At the 2024 CES, the Consumer Technology Association’s annual trade show, there was plenty of boasting of tech that demonstrates the ongoing shift from straight advertising to sophisticated out-of-home (OOH) media. 

Leading the way were companies like Audible and Instacart, which leveled up their in-car and retail tools, respectively, in ways that may enable biopharma advertisers.

Formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, the days-long confab typically features a boatload of gadgetry, much of it health-related. This year was no exception. 

New audio era emerges

However, what especially drew attention from the health media literati were the many new digital out-of-home (DOOH) ad opportunities. 

Consider Audible’s new collaboration with Mercedes-Benz and Amazon Music. In the words of the audiobook and podcast service, the brand collab could usher in a “new era” of immersive audio experiences.

Initiatives like this are important for the growth of this space, said Bryan Barletta, partner in Sounds Profitable, which provides podcast advertising and adtech education and news. 

“It’s becoming more seamless now between car and home, which is good for the medium,” Barletta said. Audio — whether streaming, on-demand or broadcast — is a “resurgent area of advertising attention,” he added.

Pharma has been advertising on the radio for quite some time. The industry spent $146 million in national spot radio in 2022 and was the biggest advertiser in the channel that year, according to Vivvix data shared with Inside Radio. 

In the first eight months of 2023, Pfizer came in second place in terms of national ad radio spend, with $59.5 million.

Meanwhile, listenership in newer forms of audio has been growing. In-car listening, for one, is being spurred by mobile usage: 26 million people said they have a mobile OS in their primary vehicle, either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. That figure is up 25% from 2022’s rate of 22%, according to Edison Research’s Infinite Dial report. 

Additionally, the report found 37 million people listened to online audio last year, up by more than a third from 32% the year prior.

Considering pharma advertisers already have a large presence in radio, there will be a “remarkable fight for companies to be in the dashboard,” predicted Charles Benaiah, founder of media firm Watzan. 

The aforementioned CES automotive initiatives were “a huge transitional step,” Benaiah said. “There’s a big opportunity for pharma to wrap their arms around this.”

That opportunity isn’t so much about providing advertisers with “yet another ad on another screen,” said Barletta. “We agree that would be off-putting.” 

It’s more about collecting behavioral data. That is, “being able to say, definitively, ‘This was played in the car by an engaged user,’ heightens the value of that user and could tell them more about the people who consume that content,” Barletta explained. “That’s appealing.”

Hit the road, ChatGPT

In other in-car news, Volkswagen said its vehicles will have ChatGPT pre-installed in the Passat, Tiguan, Golf as well as its electric vehicles.

As Amazon Alexa is built into more cars — on display at CES was an Alexa-enabled Lamborghini (never mind the difficulty of trying to drive a supercar while asking it questions) — it’s another chance for media buyers to expand further into Amazon Echo territory and run ads across music services like Spotify.  

The DOOH ad market is growing by 26% annually, according to a GroupM mid-year study. At $13 billion worldwide, the market represents 37% of all OOH, the study estimated. CES signaled another direction of DOOH growth: retail.

The big CES mover here was Instacart. The grocery tech firm said during the convention that its AI-powered smart shopping carts — dubbed Caper Carts after a company Instacart acquired in 2021 — will begin piloting ads at certain Good Food Holdings stores in Southern California.

The shopping carts, which have a screen mounted on their handle, will display ads from launch partners including Del Monte Foods, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream and General Mills. These will be personalized based on shoppers’ real-time behaviors or cart contents.

With the aid of sensors and historical shopping data, the algorithm will serve up recommendations based on the items being tossed in. Instacart said more retail partners are set to roll out in the months ahead.

“Grocery has been one of the largest growth categories we’ve seen as far as what we can do from an OOH perspective,” said Mark Pappas, EVP of innovation at CMI Media Group, a 2023 MM+M Agency 100 honoree.

Indeed, retail media ad spending is expected to rise, from $46 billion this year to $109 billion in 2027, according to Insider Intelligence. 

On the other hand, Pappas, who says CMI has worked with Instacart on initiatives including healthy shopping lists for prescribed conditions, said he’d test out the tech firm’s new AI-enabled shopping cart recommendations first before diving in for his health clients. 

There’s been some backlash. The new video ads garnered a “Worst in Show” from U.S. PIRG, a consumer advocacy group, citing their potential to “push junk foods” or overwhelm shoppers already inundated with in-store advertising. 

All hail the Sphere

Major retailers weren’t the only ones raising the bar with ever more sophisticated ad tools. Of course, straight-ahead ad formats also debuted during CES. 

Most notable was The Sphere — basically a very large form of DOOH which towers above an 18,000 seat Las Vegas auditorium. Ads running on the Sphere during CES took advantage of its immersive audio and video capabilities.

2023 was the year when ChatGPT leveled the AI playing field, making helpful conversational AI available to the masses. Amid the proliferating use cases for AI at CES were a parade of in-home offerings from digital health firms. 

Although these aren’t OOH advertising venues per se, they have the potential to enhance the user’s understanding of their own health. 

One intriguing gadget, which appeared on Publicis Health Media’s compilation of CES takeaways, was NuraLogix’s Anura MagicMirror. The device, per manufacturer claims, can measure 100 health parameters, including blood pressure, BMI, facial skin age, heart rate variability and more.

However, as PHM cautioned, “this robust data output currently has no destination beyond the immediate user, meaning its evaluation or incited action is left in untrained hands.”

Not so Withing’s BeamO Multiscope. The tool, meant to power at-home health check ups, packs an ECG, oximeter and stethoscope, along with a thermometer. 

With an affordable retail cost, BeamoO ticks the accessibility box, PHM noted. It also promises ease of use thanks to a design that mimics a TV remote and — perhaps more importantly — its data can be shared with a physician to inform telehealth visits.

While this kind of residential tech has the potential to improve care for those with poor access, the impact of medical grade tools in domestic settings is “as of yet unknown,” PHM pointed out. On the horizon for patient-facing digital health: sharing health-tech learnings “in a compliant and privacy-safe way.”

Two other tools that caught Pappas’ eye were Dassault Systèmes’ AI-powered virtual twin, which promises to replace traditional animal testing, and FaceHeart’s FDA-cleared, AI-driven method for measuring multiple vital signs using just a laptop camera.

“The amount of data being collected around this massive wave of AI-enabled wearables,” added Pappas, “will lead to interesting opportunities for health and pharma to tap into.”