Lyft Hopes to Accelerate With First Integrated Ad Campaign

Ride-sharing mobile app targets two western cities

For the next three months, Lyft will run digital and out-of-home advertising in hopes of capturing a greater foothold in San Diego and Denver. It's the brand's first campaign that combines online and offline, and it's the latest move by a ride-sharing company in what's turning into the tech battle of the summer.

"We are trying to get more drivers and more passengers into our network," said Lyft creative director Jesse McMillin, who was recently poached from Virgin America. "We are going to be bringing a lot of interesting stuff."

The San Francisco-based company, which offers an alternative to hailing a taxi with its mobile app, worked with SF Collective on the initiative that's dubbed "More Than A Ride." Locally targeted digital promos will run via publishers Eater, Spotify, Vice, Thrillist and Huffington Post, as well as on city weeklies the San Diego Reader and Denver Westword. People who click through the ads will see call-to-action copy that's focused on how to download the mobile app.

Creatively, the ads feature six of Lyft's real-life drivers, standing next to their cars in photos while highlighting what they do when they aren't giving passengers a ride. The examples include a firefighter, an Olympic gold medalist swimmer, a country music singer, a pastry chef, an urban gardener and a physicist. The campaign's message is simple: Don't you want to ride with these fascinating folks instead regular old yellow-cab drivers?

The country singer is from Denver, McMillin said. "She's a young, budding artist," he added. "And Lyft is a way of accenting what she does in the community, while powering her ambitions. That's the thing about Lyft: We are creating ways of connecting with people."

The outdoor activation includes various street side billboards and ads appearing on buses and downtown trolleys. In addition, the effort targets area baseball fans, as Petco Park (San Diego Padres) and Coors Field (Colorado Rockies) patrons will discover Lyft kiosks in the stadiums as well as branded swag underneath their seats.

Pilot Effort Could Help Shift Speeds

Two-year-old Lyft operates in 60 U.S. cities, and McMillin said the local campaign's results would likely be used to guide multichannel efforts in other markets down the road. Damon Ragusa, CEO of software marketer ThinkVine, suggested that the startup's incremental approach to creating a bigger coast-to-coast brand was wise. 

"It's really expensive to launch a national campaign to drive awareness," he explained. "Lyft's strategy may be prudent to focus on two markets to generate buzz—especially two destination markets that will give them reach beyond just those markets."

Ragusa added, "The big risk is that a modest spend in digital and outdoor may not be enough to make them stand out against a more recognized competitor."

Ride-Share Brands Look to Engage on Multiple Fronts

Indeed, Lyft is in the middle of a crowded struggle to stake a major claim in the nascent digital taxi-alternative landscape, competing with Uber, GetTaxi, Sidecar and Hailo. All of the brands potentially face regulatory challenges from city governments nationwide as well as political push-back from long-established yellow cab companies. Earlier this week, Uber made a "wow hire" when it brought on former Obama key advisor David Plouffe as as svp of policy and strategy to help with such fights.

Meanwhile, Adweek recently spotted third-party marketing appearing via Uber, possibly creating another revenue stream. (The promos were likely tests on the API that Uber unveiled yesterday.) Is Lyft going to take the same route? It sounds that way.

"There's an opportunity there for so many interesting strategic partnerships," McMillin said, "[and] to align ourselves with other like-minded brands."