How Firefly Is Trying to Make Its Drivers’ Car Roofs Into Advertising Real Estate

Its ad platform is debuting in San Francisco and Los Angeles Dec. 6

Firefly works directly with drivers, installing proprietary displays on top of their vehicles. Firefly

With its official emergence from beta Thursday, Firefly became the latest advertising and commerce platform to work with drivers for ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. But unlike some of the others, Firefly’s screen sits atop the car and targets passersby rather than being placed inside the car where only passengers can see it.

Firefly works directly with drivers, installing proprietary displays on top of their vehicles—the company refers to them as “situationally aware” digital smart screens—and turning their cars into geotargeted, programmable out-of-home advertising opportunities on wheels. Location determines the ads that are displayed so that the right people see the right messages.

The platform is debuting in San Francisco and Los Angeles with New York to follow soon.

There is no financial outlay by drivers, who initially agree to attach the displays to their cars for four months, after which the arrangement proceeds on a month-to-month basis. The displays remain affixed to the vehicles, so drivers who use their personal cars while ride-hailing cannot remove them when they’re not on the job.

The company’s beta test involved hundreds of cars with more than 110,000 hours driven, and the over 50 participating brands included Netflix, Salesforce, HotelTonight, DoorDash and Brex. Firefly said drivers in the test group generated an average of $300 per month in additional cash flow.

The company recently raised $21.5 million in seed funding, led by NFX, Pelion Venture Partners, Decent Capital and Jeffrey Housenbold of Softbank Vision Fund.

Firefly said a minimum of 10 percent of its ad inventory will go toward promoting local nonprofit organizations, public service announcements, charity advocacy groups and community organizations.

During its beta test, the company teamed up with the Coalition for Clean Air on a four-week campaign in support of California Clean Air Day that was geo-fenced in popular neighborhoods such as downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Hollywood. Firefly said the campaign generated more than 1,000 hours of exposure and some 2.9 million impressions.

Impressions were measured by combining Firefly’s telemetric data (latitude, longitude, timestamp) with third-party audience data—ZIP code and Census tracking data from sources such as Neustar, Claritas and Esry—to calculate the total number of impressions delivered based on hours driven in a specific geo-fenced area over a period of time.

In addition, Firefly pledged to allocate 10 percent of its unsold screen time to non-chain small businesses such as coffee shops, restaurants and stores.

Firefly is partnering with municipal governments, using the GPS sensors on its car-mounted devices to share traffic information with local transportation agencies so that they can make necessary adjustments. The company added that other sensors may soon be able to measure pollution levels, pavement condition and street lighting.

Firefly is also working with the Coalition for Clean Air to test sensors that monitor air quality.

Co-founder and CEO Kaan Gunay said in a statement announcing Firefly’s rollout, “Unlike many other startups, we started Firefly with a community-first mentality—we sought to have community baked into our product, ingrained in the DNA of our company, rather than tacked on as an afterthought. To do that, we’re working closely with stakeholders from all aspects of urban communities that drive value, wages and insights. With Firefly, we’re building a smart city network that works for the city to better the lives of all of the people that live and work within it.”

In-car commerce platform Cargo claimed its spot inside the cars of ride-hailing drivers earlier this year, teaming up with messaging application Snapchat and snack delivery service SnackNation in June to sell snacks and other retail products to riders via in-car boxes, which are unlocked using Snapcodes. Cargo also revealed last month that it teamed up with mobile payment service Venmo and that it was named the exclusive global provider of in-car commerce for Uber, although its offerings are available to drivers for other ride-hailing services. David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.