Mobile Marketing

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The original Oscar Mayer Weinermobile was constructed in 1936 at a whopping cost of $5 000.

Some seven revisions later the Weinermobile program stands at eight modern vehicles driven by a full-time team of Hot Doggers. The industry meanwhile has also evolved. Mobile marketing began to hit the mainstream in 1999 as a direct result of two new brand needs: One a need to bypass traditional marketing channels which were getting too cluttered for comfort. And two a need to strike deeper relationships with consumers wherever they are.

As the American population gets busier they’re rarely in one place for very long and always on the go. A mobile marketing campaign can be taken to the consumer wherever they work live or play. It can be highly targeted educating and entertaining. It can be as small as a tiny Volkswagen Beetle emblazoned with the logo sitting on Chicago Navy’s Pier or as massive as the connecting 18-wheel tractor-trailers Microsoft Corp. sends around the nation for its Xbox gaming console. It can be a one-day tour around a small city or an 18-month stretch covering 150 markets.

Regardless of the size of the vehicle and the length and location of where it travels mobile marketing campaigns share several key elements: They use customized vehicles or a traveling campaign as the anchor of the program. They leverage entertaining and educating content. They set up on street corners and at events or retail stores. They are usually managed by a small full-time traveling staff that is supported at events by field staffers hired in each market. They usually target a specific consumer. And lastly mobile marketing campaigns are used to create “experiences ” connections between brand and consumer no other form of marketing can foster.


Different objectives power different mobile marketing programs. Some are out for brand awareness others for generating product/service trial or sales. Some look to capitalize on an account-specific relationship via retail visits others with product demonstrations or a sponsorship activation.

As always defining the objective should be the first step. From there the program can be developed to best achieve the goal.


The vehicles range from tiny to massive.

The 18-Wheeler: The 18-wheel tractor-trailers get much of the industry’s attention with their hydraulic presses and enormous interactive elements. They’re big enough to house any kind of experience and through shear size command attention wherever they go.

The 32-ton tractor-trailers (the tractor and the trailer are each purchased separately) can be ordered in their traditional form or customized for bigger bang at events. For example an “expander” section can be added to one or both side of the rig. When activated a seven-by-20-foot room expands out of the sides. A “double decker” option can also be installed which gives the truck an entire second floor. The basic trailer runs about $150 000. Add $250 000 for an expandable room $350 000 for a pair of expanders and a whopping $500 000 for that second floor. The cab will run you about $100 000.

The rest of the fleet: But big rigs are expensive and they aren’t the most nimble things for getting in and out of big cities and tight spaces. They also take three to six hours to set up and breakdown. For more flexible street monsters consider customized buses RVs and gooseneck trailers. They can hit many events in a day and take just minutes to set up.


The overall design of the unit should mirror other marketing programs. The campaign should fit with the rest of the marketing mix not clash with it. Smaller vehicles usually invest in the design of the outside over the inside—larger trucks go the opposite way.

Exterior: Can be punched up with florescent paints and customized with moldings manufactured with foam fiberglass and polyurethane. Neon lights can be installed under the chassis to add some effects at night. Exterior costs start at $3 000 for small cars and run up to $40 000 for the big trucks.

Tip: Add as much fiberglass or moldings as you like but don’t infringe on performance or security. Keep moldings from blocking air intake or making blind spots even blinder. Don’t block directional signals or mirror views.

Interior: Interiors of mobile rigs are getting more complex all the time. Many have museum-type exhibits inside others have fun activities and shows. Plasma screens big-screen televisions surround sound kiosks satellite programming HDTV and computers are now common. Web cams are being connected to on-site servers to give clients real-time access to the campaigns road tour. Costs for the interior set-up range between $75 to $300 per square foot.

Tip #1: Install the right generator (cost runs around $15 000) to power the interior’s activities. Remember to network the computers and have backup equipment should a problem occur. Tip #2: When designing the interior give careful consideration to the order of the elements. Think about what sight and sound will greet people engage them inform them. Then take them through the immersion in a logical and uncluttered way.


