Like almost every industry, the rideshare economy suffered mightily in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Uber and Lyft saw ridership disappear at all hours when the world sheltered in place.

Rideshare has seen a strong recovery, however, and life after COVID will almost certainly incorporate rideshare into its mobility infrastructure. This represents a meaningful development for marketers seeking to reach the typical rideshare audience: somewhat affluent, 18-49-year-old, digitally native cord-cutters. Rideshare passengers are literal first movers—they are by definition in transit and not homebound, and they are more likely to try new businesses and products.

As a consequence, rideshare advertising presents a particularly strong promise for the quick-service restaurant sector. With the interactive possibilities available on screens placed in front of rideshare passengers, restaurant marketers have a new world of possibilities to explore as the economy recovers.

What’s Next for Rideshare Advertising?

After the initial shock of lockdowns in March, our company’s data showed that video sessions, engagement and rideshare drive times have all recovered dramatically over the past seven months. Though much uncertainty remains, businesses are reopening and the economy is finding a path forward. Moreover, rideshare is poised to steal market share in geographies that otherwise rely heavily on public transportation. Subways and buses are still risky in the age of COVID and rideshare is rightly seen by many as a safer alternative.

The Rideshare Environment

Much of the rideshare audience represents the on-the-go “cord-cutter” demographic that doesn’t watch live TV via traditional cable. Instead this audience opts for video-on-demand platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and the variety of new streaming services now hitting the market.

Marketers trying to reach this audience with premium video ad content are in for a challenge. Not only do many cord-cutters detest and eschew digital advertising clutter in their day-to-day lives, they often have phones at the ready to distract themselves at a moment’s notice.

The back of a rideshare vehicle represents a unique environment. The passenger is in a moment of transition, most likely stowing their phone to greet their driver and keeping their hands free to operate the doors and get situated. A screen placed at eye-level at this transitional moment represents a special opportunity for brands to connect with a receptive audience.

At our company, we produce interactive content like trivia, games and local information to engage passengers on our screens in rideshare vehicles, and we help advertisers leverage new capabilities unique to this moving environment.

Future Rideshare Advertising Capabilities

A future rideshare activity session might recommend restaurants and provide coupons to a rideshare passenger based on their destination and/or other data points linked to their identity. Imagine the ability to target a business traveler headed to the Marriott with an ad for Starbucks, which happens to be right next door. That kind of deterministic capability can make a huge difference in media efficiency for quick-service restaurant advertisers.

The day will likely come when all digital parts of the journey are unified. A passenger might summon a vehicle that knows his identity, see an ad in the back seat for a quick-service restaurant burrito chain that’s on the way to his destination, detour, drive-through and pay all without taking out his wallet or phone.

In an era of digital media saturation, the unique quick-service restaurant marketing capabilities of rideshare advertising stand out among a sea of digital solutions. Rideshare adoption and advertising are only growing in relevance, and savvy marketers would do well to pay attention to the possibilities.

Cherian Thomas is the CEO and founder of Octopus Interactive, a premium digital video advertising platform launched in 2018. The company places interactive screens, populated with original content, in the backs of thousands of Uber and Lyft vehicles across the United States and Canada. 

Marketing & Promotions, Outside Insights, Story