By Clark Turner
Ever caught a black taxi in London only to end up with a cabbie talking with enthusiasm about his latest holiday destination?
Or what about a driver who has recommended an online poker site?
Welcome to one of the latest forms of buzz marketing – the London Taxi ‘Word of Mouth Ambassadors’ programme.
The scheme evolved after drivers expressed an interest to get involved in campaigns and projects beyond driving passengers from A to B.
One of the leaders in the field is Taxi Promotions, which has a 25 per cent market share of the 23,316 licenced cabs in London, equating to a share of voice of 12,000.
“The average London cab driver is working for an average of eight to 10 hours a day and that involves a lot of thinking time,” explained company Managing Director, Asher Moses.
“What a lot of people don’t realise is that many have a history and were working in the city, in finance or were firemen or in PR before deciding to learn The Knowledge and become cab drivers.”
He added, “These are cabbies who want to do more than simply drive, getting involved in campaigns and campaign work. By focusing on their individual skills were in a great position to help brands.”
The company’s main business is concerned with branding up liveried cabs but the Word of Mouth Ambassadors’ programme can be used to add extra weighting to campaigns – particularly for travel destinations and tourist boards.
The way it works is this. A number of London cabbies will be selected to go on an orientation trip and will be shown the best aspects that the destination has to offer by the local tourist board.
It’s hoped that when they return back to the UK and are on a job, they will then promote it to their passengers when an appropriate opportunity arises.
“When customers enter a cab, they’ll either say nothing or may mention the terrible British weather, which is the perfect prompt for our drivers to then talk about their recent trip,” said Moses.
“There are restrictions though. The Public Carriage Office rules that we can’t bombard passengers with advertising but it can still be broached in a subtle way.”
The average cab journey time in London is 16-minutes and, with an average of 1.65 passengers per journey, you’ve got a basic one-to-one with a predominately ABC1 audience.
Destination tourist boards that have signed up to the programme to date include Thailand, Las Vegas, Memphis in Tennessee and the Florida Keys. It was also used to help promote the launch of the Commonwealth Games in 2006.
Moses explained, ”The London cabbie is seen as a trusted icon, well known for having his own opinion, and the cab is seen as a comfortable and safe environment making it an ideal place to convey brand messages.
He added, “All drivers can do is communicate their experiences – good or bad. It’s up to brands and tourist boards to ensure they have the best time possible if they want a positive message communicated.”
The scheme is not simply limited to travel brands. It has also been used by entertainment products including the 888.com poker site.
According to Moses there are also opportunities for airlines to looking to promote services to a targeted AB audience. Or luxury fragrance brands who can create talkability by scenting a cab – and driver.
To qualify for the scheme cabbies must be owner-drivers willing to participate, look smart and have a well presented well cab.
Measuring the quantifiable impact of campaigns is more difficult than some other platforms. But Moses puts it like this. He claims the average person has 24 opportunities to chat per day, but a cabbie has 35 – almost one-third more.
If one cabbie acts as a word of mouth brand ambassador to 35 people, who then pass on brand messages to 25 more in a day, and then those 25 talk to 25 more, the mathematics begin to add up.
With campaigns to date in London and Manchester, there seems little reason why a scheme like this couldn’t be rolled out to other major cities in the UK such as Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle or Edinburgh.
Next time you catch a cab and your driver strikes up an apparently innocent conversation beware, all may not be as it seems.
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