Hundreds of NYC Taxis Are About to Go Programmatic Thanks to a Funding Boost From Google

Investment brings Firefly's total to more than $51 million

Firefly founders Kaan Gunay (l.) and Onur Kardesler's company emerged from stealth mode just a few months ago. Firefly

New York’s taxi-top ads have been in vogue since the 1970s. Now, Firefly wants to give them a tech-forward twist.

The company is mounting 300 of its programmatic screens atop the city’s taxis, ride-shares and delivery vehicles starting June 1. The move comes courtesy of a $30 million funding round announced today and led by GV, the venture-capital investment arm of Alphabet, which brings the company’s current funding to roughly $51.5 million. Firefly also said it’s acquiring the operations of NYC taxi toppers Strong Outdoor along with the latter’s contract with the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade (MTBOT). That move could allow Firefly to bring its programmatic tech to roughly 3,500 cabs across the city.

“We’re going to have more scale than anyone else,” said Firefly CEO Kaan Gunay, “and we’re doing it with this new ad format that can literally blanket entire cities in minutes.”

It’s another subtle shift on the part of Alphabet into New York’s digital-out-of-home, or DOOH, space, following the tech giant’s push for ad-funded LinkNYC kiosks via Intersection, the out-of-home advertising branch of the company.

Firefly emerged from stealth mode in late 2018 and has been driving taxi-driven digital ads across San Fransisco and Los Angeles. With its New York move, the company also will shift from direct campaigns to experimenting with programmatic buys within an invite-only private marketplace, courtesy of a partnership with Rubicon.

These programmatic pipes offer a certain amount of targeting, based on what the marketer on the other end is trying to achieve. Gunay said Firefly’s ad targeting is based on a “situationally aware” approach built around driver routes, area demographics and traffic patterns. He gave the example of an advertiser trying to target a person working in finance. We know that a lot of people like that live in midtown and commute along a particular route to their offices in lower Manhattan. In that case, an advertiser can toggle a Firefly display to show ads geared toward that particular demographic. Then, those same ads can be toggled to play on cars circulating around bars or coffeeshops the target demo is known to frequent.

Each ad flashes across a Firefly display for no more than eight seconds at a time, and though Gunay didn’t disclose pricing details, he previously confirmed that inventory was bought using a CPM model.

While Firefly doesn’t target its audience using the tried-and-true targeting of mobile device IDs surrounding a particular advertisement, the company does use those IDs to measure eventual conversion rates for consumers exposed to its ads. Based on that data, Firefly can rejigger a particular campaign to target particular neighborhoods that have a higher ROI and ensure the advertiser gets the most bang for its buck.

And, Gunay said, those advertisers aren’t the only ones making extra money. Ride-share drivers who have partnered with Firefly to pilot vehicles powered by its tech are paid $300 dollars per month. The company is currently ironing out details with the MTBOT to ensure those drivers get a fair cut as well.

“A lot of these drivers struggle to make ends meet, and innovations like Firefly can have a really meaningful impact on their lives,” Gunay said. “And back in California, we’re seeing drivers able to spend more time with their families, paying down their debts, sending their kids to better schools. … It’s just incredible to see.”


@swodinsky shoshana.wodinsky@adweek.com Shoshana Wodinsky is Adweek's platforms reporter, where she covers the financial and societal impacts of major social networks. She was previously a tech reporter for The Verge and NBC News.
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