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Zipcar Is Not Keen On Black Boxes

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ZipcarAccordantIt’s been about three years since Zipcar left its digital ad agency in the rearview mirror, and the brand hasn’t looked back.

The car-sharing company shifted all of its online ad buying to programmatic channels, turning to Accordant Media, whose stack includes a demand-side platform, an audience-buying platform, analytics, cross-channel attribution and a dynamic creative module.

“Before, we were working with a traditional agency and it really was a black box,” said Andrew Daley, VP of marketing and member acquisition at Zipcar, speaking at AdExchanger’s Programmatic I/O show in New York City on Thursday. “We saw the output, but we didn’t know the ‘why’ behind it – the cost, the pricing, the fees, the margins.”

Zipcar was far from impressed with that lack of transparency, and programmatic, nascent three years ago, seemed like a viable alternative.

“We started thinking [about] how do we take [this] in-house so we have more control,” Daley said.

But as Daley and his team started researching options, one thing became clear: Placing tags, handling quality assurance testing, constantly turning knobs and dials and managing an internal enterprise system did not appeal.

“[We could have] probably cobbled together some kind of ad tech stack ourselves – I actually got pressure to do that – but take one look at the LUMAscape and you start to cry,” Daley said. “We didn’t want to go there.”

Which is why Zipcar decided to tap an outside player to tackle the back end, preferring to spend its time focusing on what Daley called “the good stuff” – strategy rather than ad ops.

Although some might refer to the Zipcar/Accordant relationship as more of a managed-service arrangement rather than straight-up in-house programmatic – which arguably requires brand hands on keyboards – what is clear is that Zipcar was not satisfied with the agency status quo.

It boiled down to the desire for greater control, enhanced efficiency and actionable insights. Daley was looking for more than a peek behind the curtain; he wanted to do away with the curtain altogether.

“What’s happening behind the scenes? What are the inventory sources? We want to have some way and ability to work collaboratively and be part of the discussion,” Daley said.

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One of the main things Zipcar wanted to tackle was data – namely, data activation. Although Zipcar had what Accordant CEO and co-founder Art Muldoon called a “rich treasure trove of data” – everything from CRM data to customer service data – it existed in disparate legacy systems, making it hard to activate.

Accordant helped Zipcar get a handle on its first-party data, organizing it into discrete customer profiles. From there, additional behavioral data, both second- and third-party, were layered into the mix to run prospecting campaigns across Zipcar’s 25 US markets.

And throughout the process, Zipcar and Accordant continue to work hand in glove.

“There is a lot of disconnect in programmatic around the use of algorithms – it can be a black box,” said Muldoon. “In the spirit of transparency, we really work hard to help clients understand the signals behind the noise.”

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