Business Media Misleadership

Taxi Cab Technology

I took a cab this morning on my way from Grand Central to the Javits Center for AdTech NY. If you haven’t taken a cab in NYC recently, you may not know that most of them now have TV screens mounted in the center of the back of the front seat. It’s part of a unit that allows you to pay for your ride by credit card.

As a marketer, I love the idea of this media channel. You’ve got a captive audience with nothing better to do than watch the screen. What better place to advertise local restaurants, Broadway shows, clubs, stores and events?

Only that’s not what was on the screen. Instead I saw a few minimalist news items sandwiched in between commercials that had nothing to do with my location, my situation or even NYC at all.

I turned the programming off, to be greeted by a static NBC screen that promised that by watching this I would in fact find out what was going on in the city I was in.

I asked the cabbie if it was always like this. With an exasperated tone in his voice he told me what it’s like to listen to this same inane commercial ridden loop of content all day long. Even when one passenger turned it off, it turned itself on again every time the meter was started for the next passenger. Sometimes there were commercials for Saturday Night Live, but that’s as good as it got.

I asked the cab driver if at least he got a share of the revenue, to which he responded that it was worse than that:  he had to pay for it, 5% on all his credit card fares. He figured it cost him over $1000 a year.

When I got to the Javits Center I left the cabbie a good tip, in cash, and went inside to a day filled with presentations by some of the most forward thinking marketers on the planet. There was even one about place-based ad networks, a category that includes the screen in the back of my cab.

As I listened to case studies of personalized advertising delivered on high tech devices at the perfect moment to make a meaningful connection with the recipient and discussions about using semantic filters and advanced behavioral modeling to provide ever better targeting, my mind kept wandering to the backseat of that cab.

Our industry is in the midst of tremendous change: new technologies, new methodologies, new media channels, and new ways of listening to and engaging with our customers.

But can someone please explain to me what good all that technology is if we don’t have the skill to use it appropriately?



By jlsimons

I'm a matchmaker and a storyteller, and while most people look at their business from within a silo I look at it from 20,000 feet up and see connections - or things that should be connected - that others miss. These days, I've focused on Social Media, and I get to work with people like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Josef Katz. In the past, I've put Spider-Man in a cereal box and the X-Men in a can of Pasta. In over a decade at Tanen Directed Advertising, I helped MasterCard do their first mailing in Taiwan and Citigroup grab a bigger share of the world than they had before. At Q.E.D. Games, we created critically acclaimed historical card games and revolutionized roleplaying games by getting rid of the dice. At Marvel, I created advergames before they were called that. I upset applecarts, color outside the lines and believe that rulebooks are for the people who come in second. My current goal is to find 3 more hours in the day and be first in line for a jack into the back of my brain. Oh, and to find a publisher for my teen cyberpunk science fiction novel, Spirit in Realtime.

Specialties: Promotional partnerships, integrated marketing, social media, strategic marketing, alternate channels, direct response, corporate marketing, copywriting, advergaming, game design and development, financial advertising

6 replies on “Taxi Cab Technology”

Josef: Thanks for the comment, and pointing out the shortcomings of my sample universe. (That’s why I keep you around… to keep me on my toes!)

While the cabbie and I didn’t discuss tips, I’m not surprised that tips go up. (Although I know for myself that when I pay in cash, I frequently tip to a round dollar, which is invariably more than 15-20% would be!) I think the cabbie would agree with you, however. When I asked him if he wished he didn’t have the machine, he said no. He said that he used to lose fares to people who didn’t have cash, and would wait for a cab that took credit cards.

But the cabbie’s relationship to the machine wasn’t really my point. My point was that the people selling the ads were missing the opportunity for
1. strong contextual relevance in terms of the commercials they ran,
2. cause related marketing and public service in terms of supporting local events and non-profits,
3. deeper engagement with the customers in the back of the cab that they would gain from giving them something of value,
4. an ongoing opportunity to market to those customers in the future by giving them a coupon/discount opportunity on sightseeing or visiting a business that advertised, that they could only take advantage of by texting to an SMS short code or visiting a mobile website,
5. turning the cabbie into an advocate and affiliate by giving them some rev share,
6. gathering information/surveying via the touch screen to be used to improve their offering or for the city tourism commission,, the Taxicab Commission, NBC programming, etc. etc. etc.

If you have a swiss army knife and you only use it for the toothpick, what’s the point?

Just so we are all good…I just want to point out that I was only adding to the conversation about the machines since there was a news story about them this weekend. I agree with you on the targeting and missed opportunity.

Keep up the great work and thanks for keeping me around…

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