Why Zipcar Buried an Old Clunker Under a Trash-Filled Iceberg

A colorful reminder of how much parking sucks—unless, of course, you're a customer of the ride-sharing service

subcompact car buried under a 10-foot mountain of snow encrusted with trash
Spotted on Astor Place: this sorry-ass subcompact. Aren't you glad it's not yours? Zipcar

Key insights:

It takes a lot to turn the heads of New Yorkers, a population historically considered to be shockproof. But one sight that appeared in downtown Manhattan on Friday and Saturday did wind up drawing a glance or two. It was an abandoned subcompact car buried under a 10-foot mountain of snow encrusted with trash including a bicycle tire, sneakers and a discarded Christmas tree.

While such a sight is ordinary enough during a Big Apple winter, the city’s had no snow of late, a fact that marked this curious piece of urban detritus for what it was: marketing.

“We wanted to have some fun bringing the realities and hassles of car ownership to life."
Monica Ballin, director, brand and communications, Zipcar

Specifically, it was a statement from the folks at car-sharing company Zipcar, which dubbed the piece of art Carberg. Its message: Parking sucks in this town, so why not try a car-sharing service?

“Owning a car in the city is a real burden. This is magnified when you look at cities like New York, where congestion is high and parking is scarce and costly,” Zipcar’s director of brand and communications Monica Ballin told Adweek. “We wanted to have some fun bringing the realities and hassles of car ownership to life. There’s really no need to own a car in the city, and Zipcar offers an easier, more convenient option to car ownership.”

Carberg’s humor rests in the dark realization that, while this piece of guerrilla marketing is an obvious exaggeration, it’s actually not much of one. As any automobile owner in New York or any other northern city can attest, finding parking can be such a nightmare that those fortunate enough to secure a spot often leave their cars there for long stretches of time—long enough, even, for the car to disappear under a glacier of ice and accumulated trash.

For the sake of those New Yorkers who might not know firsthand just what a horror city parking can be, Zipcar commissioned a survey to accompany its installation. Its findings revealed—no shock here, folks—that the quest for parking spaces is among the most stressful and expensive aspects of life in the Big Apple.

Among the more illuminating tidbits: Brooklyn and Manhattan drivers spend an average of 21 minutes a day in search of a parking space, some New Yorkers pay upwards of $600 a month for parking and 9% of Gotham residents would actually give up sex if it meant not having to deal with parking problems.

Zipcar, which is owned by Avis Budget Group, rolled into New York in 2002, and in the 18 years since has expanded its fleet to 2,900 vehicles. The brand has become known for its clever marketing stunts, such as offering Pokemon Go players free rides just to get them off the sidewalks. It’s also played up the statistical relationship between parking and sex lives previously, too. In 2002, it ran an ad that asked: “350 hours/year having sex. 420 looking for parking. What’s wrong with this picture?”

Aside from the message it sends about the agonies of car ownership, Carberg, installed with a creative assist from DCX Growth Accelerator, can also be appreciated as a piece of street art. Zipcar’s team sourced the car from a local junkyard and was careful to strip away the grille medallion lest it look like a slight on a particular automotive brand. The junk stuck in the snow is actual New York City garbage, and the “snow” is really white foam.

And for those who bristle over the possibility that this bit of advertising will add to the city’s already considerable trash problem, relax: “After the activation,” Ballin said, “each prop will be repurposed or recycled in compliance with the New York State Disposal Standards.”

@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.