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Inside T-Mobile’s Plan To Rideshare Its Way Into Ad Budgets

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Cherian Thomas, head of marketing and go-to-market, T-Mobile Advertising Solution

Have you ever stepped into a taxi and suddenly you’re faced with Jimmy Fallon clips and random ads blaring from a tablet mounted to the back of the passenger seat?

The first thing I do is tap the mute button and settle in with my phone to check email for the duration of the ride.

But rideshare marketing is – or at least should be – more than just slapping a screen in the back of a car and running ads, says Cherian Thomas, head of marketing and go-to-market for T-Mobile Advertising Solutions, on this week’s episode of AdExchanger Talks.

The traditional experience that you see in a New York taxi served as a model for what not to do, says Thomas, who joined T-Mobile in January after the carrier acquired his rideshare advertising startup, Octopus Interactive.

T-Mobile, which now claims to reach more around 15 million riders per month through rideshare advertising, is going for what Thomas calls “a lean-in experience versus a lean-back experience.” Branded games with prizes and interactive content lead, rather than autoplay videos.

Games like trivia or photo hunt are a hook to grab a rider’s attention. Once a brand has it, there’s an opportunity to intersperse the content with an ad or a QR code to scan.

Still, getting people to put down their phones during a brief car ride isn’t an easy task. (The average ride time in a rideshare is between 13 and a half and 15 minutes.)

To lure people in, a trivia game might start out easy (“How many sides does an octagon have?”) and get progressively more difficult (“What’s the name of the butler on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?”). But because riders know they can win money, Thomas says, they’re more likely to stick around.

For those that prefer following games to playing them, T-Mobile also has a new API so riders can check live scores for NFL games.

Content can also be targeted contextually based on a vehicle’s precise location, like when a car is entering an airport or driving through New York City’s financial district.

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“We’re constantly doing things to encourage engagement,” Thomas says.

Also in this episode: What’s different about T-Mobile’s zig into ad tech when other carriers have been zagging away, fun facts about octopuses (they have three hearts!), post-pandemic rideshare behavior and how Thomas gets to the office from his home in Bethesda, Maryland. (Hint: It’s not in a rideshare car.)

For more articles featuring Cherian Thomas, click here.

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