These Taxis Hail You
Technology allows companies to target
customers with flashy cab-top ads that use GPS.
Anyone who's tried to find
a cab in midtown Manhattan knows the challenge of getting a taxi
driver's attention. Well, now taxis are going to be working
harder to get your attention, even if they won't be getting any
easier to hail.
Communications is among a handful of companies that are trying
to make taxi tops a more effective place for marketing. The
company is making the familiar wedges that sit atop most hacks
more dynamic. Called Smart Tops, the devices sport three LCD
screens per side, and feature flash-animation graphics, much
like what you'd see in a banner ad on the Web.
pre-program ads or transmit real-time graphics through a
cellular data network. At press time, Clear Channel was offering
the service only in Boston and New Orleans, but COO Charlie
Ditoro says he hopes to be up and running in six cities by the
end of this year.
But what's most
interesting is the system's potential for customization through
global positioning system technology, which allows clients to
choose ads targeted to the demographics of a cab's home base, or
even for ads to change as the cab moves from one area to
another. The GPS feature enables advertisers to cater their
pitch to particular sales territories, neighborhood
demographics, even local dialect, says Ditoro. A client, for
example, might decide to make one pitch to observers on
Manhattan's Park Avenue and another to the locals in the Bronx.
The system could also change the language of the ad copy to
reflect whether the cab was in San Francisco's Japantown or in
the predominantly Hispanic Mission district. "With the
multicultural boom that's happening in the United States, this
is really the way that ads should be going," says Ditoro.
One stumbling block that
Clear Channel had to overcome was the issue of safety. "We can't
do full-motion video because cities consider it a safety
hazard," he says. "New York City asked us to do a safety study
to make sure it wasn't a distraction to drivers." An outside
research firm found that although the Smart Tops were three to
seven times more noticeable than traditional static tops, they
didn't present a significant distraction to drivers. The company
at first was planning to put a third panel on the back of taxis,
but city administrators balked. "They said no way, because it
would probably cause a lot of fender benders," says Ditoro.
Program costs run up to
$2000 per month, which is about five times the price of a
standard taxi-top ad, but that hasn't stopped such clients as
Bacardi, the NFL and Morgan Stanley from signing on.