ESPN ad effort hails a cab

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The Times Square news ticker has been a New York landmark for years. Now, ESPN has taken a sports version to another Big Apple institution: the yellow cab.

With the help of fledgling mobile ad product Ad Runner, the cable sports network has placed ticker-style electronic displays on tops of taxi cabs along with the ESPN moniker. The displays run sports scores and news that can be updated almost instantly via satellite, as well as promotions for ESPN programming.

For ESPN, a Walt Disney Co. cable channel, the displays are less about providing up-to-the-minute scores and more about serving as a marketing vehicle to impress fans with shock value and the network's commitment to reach them in innovative ways.

"We want our fans to feel the network and the way to do that is to be in places where they take a second-look and say, `Wow, that's pretty sweet,"' said Spence Kramer, ESPN's director of advertising and marketing.

Of course, the network would not mind if a person who takes a first-look at the tickers walks into a bar and tells a group of friends: "Hey, did you see the Yankees won? Just saw it on an ESPN cab."

Billboard-style ads on top of the ubiquitous cabs that, from above, can make a Manhattan street look like a yellow brick road, have been around for years. Now, ad company Adapt Media has launched the alternating display Ad Runner product in a pilot program. The program began with four cabs in March and expects to be up to 50 by this week.

The trial period ends in June, but is expected to receive the blessing of New York's Taxi & Limousine Commission to continue. And ESPN has a contract that would then run through November. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Time Warner Cable is also using the Ad Runner mobile displays, and Adapt Media is in discussions with other advertisers.

Separately, ESPN this week will begin offering scores and news on ticker-style displays on phone kiosks in New York. ESPN's "Which `SportsCenter' do you watch?" campaign will now be augmented with the ticker streaming above the ads which feature sports stars out of uniform and watching the network's flagship program.

Also, ESPN is negotiating to place television screens tuned to ESPN 24 hours a day in New York bus shelters. That program would start in October.

The ESPN/Adapt Media deal was made by the network's media buying shop Wieden & Kennedy, New York, which sought the chance to stand out from the clutter. The program could expand to other cities-San Francisco and Washington are candidates-but the promotion is less likely to have the impact elsewhere that it may have in the cab-clogged city that never sleeps.

"It's part of the fabric of New York," said Justin Barocas, Wieden's director of media planning.

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