Costs range from $25 000 for a customized car up to $500 000 for the 18-wheelers (equipment only). Work up the estimate for additional costs and then divide by the total number of consumers you hope to reach for a cost-per-exposure “guestimate” to work with as the mobile program’s development progresses.

Whatever the vehicle marketers are faced with the choice of leasing or purchasing outright. Purchasing the equipment works for brands instituting long-term mobile programs or a full-time commitment to mobile marketing as a permanent tool within the marketing arsenal (or a money-is-no-object budget). Leasing on the other hand works for a mobile marketing test or for smaller programs. Leasing also helps maintain the budget parameters.

Regardless of which way you choose consider a previously used vehicle which can save some 40 percent of costs. Used vehicles are rewrapped graphically and gutted internally—nobody will know the truck isn’t new (except you). Lastly take the lease or purchase contract seriously. Check the terms of the deal and add an escape clause that will allow the brand to dump the truck for a lump payout should the strategy change the budget slim down the ceo get replaced or the pink slips get handed out.


You may be spending $1 million for the mobile tour but it will come down to the faces that make the brand connection to actually make a connection. The wrong impression can last even longer than the right one.

While the amount of training should be ultimately proportional to the staff’s involvement and length of tenure in an experiential effort every field employee should be fully versed in five things:

Brand: Describe the brand its target and its history. Summarize any corporate initiative recent media coverage and strengths (even weaknesses).

Program: Break it down for them. Give them the who what where when why and how—and tell them what their role will be. Discuss supporting elements they may not have a part in and explain the operations and logistics network powering the effort.

Product: Don’t just give the staff a sample to hold for a few minutes. Give them time to explore the product on their own time. Explain how it works why it works that way what its attributes are. If the event will emphasize a service explain the offering and the consumer’s need for it.

Answers: Have the staff ready for the questions every consumer will ask them including those that only a few will care about. They should never fake an answer but be fully aware of how to defer the consumer to a corporate customer-service hotline or Web site for more information.

Rules: Just be blunt. Tell them how they are expected to act; review what can get them fired and go over policies regarding behavior and attendance. Leave plenty of time to ask questions.

Note: When crunching numbers figure it will run between $4 000 to $7 000 per week to finance the staff (including the drivers).


When choosing the event look for five things.

Location: Look for events that fit within the targeted operating region events that prove geographic fits with a marketing campaign or effort and events that are near top markets or client locales.

Destination: Seek out events that prove unique or large in scale.

Traffic: Run the numbers. If overall traffic is a priority find the big events. If targeted traffic is the top dog then find events that serve up large numbers of a niche target.

Audience: Demand a demographic breakdown from the event (if possible) to make sure the right customer will be there. Or do a little research into the types of people that frequent a street locale or event or establishment.

Sponsors: Look for events where you won’t bump into your competitors. Try to work clauses into contracts or find uncluttered channels to promote in.

Physical Elements: Check dimensions and sizes. Will that 18-wheeler really fit into that Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot? (We didn’t think so.)


Several data points should be captured along the campaign:

Awareness: On-site surveys post-event Internet polls and communications and phone interviews can help.

Traffic and Handouts: Mesh traffic figures with an hourly log sheet to see what times of the day or night produce a spike. Record the flow of samples or premiums distributed against a similar time log.

Media: Impressions (eyeballs) media value (cost if media had been purchased) and journalist story count (how many hits) or column inches can all be counted but they should be evaluated individually and with a grain of salt.

Sales: Get account-specific partners to play ball and hand over the point-of-sale data. Match it against the dates and times of the nearby event and look for a bump.


With the help of Winston-Salem NC-based Spevco here’s an easy timeline for putting together a mobile marketing program.

Seven Months Out: Concept Development: Understand overall marketing plan develop interactive and mobile elements.

Six Months Out: Mobile/promotional elements: Design engineering brand approval.

Five Months Out: Mobile elements: Manufacture (if a new build is involved) execute and approve.

Four Months Out: Tour planning: Destinations site selections logistics permits technical manual.

Two Months Out: Tour staffing.

