Here’s How Digital Advertisers Are Using Waze to Connect With People Behind the Wheel

Brands are betting on becoming more useful to drivers

Waze has voice integrations featuring the stars of movies like Cars 3.
Photo: Cars

Waze, the driving navigation app acquired by Google in 2013, pitches its ad products as being ideal for brands that want to act as a utility for drivers. Since launching the platform in 2012, Waze has worked with brands across a variety of industries—from Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s to Adidas and AT&T.

With an active user time per month of around 10 hours, the company sees itself as a way for brands to reach consumers when they’re not scrolling through Facebook and Snapchat.

“At the time [we launched], we were operating in a unique space, where location was a really big buzzword,” said Jordan Grossman, Waze’s head of brand partnerships. “And it still is now, but people have come to learn that location in an owned and operated environment is different.”

While Waze is able to measure interaction rates based on click-throughs, the company also offers “secondary clicks” such as saving places to visit later or real-time navigation. More recently, it also created a way of measuring how brands performed even if they weren’t clicked on.

This year and next year, Waze is looking at ways to become more complementary to traditional out-of-home advertising to see how its branded pins and sponsored takeovers might pair up to be more than just “digital billboards.”

Waze has different KPIs for its most ambitiously creative campaigns, such as voice integrations featuring the stars of movies like Cars 3, an ongoing campaign that allows drivers to get directions from the film’s star Owen Wilson. (According to Grossman, millions of Wazers switched their navigation to Arnold Schwarzenegger during a promotion for The Terminator.)

“It’s almost like the brand is riding shotgun and talking to you throughout your journey,” Grossman said.

Brands seem to be liking the results. SpotHero, a mobile app that helps drivers find parking and pay right from their smartphone, has run ads on Waze in several U.S. cities. In New York, the campaign saw a brand lift of 111 percent, while an initiative in San Francisco saw a 168 percent gain.

“It’s really the matchup of the audience,” said Kristen Cho, vp of marketing at SpotHero. “We are a daily commuting tool and we’re offering parking that a lot of commuters use, but with the Waze audience of people trying to find the best routes, SpotHero users are trying to find the best parking experience.”

Zero-speed takeovers

When a driver is stopped for at least three seconds, Waze can show high-impact ads, which are more visually compelling and provide more information and promotions about the marketer. However, in the name of brand safety,  ads collapse once a car is back in motion.

Branded pins

Brands can sponsor locations on a user’s Waze map, with calls to action including rerouting to the destination, saving a place for later or a link to more information about a location. (In a way, these are like “digital billboards” within the app.) Pins don’t show up unless users are nearby.

Voice integrations

While branded pins and takeovers offer direct-response-style ads, entertainment brands with big budgets have taken advantage of sponsoring voices to promote upcoming movies and TV shows. Voice integrations let users select a celebrity’s voice to replace Waze’s standard one. Studios can then geofence locations to feature calls to action for nearby theaters.

Sponsored search

Brands advertising via sponsored search will be able to buy ads at the top of search results within Waze. And because users can add their “home” and “work” locations, brands can know when in the day the ads might make most sense, like Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to work or Home Depot on the way home.

This story first appeared in the June 26, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.