Jason Gross, VP of Mobile, Curb. Provided by Curb.

Consumers are shopping again, and in a growing, increasingly mobile market, taxis are an under-valued part of this explosive growth, according to Jason Gross, VP of Mobile at Curb. He joined Digital Signage Today to explain in an exclusive interview.

Gross joined Verifone Transportation Systems in 2010 to help build DOOH in various areas, including rideshare advertising, quickly sensing that his team was onto something big. In 2017, the division bought themselves out of Verifone and started doing business independently as Curb.

As smartphones grew in popularity, they began experimenting with interactivity and engagement, learning the basics of what is now known as programmatic DOOH from the ground up. The company eventually sold off its top-of-vehicle advertising wing to focus exclusively on their hailing app and the in-taxi experience. The pivot paid off. "We have to this day 25,000 screens in taxis across the country…(and) close to 200 million monthly impressions," Gross said.

pDOOH in taxis is powerful when it provides curated, unskippable content that adds value for the individual passenger's ride, Gross explained. Provided by Curb.

But didn't the media say taxis were dead?

"Taxis are back!" Gross said, explaining that while there was an initial consumer shift to new rideshare apps, this was largely based on artificially low prices. Various factors — including the pandemic, regulatory changes, rideshare apps going public, driver shortages and more — have conspired to make prices rise significantly on the newer apps. Today, taxis often have the lowest prices, Gross said, and consumers are embracing them again.

"I would say that we've seen much faster recovery than rideshare drivers since the pandemic," Gross said. "In major markets, perhaps 60% of the licensed (taxi) vehicles are back on the road, but that's growing every month."

Consumers value having professional, fully-licensed drivers, along with regulation by governmental bodies who are mandated to uphold public health and safety via well-developed regulatory and enforcement mechanisms. "We work only with fully licensed drivers, and in New York, for example, that allows us to work with yellow taxis, green taxis and the black cars that primarily these days drive for Uber," Gross said. "In other cities, it's primarily taxis, but also some of these black cars where they're licensed and the fingerprinting, the background checking and everything is managed by the regulator of transportation."

Silicon Valley has noticed. "We struck a partnership with Uber to allow Uber riders to book our taxis," Gross said. "We represent the drivers and we want to get the drivers rides," and the team is happy if drivers are growing, even with outside sources.

Provided by Curb.

Also, Gross noted that some rideshare apps are diversifying, offering options like food delivery, while taxis still focus on people. "I think we're starting to see this equilibrium where people can choose different forms of transportation that suit their needs," Gross said.

This boosts value of pDOOH in traditional taxis. "These vehicles are on the road taking passengers somewhere between 12 and 24 hours a day," Gross said. "In New York a vehicle might do 20 to 40 rides a day. And in some of the smaller markets that we continue to expand into that might be 10 rides a day."

True, the medium can support blanket advertising (best used in large markets like NYC), but it's especially well-suited to ad-targeting and ROI optimization. This in turn has a democratizing effect, allowing small and indie businesses to advertise efficiently across market types. "A rising tide will lift all boats," Gross said, pointing out that his company's app has grown 1000% in the past year alone.

A few factors contribute to the medium's growth. Starting with basics, Gross says geotargeting has been possible since the early days, like when the app senses an airport run and serves relevant ads. Later, the team figured out how to add interactivity like games and QR codes. Users can get content sent via text or even link targeted offers to the credit card used to pay for the ride. Offers can be served from a curated set of partners, with robust and growing analytics capabilities. Riders can carry their session with them after the ride using their personal device. Importantly, taxi ads are unskippable, which is increasingly valued in DOOH circles. Still, adding value is the key.

Provided by Curb.

"Whether (engagement happens) on their phone or on the screen in the vehicle is less important than (if) you're providing them with something interesting and valuable and perhaps unexpected," Gross said, echoing advice about creating "surprise and delight moments" in our interview with Scott Schoeneberger.

For this under-utilized medium, maturity will require collaboration between all stakeholders. "I think the platforms are still in their infancy, and there's not a great understanding of what they're capable of," he said. "But I would say to any advertiser, or any buyer in the community, take a cab! Check out what's going on…make sure you're experiencing these mediums for yourself. And I think there are a lot of ideas that you'll come upon if you spend a little bit of time interacting with the platforms."

Consumers increasingly value privacy alongside curated content, and Gross says opt-in is crucial so they know exactly what they are signing up for, which should be curated content that adds value. "I think that broad-based brand advertising is fantastic, especially about discovery and things like that, but people, within reason, would like to be served more relevant advertising, in addition to more relevant content, and I think that's the balance that everybody in the industry, in advertising writ large, is trying to find a happy medium on," Gross said.

Taxi drivers are central to a medium that helps build community in local markets. "They do this for a living, they're really a part of the fabric of the city...So there's that authenticity and we like to lean into that in terms of the marketing and content partners we work with," Gross said, including local small businesses and local influencers. "I think that there's a rich opportunity to build a very inclusive ecosystem around each market."

Provided by Curb.

Gross sees this work as a public good. "We actually integrate with the emergency departments. So, when there was a fire up in the Bronx and people needed to be relocated, the city was able to tap in Curb and send a fleet of taxis on demand to get people to safety," Gross said. His company also helped transport essential workers during the pandemic. "We see ourselves as responsible members of the wider communities in which we operate. The drivers feel really proud to come to the rescue and support their communities. And we want to give them the tools, we want to give advertisers the tools, and say, hey, we've built this awesome platform. What more can we do with it to help everybody?"

Gross explained his visible enthusiasm and passion simply.

"I've always loved two things. One is understanding what people want and helping to give it to them; and, two, being in an industry that is in a transformative state," he said. "So how can we provide better tools to everyone, and more options to everyone, and that's just a fascinating thing to wake up to every morning."

Provided by Curb.

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