Home Advertiser Lyft Backs ‘High-Profile Moments With Hard-Working Impressions’

Lyft Backs ‘High-Profile Moments With Hard-Working Impressions’


McMillinOn the heels of Lyft’s first national TV spot that aired this spring, the ride-sharing app’s advertising efforts are still in overdrive.

As a challenger to Uber, Lyft seeks to convert willing drivers and passengers in less-penetrated markets for the brand, such as New York, by combining big brand activations (TV and out-of-home) with smaller digital pushes.

“We’re a young company that’s growing really fast, and with everything we’re doing, we try to get the best bang for our buck,” said Jesse McMillin, creative director for Lyft and the former creative head of Virgin America, where he helped brand the purple mood lighting and irreverent in-flight safety videos that popularized the young airline.

Lyft’s TV ad aired throughout the NBA playoffs, but the brand added incremental value by tapping NBA star Shaquille O’Neal for its “Undercover Lyft” video series, in which a celebrity driver disguised as a Lyft driver surprises unsuspecting fans. The video drove 2.5 million views on YouTube alone.

Video ensures “we balance high-profile moments with enough hard-working impressions across the board,” McMillin said. “That makes the [big TV] buy meaningful for the investment we’ve made. That is purposeful.”

McMillin spoke with AdExchanger about the changing relationship between agencies and brands, and the impact of the platformization of content on the creative process.

AdExchanger: What does data mean to a creative director these days?

JESSE MCMILLIN: The world in many ways revolves around data and information. Data for me, personally, can never replace the huge opportunity that creative and people and the unexpected can bring to you.

You can plot out an algorithm and it will give you something that you had [a gut hunch] about, but that huge shift that rewrites all the rule books? You can’t run that through a machine and expect to get it out on the other side. Look what happened in the political landscape – no one saw that one coming. Using data helps you inform the starting point, but if you only rely on data, you miss the human element that you can’t necessarily plan for. 

Why traditional TV?

Having worked in the communications world for over a decade, obviously, the landscape is changing, but broadcast is still very relevant. Not just traditional broadcast, but any form of broadcasted content, including streaming platforms and mobile devices or repurposing video content into smaller bites for paid advertising.


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Broadcast TV is still a way to make a big, bold move. No one in the ride-sharing category had done anything like it yet, so it was an area we could get out first but continue to push the message in other channels that we’re the irreverent, fun, storytelling option in the space.

4_iphone_confirmHow do platforms like Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram change the creative production process?

In the past, you might have done all this work for a big TV shoot and come out with only a 60-second piece. But now, at every stage of the shoot from initial inception to the execution, you think about how you can [cut down] a shoot in a particular way.

With this particular TV shoot, we had 60-second, 30-second and independent 15-second cut-downs we can use in all different ways. You do have to think channel-specific because the audience expects different content on Facebook and Instagram. You have to go into the creation process with that distinctly in mind.

How does that alter the way you work with agencies?

There’s more opportunity to create content, and it’s a chance for brands to have an ongoing project in the fire, so to speak. We’re not only working with a partner creative agency to do some of the big stuff, like our TV spot and out-of-home work. We also have an internal team that’s nimble [enough to] create a lot of other types of content, like our Undercover Lyft videos.

There is such a need to be current. The audience wants to see new stuff every week or month. You don’t do one thing and run it for two years. If you’re not current, people’s attention moves on to something else.

How big is your internal “agency?”

Our internal team is 30 right now, and it encompasses traditional marketing, design, copywriting, art direction, some video and motion graphics capabilities. It would be comparable to a small creative studio or agency that allows us to support the wide range of projects and asks the overall company has, [including] operations and government relations.

Last Halloween, for example, we created a zombie mode in the app where we partnered with [AMC’s] “The Walking Dead” where you could use that option to have a professionally done-up zombie brought to your location in a Lyft.

glowstacheWhat was the redemption rate?

It was one of the biggest days for Lyft, [and yielded] tons of media impressions. It was pretty crazy, and it was baked and executed by our internal group. I like to have a wide range of options from traditional AOR to a robust team internally, or we might have specialist partners that help with something smaller, like our Glowstache – that’s a brand ID and experience piece.

How do you balance branding with performance?

When you get into apples to apples with other transportation options [like Uber], people often make a decision based on their emotional connection to you and not pure functional benefit. It’s about making sure we establish the identity of the brand even before we get into the tactical aspect, which is harder to replicate.

That said, we realize an out-of-home activation may not be the best way to talk to a driver, so we have a very active and open direct channel with our drivers [where we might use] mobile or digital ads [versus using only] big broad awareness tools. The big awareness campaigns aren’t always the most intuitive – they’re meant to be digested quickly and to give you a feeling versus serving you something where you go and take an action.

Interview edited for clarity and length.

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