency than impressions for programmatic advertising?

DOOH creative theory //programmable ads // matching real-time creative — Building Relevant Ads

What can you learn from climate change attribution and ad attribution?

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