Yahoo! hits streets with Internet taxis

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Internet portal Yahoo!, taking a show-and-tell approach in marketing its "Yahoo! Everywhere" strategy, last month rolled out a fleet of 10 Internet-enabled taxis in New York.

The taxis, decorated with the Yahoo! logo, come equipped with Palm VII handheld computers boasting wireless connections to the Internet. Passengers can access Yahoo! services and the Web for free-standard cab fares applying. The company ran a similar campaign in San Francisco from September 1999 through March of this year.

"We were looking for an example of the 'Yahoo! Everywhere' strategy," said Linda Bennett, brand manager for Yahoo!. "It's a place you go to find anything, connect with anyone, and it doesn't mean being tethered to your home office or workplace. It's about getting information where you need it, even in the back of a taxi."

It's a medium that could effectively reach what has become a hot target for Yahoo!: business users. The company earlier this year announced a b-to-b marketplace, and the site's advertising base is increasingly becoming b-to-b as well. According to AdRelevance, a Jupiter Media Metrix company, Yahoo! ranked second among sites in b-to-b advertising impressions for the second quarter of this year, with 660 million b-to-b impressions during that period.

Bennett, who would not disclose the program's budget, said the company decided on New York as the next stop because taxis play such a significant role in the city's public transportation system. Schaller Consulting, New York, estimates the city had approximately 241 million taxi passengers last year, according to a report the company released earlier this year.

The campaign seems like a good way to blend traditional transit display advertising with an opportunity for people to sample the product, said Larry McNaughton, COO-managing director at Corporate Branding L.L.C., a brand consultancy. "You can be in the brand, be in the company, be in the product offering," he said. "They're taking the typical aggressive marketing approach and turning it into a product experience at the same time."

Aside from traditional methods of measuring display advertising, such as estimating the number of people that would see the ads in a given location, assessing the impact of an effort like this isn't easy. Bennett said Yahoo! measures the campaign by tracking how many people ride in the cabs and how the community responds to the effort. Riders might tell friends about the experience and "that word of mouth continues to create the fun and excitement that we like to bring to our brand," she said.

Collaborative effort

The program required Yahoo! to partner with Medallion Financial Corp., a taxi lender, and Team Systems Corp., a taxi fleet, as well as work closely with the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission to ensure the cabs passed various inspections.

Yahoo! chose drivers from a group of independent contractors, Bennett said. From those who were interested in driving the Internet-enabled taxis, Yahoo! interviewed and selected drivers, then trained them on using the Palm devices.

Though the San Francisco cabs were entirely "wrapped" with the Yahoo! logo, the New York taxis still have the standard yellow-cab look-a point that was important to the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, said Allan Fromberg, deputy commissioner for public affairs. To remain recognizable as New York taxis, the second fleet of Internet-enabled cabs displays Yahoo!'s name only on the taxis' sides and bumpers.

The commission also objected to wrapping the New York cabs, Fromberg said, because of safety concerns. "[Wraps] take up window space," he said. "We want to be sure police officers can see inside a cab. We want to be sure taxi and commission inspectors can see inside the cab."

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