FutureTool: Traffic Jam: Electronic Cab Ads to Clash in Boston

The ad niche of electronic displays on top of cabs isn’t exactly as crowded as Third Avenue at rush hour, but two companies are separately trying to bring pizzazz to this otherwise moribund ad form. Soon they’ll be fighting it out, not on the streets of New York, but on the slightly more civilized streets of Boston.

The competition comes as the two companies — New York–based Adapt Media and Cambridge, Mass.-based Vert — have spent much of the last year testing their technologies on their home turfs. Vert first tried out its system in January 2001 with first advertiser Lycos; Adapt concluded its test last June. Both companies combine wireless Internet and Global Positioning Systems to deliver more interesting, targeted messages than static cab-top ads could supply.

Adapt Media’s technology, called Ad|runner, displays a two-part image on a cab-top screen. An ad logo runs on the left of the screen and a text image on the right, which Adapt CEO Eyal Cohen describes as a "call to action" message. Clients have included ESPN, Time Warner Cable, MTV, and Random House.

The company is now planning to roll out to Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Boston, where it will go bumper-to-bumper with Vert in the third quarter.

Vert’s rollout has been more measured, and the company currently has plans to equip 25 cabs in Boston after reaching an agreement with the taxi commission there.

The key to both companies’ potential is the ability to target messages to different parts of the city and to change messages over the course of the day. For instance, for Time Warner Cable’s Road Runner, Adapt promoted the service’s accessibility on a street-by-street basis.

But interested media executives should note there are differences between Adapt and Vert. Adapt’s ads are static images, while Vert’s are full-motion. Sal D’Agostino, Vert’s vice president of sales and marketing, says Vert’s ads "make outdoor more attractive by taking TV-like content outdoors."

But Cohen doesn’t think that’s what people want. A full-length commercial is "redundant, distractive," he says.

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