Getting the greatest impact from SXSW advertising on pedicabs

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Many established or soon to be established companies want to noticed during SXSW.  Enlisting pedicab companies as advertising partners can be a high impact approach to directly marketing to potential clients, or making your brand or product more visible during South By.  Targeting potential clients can give key decision makers a visceral reaction or positive associations to your product or services.  Making as many as possible of those gut reactions say “I like these guys” takes fore thought and planning, and an understanding of the SXSW environment.

How much impact a advertiser wants to make, and to some extent how much risk they are willing to take will be key in their advertising approach.  There are few questions advertisers should ask themselves in approaching their branding campaign:

  1. Who is my target audience?
  2. How does the advertising medium of pedicabs fit within the SXSW landscape?
  3. Should my message stand out from all of the informational noise omnipresent during SXSW, or should it just be part of the background?
  4. What will appeal to my target audience?

1) Target Audience:

While SXSW, Music Film, and Interactive have a great deal of overlap in general location time and venues, they target different industries.  Which industry are you targeting? Are you going after specific segments of that industry?  Do you want film moguls to learn about you independent film?  Do you want music industry talent spotters to hear your music or watch your video?  Do you want computer programmers to adopt your toolkit?  Is your target market general, a very small set of people or an individual person?

2) Pedicabs and Pedicabbers as an advertising medium during SXSW: 

SXSW is a carnival of ideas.  Reaching decision makers with your message can be difficult.  Creating an impact on them is even harder.  When designing a pedicab advertising campaign, it helps to know some back ground.

During SXSW pedicabs are everywhere.  Currently there are approximately 300 pedicabs registered to operate in Austin.  There are approximately 21 pedicab companies.  In general pedicabs will be operating as early as 9 AM to as late as 4 AM, sometimes until sunrise, depending on the driver.  The most common hours of operation will be mid day to bar closing time.

While the Austin pedicab scene prides itself on its diversity of appearance and business models, there are certain commonalities.  Austin Pedicabs will contain a seating area for passengers on which advertising can be placed.  The seating area can be made up of fiberglass, or a metal framework with panels attached.  Ads can be placed inside or the outside of the pedicab.

Pedicab companies will often contract with printers to produce large format vinyl advertisements.  Most often these adds are applied directly to the outside of the fiberglass passenger carriages.  Sometimes the ads will go on a substrate which can be attached and removed from the pedicabs.  Pedicabs can be give a “full wrap” where the marketing message covers almost the entire fiberglass surface.  Depending on the size of the cab they will cover approximately 27 square feet of the pedicab.  Smaller rectangular panel ads can be produced to cover the major visible surfaces.  These panels can cover up to 14 square feet.  Some pedicab companies will use printed banners to attach to their pedicabs.

The interior of the pedicab has marketing potential also.  The city of Austin requires specific signage to display the rate of fare, the company name and phone number, etc.  This however leaves a large amount of unused space, especially if the pedicab has a passenger grab bar to which attach signage.  It is best to use this space to directly appeal to the passenger.

Some pedicabs are equipped with built in sound systems.  Some have canopies to provide sun shade, or rain protection.  Many pedicabs are owned by individual drivers and have been customized to be more visually striking, or provide a more comfortable or entertaining passenger experience.

In general pedicab drivers are young and fit.  Because Austin is the “Texas Mecca” filled with creative, young, active and highly educated people, this is reflected in the pedicab driving community.  Approximately 20% of pedicab drivers are female, 80% male.  Approximately 75% are under the age of 30. Approximately 40% are under the age of 24.  Most pedicabbers are whip smart and have been there and done that.  Pedicab drivers are there to make a buck, after a long, cold and poor winter.  Because SXSW takes place during spring break, the student portion of the pedicab driving population will be out in full force.

When self directed, pedicab drivers will look for densely populated areas where people have seen and done enough of what was in that location and are trying to get to their next destination.  The pedicabber’s target market wants to go some where too far to comfortably walk, but is close enough for a bicycle ride.  The ideal passenger wants to get to their destination quickly and has cash in their pocket or money on their credit card.

Pedicab drivers are paid to know the area they serve.  The better they know it, the more money they will make.  They are often able to give accurate and up to date directions.  They know where to take you to get a taxi.  They probably know where the big party is happening.

It is possible to place your message on pedicabbers directly.  Passengers spend a lot of time looking at he pedicab drivers back, butt and legs.  It is fairly common for pedicab drivers to wear branded t-shirts.  This can be an effective, low cost way to brand a highly visible area.  Peddicabbing is sweaty work.  Because of this, plain low quality, light colored or white cotton t-shirts can start to look soiled quickly.  In general a new t-shirt is required for each day of use.  Higher quality t-shirts in dark colors, or black such as American Apparel , or Alternative Apparel will stay good looking longer.  However branded, cycling specific sports wear, matched to the weather, will stay good looking longest, through out SXSW, are visually striking, and can have ads placed in highly visible areas, and will likely be worn by appreciative pedicabbers well past the end of the adverting campaign.  This can include cycling jerseys, spring weather cycling tights or shorts, or even one piece suits covered in branding information.  Custom made cycling caps are also a good way for a brand to be seen at a fairly low cost.

Knowing all of the above about pedicabs and their drivers, where and how the ads can be placed, how ads are manufactured, who pedicabbers are, what their motivations are, and how they tend to work can help an advertiser better design a strategy.  It should also be known that pedicabs are in the center of the activity in densely populated pedestrian environments.  Thousands of different groups are vying for the attention of SXSW conference attendees.  The mobility of pedicabs and the images on them will tend to grab the eye more than a stationary advertisement.  Further because of the financial motivations of pedicabbers, they will tend to move an advertisers billboard, their pedicab or their body to populated areas where potential passengers are located.

