OneScreen.ai brings startup ads to billboards and the New York subway

When Alex Ewing was a kid growing up in Purcell, Oklahoma, he knew how close he was to home based on the billboards he could see out the car window. Now, as CEO of OneScreen.ai, he helps startups such as fintech Ramp and technical recruiter Karat with advertising on billboards and beyond.

“I think billboards are cool and help bring creativity back into marketing,” Ewing told JS. “They are like a canvas for marketers in a way that a digital screen is not.”

Ewing joined Boston-based OneScreen last year. The company acts as a software-enabled middleman between startups and out-of-home (OOH) commercials such as billboards, subway ads and others. OneScreen helps startups find the right placement for their ads based on the potential customers companies want to reach, combined with the demographic and historical data on the platform. The company also uses anonymized location data to help companies track how successful their campaigns are.

OneScreen has raised $4.7 million from investors including Assymetric Capital Partners, Techstars and Impellent Ventures, among others. The company is currently profitable and tripled sales last year.

Billboards and other forms of OOH marketing are becoming increasingly popular, especially for startups, Ewing said. OOH advertising spend in the US is expected to reach $9.3 billion this year. according to Statistaand is expected to reach nearly $12 billion by 2029.

But why would a B2B company like Ramp want to advertise in a classic consumer way, such as on the outside of city buses or in subways?

Ewing said companies are looking to turn their attention back to OOH advertising strategies after years of focusing on digital marketing. He added that regulations around privacy and targeted advertising, and the ability for people to block digital ads, have made online advertising strategies less successful for many.

“B2B, B2C, companies everywhere, from series A, series B, [companies that are] really well funded or publicly traded have said, 'we can't invest anymore in what we invested in digital, the ROI isn't there,'” Ewing said. “It's becoming more and more expensive and it's becoming less and less effective.”

What this type of advertising creates is brand recognition, which is more effective for B2B companies than people may realize, even if the majority of people who see the ad are unlikely to become customers.

In February, Hila Perl, director of strategic communications at Papaya Global, told JS that B2B HR startup Papaya bought a $7 million Super Bowl ad for exactly that reason.

“It's not a lead generation move,” Perl said of the company's ad buy. “It's not like we can sell more. Obviously we want to see a very immediate ROI, but we all understand that this is a brand building or brand awareness play, it's not a lead generation play. In my mind it's always a marathon instead of a sprint.”

While OneScreen has no control over who sees an OOH ad, Ewing says his company can still help businesses reach targeted audiences. B2B companies can provide OneScreen with a list of the companies they want to reach the target audience and OneScreen's technology will develop a strategy for them with advertising spaces near their target company's headquarters or where their employees may commute in and out. It uses anonymized mobile phone tracking data to see how people responded to the ad through metrics such as website traffic from people who passed by the ad, compared to people who didn't.

The downside is that tracking ROI on OOH advertising isn't as simple as connecting the dots between someone clicking on a digital ad and making a purchase online shortly afterwards. But the hope is that seeing a New York MTA bus wrapped in a Ramp ad will be more effective than an email with a cold sales pitch.

“There is nothing more powerful than seeing a company and brand in the real world,” said Ewing. “If you get that in front of the right people, it can be a powerful way to soften the beachhead for inbound or just generate leads.”

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