Outdoor Interactive

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Adapt Media and Vert Inc. hope to tap into the lucrative outdoor advertising industry, worth $5.5 billion in 2000.

Every time outdoor advertising seems about to become a stagnating medium, a new iteration pops up. First there were rotating billboards, then logo-emblazoned coffee cups distributed in subway stations, then ads placed on parking meters and the backs of parking garage tickets. Now, some are hoping the latest take on taxicab ads will gain popularity as a powerful outdoor advertising option.

The scenario for Internet-supercharged taxi tops goes like this: While a cab travels from one end of a city to the other, an electronic billboard on top changes according to location and time of day. Thanks to a reliable satellite feed and a precise Global Positioning System, the bright, attention-getting ads on the taxi roof keep changing. As the cab passes by a college, an ad for a nightclub appears on top. While moving through the financial district, Nasdaq quotes fill the screen. When the vehicle passes through a Brazilian section of town, the text shifts to Portuguese. By the time the cab reaches its destination, it's evening, so the ad hawks a local bar.

Right now, two companies offer wireless taxi top advertising, both in relatively small deployments. Vert Inc., based in Somerville, Mass., has been working with Phoenix-based outdoor ad company Eller Media to test whether dynamic ads atop cabs can be effective — and whether advertisers will pay for them. Another company, New York-based Adapt Media, is offering a similar service in New York. While Vert delivers bold, colorful ads that aim to match the production values of television, Adapt's patented “ad-runner� system is restricted to text-only ads, with an emphasis on immediacy — advertisers can make adjustments to their campaigns in real time. Both companies hope to tap into the lucrative outdoor advertising industry, worth $5.5 billion last year. The companies are banking on the idea that in a mobile society, moving the ad along with the consumer will result in a better-targeted, more effective form of outdoor advertising.

The targeted taxicab concept isn't entirely new. Yahoo! tried a variation on taxi-based advertising as part of a short-term promotional plan by placing Internet-connected laptops and Palm Pilots in cabs in San Francisco and New York. Cheaper, low-tech variations on mobile media abound. Anyone can put a sign on a truck and cart it around town. For example, outfits like Safari Street Mobile Media in Boston send out trucks with 4-foot by 8-foot ads on the sides. Such ads are much larger than those on taxicabs and cost as little as $100 per week. Furthermore, traditional forms of mobile media, like advertising on the side of buses, can also be targeted by location. As Dan Ng, Internet strategist for advertising agency TBWAChiatDay explains, “We already buy spots on buses based on the zip codes they drive through.�

But the twist offered by the new interactive taxi top ad companies is that they offer a much more sophisticated approach. Advertisers can reach an audience that can be targeted in a precise manner — by location, demographics and time of day. After all, advertising messages don't get much more precise than one for a restaurant two minutes away, nor do they get more timely than a reminder that a television show starts in 10 minutes. Adapt allows advertisers to target their audience at a specific time and day — between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, for example. In addition, multiple messages can be used by a single advertiser based on a product's multiple target markets, and there is ample opportunity for testing various messages.

In fact, the medium itself is still in the testing stage. Vert has been running its VID (Vert Intelligence Display) system in Boston since January, and hopes to launch it more widely in that region later this year and in New York by March 2002. The company currently has four cabs on the road and has pulled back from a prediction earlier this year


The majority of taxi riders are between the ages of 25 and 45.

18-20 7%
21-24 18%
25-35 32%
36-45 32%
46-55 20%
56+ 9%
High 17%
Moderate 62%
Low 21%
To and from business appointments 20-30
To entertainment venue 15
From entertainment venue 20-30
Alternative to usual transport 30-45
To and from airport 30-45
Source: TaxiMedia
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