Verizon Offers 99 Cent NYC Cab Rides

NEW YORK A typical cab ride in New York City can cost between $10 and $20 — or more — depending on traffic and destination.

But tomorrow, for one day only, Verizon is sponsoring 99-cent cab rides that start from select locations (with Verizon-branded taxis) for destinations anywhere in Manhattan.

In two weeks, the phone giant will bring New Yorkers a steeply discounted summer treat: Mr. Softee Ice Cream (from vendor trucks at select points in the city) for 99 cents.

The sharply reduced cab fares and ice cream are part of a guerilla marketing effort by the wireless phone carrier, developed by Interpublic Group’s McCann Erickson and sister media shop Universal McCann. The goal is to tout a Verizon business segment that has low consumer awareness: prepaid cellular plans. As you might guess, the pre-paid plan’s daily usage fee is 99 cents.

According to Natan Cohen, a UM media planner on the account, research has shown “consumers think of Verizon as more of a contract carrier and not a pre-pay carrier,” even though the company has had prepaid plans for years.

That’s a problem, particularly in the recession, as more people reevaluate their options and consider whether they can get along with a prepaid plan, which are almost always cheaper than full-service contracts, said Cohen. By raising awareness of the client’s prepaid options, he said, Verizon wants to “make sure its customers realize they don’t have to sacrifice the network,” while cutting back on more expensive wireless features. The guerilla tactics, he said, are a means of “connecting deeper to show the value you can get for 99 cents.”

For tomorrow’s event, Verizon will use a fleet of 40 cabs to shuttle people from key transit hubs including Penn and Grand Central Stations to their Manhattan destinations in the morning — and from key various points back to the transit terminals during the evening rush. So-called “brand ambassadors” at each locale will help manage the flow of cab riders and collect the fares.

The ice cream promo, set for June 23, will feature four Verizon Wireless-wrapped trucks at high-traffic locations in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens during the lunch hour. Branded napkins with additional prepaid details will be dispensed with the treats.

The cab and ice-cream tactics are supporting a broader New York-area campaign dominated by print and out-of-home advertising including subway, bus and bus shelter ads, along with wild postings and digital signage. The special events also will be promoted in radio and newspaper ads. The company kicked off a national TV campaign for its prepaid plans on May 26. The branding theme for the entire campaign is “99 cents does more.”

Steve Ohler, group creative director at McCann in New York, said the campaign theme was derived from the fact that with the Verizon prepaid plan “you only have to pay for the days you actually use your phone and all your calls to any of the 80 million other Verizon customers are free. That’s why 99 cents does more. I think we were able to find some fun ways to bring that value to life for our fellow New Yorkers.”

According to Cohen, the client views the taxi and ice cream stunts as a “pilot program” that could lead to additional events in New York and other cities after it reviews the results. “Everybody is feeling the squeeze” of the recession, said Cohen, adding that the campaign’s success will be based on sales. “We expect to move the needle in New York,” he said.