One Month Out: Tour implementation meeting.


Make sure the agency is DOT compliant meaning they follow Department of Transportation federal regulations pertaining to commercial vehicles on the road. Per the DOT rulebook operators of mobile marketing vehicles can drive only 10 hours before a mandatory eight-hour break. Each driver can remain “on duty” for 15-hour clips meaning they can drive for 10 hours then help set up for five hours before a break.

Mobile agencies can bypass DOT rules by staffing rigs with two drivers. In a team situation each switches off commanding the vehicle for five hours then resting for four. While the two-man team helps the vehicle stay on the road it costs twice as much. Regardless the DOT maintains that any operator can drive only 70 hours total over any eight-day period.

Agencies must keep accurate driving trip sheets and log books in case the DOT calls for an audit (there are roughly 16 000 performed annually says DOT spokesperson David Longo). Mobile marketing companies must also report all accidents and road problems to the federal authority.

An easy method for checking on past audits investigations and accidents is by asking for an agency’s assigned U.S. DOT number then entering the digits on The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration site will spit back (free of charge) a carrier snapshot a concise electronic record of a carrier’s identification size and safety record—including safety rating roadside out-of-service inspection summary and crash information.


A taste of mobile marketing:


Out to get pink-slipped consumers online and looking for jobs sent a fleet of tricked-out cars to events and street corners around the nation. The cars morphed to resemble the company’s snaggletoothed mascot set up at events with live feeds to the Internet and job searching tips.

Snapple took a tricked out van to summer venues with sips and samples. The Dye Hard tour invited consumers to try the drinks and get their hair dyed (or shaved). (Agency: Deutch.)


The infamous Hershey’s Kissmobile has almost transcended the original idea of a pair of simple mobile chocolates that cruise events. The vehicles head through more than 500 events a year and generate hundreds of millions of impressions. A cause component benefits children’s charities. (Agency: Marketing Werks.)

SeaWorld Orlando got the word out about Shamu and the rest of the park with a small fleet of customized Volkswagen bugs painted blue and gifted with fins. The fleet traveled the nation to drive visits.


Anheuser-Busch takes its traveling Bud World to events around the U.S. The 18-wheel trucks unfold into a three-part experience. Part one is a 3-D movie theater that presents an entertaining look into the heart of the company. Part two sports a little history with an educating history of A-B presented in a lively manner. The last part is the big draw—a Beer School with brew masters presenting the brewing process. Visitors partake in some fermentation then sample the suds. They all leave with a diploma from Beer School. (Agency: Busch Creative Services.)

Procter & Gamble entered the world of mobile marketing with the Pringlesmobile a 53-foot trailer boasting a 30-foot can outside and a sporty dance club inside. Various activities supported inside and out including an on-site audition for a role in a future Pringles TV spot. A sidecar cargo van traveled to areas near where the big rig was set up to drive traffic and awareness and hand out samples. (Agency: CMI.)

Red Lobster’s mobile kitchen brings the restaurant to the customer. The mobile kitchen uses a realistic taste from the chain’s menu to increase consideration with consumers. Mirroring and actual Lobster kitchen the unit houses three refrigerators a seven-foot freezer 2 600 square inches of grill space a three-section fryer sinks food warmers and its own internal water supply. Servers and chefs culled from Red Lobsters in each market dish up as many as 1 000 samples an hour. The vehicle does one event per week 17 weeks a year (Agency: Three Wide).

Extra Large:

Microsoft broke the largest mobile marketing tour in history in 2002 with the Xbox Odyssey. Twin 18-wheel trucks converge under an inflatable dome to create a futuristic videogame Graceland. Plasma screens videomonitors and loads of gaming stations set the mood and a DJ hub in the center blasts bass-thumping tunes. (Agency: GMR Marketing.)

SAP went from stodgy to sheik when it took business-to-businesses marketing messages on the road. The New Economy tour visits trade shows and customer headquarters with a mobile “road show” that features presentations sales information and more. The rig houses a movie theater and endless plasma screens. High tech to say the least. (Agency: DSL Global Event Marketing.)

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