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As Lyft builds its ad business, here’s why the ride share company views its offering as ‘digital retail’

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If you took a Lyft earlier this month, you might’ve seen a Trolls character rather than an animated car make its way to you on the app as you waited for your driver.

The Troll animation, a first for Lyft as it continues to grow its ad business since launching last year, is just one element of a larger advertising campaign in partnership with Universal Pictures with the ride-share company that includes wrapped cars, bikes stations and in-app ads to tout the November 17th release of Trolls Band Together. 

The Trolls campaign is emblematic of how the rideshare company is thinking about its advertising strategy and offering, according to Lyft chief business officer Zach Greenberger. “We’re serving digital advertising, digital rooftop ads, we wrapped cars, we did things at the movie premiere [on November 17],” said Greenberger, of the efforts beyond the in-app character icon animation and takeover. “It’s representative of how we’re thinking about our omnichannel solution as an opportunity to create very creative and engaging opportunities with clients.” 

Lyft believes its combination of in-app advertising, video ads, in-car tablets and roughly 800 digital rooftop screens on cars as well as out-of-home placements, will help differentiate its offering within the market. The company views its offering as “digital retail,” said Greenberger, adding that the combination of marketing assets was intentional to appeal to advertisers’ various needs whether that’s performance marketing or awareness. It’s unclear how much advertisers are spending with the company as it did not share exact figures.

While the company did share that Lyft’s media business revenue quadrupled from Q3 2023 compared to Q3 2022, it did not immediately respond to a request for figures to show what the business had quadrupled from or to.

So far, the company has worked with brands like Audible, BetMGM, Bilt, HubSpot, Universal Pictures and Verizon, among others. As it continues to scale the business, Lyft’s media team has added roughly 40 employees this year across product, engineering, data science, sales and marketing, according to the company. It’s unclear how many total team members Lyft has for its advertising business as the company did not immediately respond to a request for clarification. 

And as it continues to grow the business and ad and marketing capabilities, the company is leaning into its first-party data to appeal to advertisers. “We have a really unique set of first-party data, which is a general understanding of where you’re going,” said Greenberger. “That’s deliberate foot traffic vs. other first-party data sets that might just give you a small segmentation or subset of that.” 

Greenberger continued: “Today, we’re targeting based on payment method, ride history, ride area, geography, lifestyle segment, all of those things. Our goal is to expand how we think about that dataset so we can get smarter with targeting. What we’ve found is that by aggregating and anonymizing our first-party data, we have an organic differentiator which is knowing where you’re going and what the intent of that is.”

That’s likely to strike a chord with advertisers, according to Allen Adamson, brand consultant and co-founder of Metaforce. “So much of digital media is about selling a message that’s relevant right then,” said Adamson. “In the short-term, [a pitch of] ‘we know where our target is going’ is a strong selling point for them. They can play the relevance game.” 

“Longer-term, focusing on brand building with in-car screens will be important. It’s the ultimate captive audience and gives advertisers a unique opportunity to get a longer story about a brand across,” said Adamson.

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