A Growing Zipcar Contacts Creative Shops

Company dangles global assignment

How does a niche brand with big aspirations attract a global agency?

Such is the high hurdle before Zipcar, a largely domestic car sharing service that, through acquisitions, has expanded its footprint into the U.K. and Spain, but still relies mainly on small U.S. shops for marketing. Zipcar’s current lead creative agency, for example, is Full Contact Advertising in Boston.

Now, Zipcar is contacting larger shops with the offer of a global creative assignment. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company’s creative search is believed to be in its early stages. Among the executives involved are chief marketing officer Rob Weisberg and Stephanie Shore, vp of marketing.

“They have tremendous growth plans to expand internationally," which is why Zipcar is contacting agencies, said a source.

Shore referred questions to a Zipcar representative who acknowledged the review but declined to discuss the process.

Past U.S. advertising for Zipcar, which launched in 2000, has been limited to digital ads and transit posters in the cities that it operates. The shoestring approach is reflected in the brand’s media spending, which has remained well below $1 million in each of the past four years. Last year’s total—not including online spending—was just $396,000, according to Nielsen.

To generate interest among global shops, Zipcar will likely have to increase its marketing outlay. The company is still relatively small, though, and losing money. Last year, Zipcar recorded a net loss of $7.1 million, though total revenue grew 30 percent to nearly $242 million.

Despite Zipcar's limitations, some agencies will embrace the potential of a cool brand that appeals to urbanites—and particularly college students—who see cars as an expense and would rather pay as they go. It's an interesting strategic challenge, even if it doesn't pay much.