When passengers are in pedicabs, they tend to be there for 5 to 10 minutes, during which time an advertising message can be constantly displayed to them.  Because pedicabbers are highly dependent on tips for the amount of money they make, they tend to be friendly and informative, and are often looking for things to talk about with their passengers.  Often passengers will ask about the ads, how they work, how the pedicabber is doing and how he or she feels about the situation.  Static ads are often designed to speak for themselves, but can be designed to evoke conversation.  Visually striking and evocative, dynamic ads worn on the pedicabber become a natural topic of conversation.  Giving the pedicabber a positive experience through comfortable apparel is a great way to start a positive conversation with the passenger about the advertiser and their message.

3) How much should my message stand out during SXSW?

As mentioned above, SXSW is a visually busy place.   Ads are everywhere.  Mobile pedicabs advertisements are naturally going to stand out more than stationary ads.  If and how much the advertiser wants to stand out is important when designing an advertising strategy.

Because large or segment established companies already have brand recognition they are more able to stay in the cognitive background.  Their message or brand may just need to be visible, reminding passerbys that they are present and therefore relevant.  This can easily be done by placing full wrap or panel ads on a large number of pedicabs.  Smaller or emerging companies that have never been heard of may want to take a more dynamic or “Gorilla” approach to their marketing.  This approach will have to be more nuanced.

While a big blanket campaign can work well if you have a large budget, pedicabs can be used in specific and targeted ways.  In these targeted campaigns it may take more insider knowledge to direct the message effectively to a specific time and place.  The message in the case of pedicabs can become “We are here to serve you.”  By directing pedicabbers to behave in a specific way  or be located in a certain place or time that does not naturally fit with in their normal methods of operation, an advertiser can say to an under-served market or client “We recognize your needs, we know how you want to be treated.”  This of course requires that the pedicabber be told where to go may have to be paid to stay there, or continue to return there.

4) What will appeal to my target audience?

Pedicab branding is easy to do, can be broad based, or narrowly focused.  Most pedicab ad campaigns consist of  printed image ads on the pedicab or the apparel of the pedicab driver.  These ads move around and draw the eye.  The mobile ads are dynamic and vibrant in a visually saturated landscape.  A pedicab driver is there, and able to answer limited questions about an advertiser, and their product or service.  For many advertisers this is ideal.  It is a low risk approach to getting the message across.  However some messages or products are very specific or nuanced and are beyond the scope or understanding of a pedicab driver to be able to accurately convey.  The product being advertised may benefit most from a different form of presentation.

During SXSW the products being pitched are often music, films, computer games, software suites, business services, etc.  Displaying these in their original format to the target audience can be challenging.  With pedicabs it is possible to create a temporary or semi-permanent display to be viewed by a person seated inside the pedicab.  Grab rails are often present at the front of the passenger compartment.  They are either welded to the frame of the pedicab or attached to just below the seat of the pedicab driver.  They are front and center to the passenger  compartment.  An iPad like display can be attached to the grab rail to display the movie, music video, etc.  This could of course be augmented by speakers easily and often already installed in pedicabs.  Most pedicabs already have a 12 volt automotive style lighting system powered by a small lead acid battery.  Depending on the power consumption of the display and speakers,a larger battery can be installed in the pedicab’s storage compartment to power the presentation for a desired length of time.

Possibilities on the theme of mobile displays with built in seating are fairly limitless.  External marque lighting, loud sound systems, smoke machines, strobe lights, bubble blowers, external projectors, pole dancers, etc can all be powered by 12 volt batteries, power transformers, or small quiet generators.  Many pedicabs have already been customized in temporary or permanent  ways.  Because they are fairly large and light weight and designed to carry a large cargo load they can easily be added to to enhance advertising impact.

Beyond enhancements to pedicabs other stratagies can be used to more directly appeal to target markets.  For example small groups of pedicabs can be employed to give free rides at a specific location and time, or to certain people that provide credentials.  If preplanned and agreed to prior to the event, private on-call services can be arranged that will automatically page a few pedicab drivers.  The first to pick up will then respond to the request for service.  This is best done on a small scale with just a limited number of users.  This can be used as a way to provide special service to a select group of friends, colleagues or clients.  Pedicabs can be hired to provide transportation to party guests.  Free pedicab rides at a party or down town event are an easy way to give one on one service that reinforces a positive view of a company or group.

About the Author:

Ken Cameron is a co-owner with David Knipp of Movemint Bike Cab.  Movemint operates pedicabs in Austin, Arlington and Houston Texas.  We have a  fleet of 25 to 50 pedicabs in Austin depending on the season and the event.  We have 10 pedicabs in Arlinton, and up to 10 in Houston.

Ken and David also operate a large-format printing company that targets the pedicab market.  We have printed campaigns for Advertises such as Google, Capital One Bank, Hansen, Vitamin Water, Perry’s Steak House, Uber, Page.ly, and Neuro.  We are some of the large format pedicab printing specialists.  We are able to take last minute print jobs for large events.

Ken also operates a small metal fabrication shop specializing in manufacture of bicycle frames, and refurbishment and enhancement of pedicabs as well as the design and manufacture of pedicab accessories.

Ken Cameron can be reached via email:

ken at austinpedicab dot org

or via phone:

(512) five eight four – nine two three three