Advertising Isn’t Just About New Customers

Recently I’ve been surprised to see a bunch of billboards for ridesharing app Lyft popping up around Atlanta. The brand’s pink is unmistakable, and the messages are especially memorable for Atlantans. We spend a lot of their time in traffic or in search for parking, so “The better the event, the worse the parking” clicks with us.

As someone in the software/tech industry myself, I’ve been delighted to see Lyft showing up in something as mainstream as our highway billboards. And as a sometimes Lyft user, I almost get a feeling of pride from seeing this once-tiny, unknown, underestimated company in the spotlight.

It made me realize something: these ads aren’t just for new customers.

If you’re Lyft, ads like these give your earliest adopters energy and opportunities to evangelize your brand.

When a hardcore Lyfter is driving out to dinner with friends now, they can use the billboard as a conversation piece. They’ll pass by, notice it, and tell the story of that one time the Lyft driver in shining armor picked them up at 3 AM, or the time Lyft got them to the airport just in time for a flight.

Those stories, not cute ads with pithy copy, are what sell new customers on the concept of Lyft ridesharing.

This is true for a lot of ads. Ads (think Marlboro man, or Coke) give a product’s users a sense of shared identity, a feeling of being in the in-group. If your product really is good, good ads will make those users want to talk about your product to their friends.

There are some lessons we can draw from this.

  1. The cooler your ad, the better your evangelists are going to feel about talking you up. If Lyft ads weren’t witty and relevant to the experience of Atlanta drivers, they wouldn’t work to catalyze discussion.
  2. Your ad’s medium should also come out of left field. It shoudln’t be expected.The reason the Lyft ads are so effective is that people aren’t used to seeing software/app companies run billboard. Particularly ones which a few years ago were practically unknown. So if you want to energize evangelists for your product, the actual form of the advertising must also be unexpected and creative. For an established brand like Chik-fil-a, that might look like sponsoring an e-sports team.

Traditional ways of thinking about advertising probably put too much pressure on closing the sale. Ads were one-to-one, business-to-business or business-to-consumer. But what if we thought about ads as conversation-starters instead? Call it horizontal advertising.

I think you would see some interesting results.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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