Jason Gross is the Director of Strategy and Marketing for Verifone Media, an out of home advertising network with placements in taxis, transit vehicles and gas stations. Jason has over 20 years of experience in a variety of creative, strategic, and management roles at leading advertising, branding, and media firms, including McCann Erickson and Doremus. We recently spoke with Jason about his current role and where Taxi TV is headed next.
The Makegood: Jason, what does your role encompass at Verifone Media?
JG: Being essentially a startup within a large global company, we all wear a lot of hats. My official role as Director of Strategy and Marketing is twofold. The first, internal part is to help drive the overall strategy of developing what we call “payment enabled media” for VeriFone and the thousands of clients globally who use our payments terminals and software today – like over half the taxis in New York, for example. This involves both integrating media functionality into our systems and advising our product teams on how to develop a vertical-specific business model for leveraging media. The second, more external challenge, is to evangelize about the benefits of our captive, trackable, transaction-capable platforms to agencies and other buyers of media (apologies for the shameless plug).
The Makegood: For many New Yorkers Taxi TV has become a popular source of info for news, weather and interviews. What have you learned about what works and what doesn’t for your audience?
JG: It’s kind of funny. We’ve had a long-running debate about what exactly TaxiTV is. Is it a TV? Is it “web?” Is it mobile? In truth, I think it has elements of all three. It has the captivity, dwell time and passivity of TV, in that you can sit back, do nothing, and enjoy. It has the interactive potential of the web, and it has the location awareness of mobile. We find that users really like shorter, web-length clips (1-2 minutes), and that you can never go wrong with comedy (Leno, Fallon, and Kimmel are perennial favorites). Like any platform with advertising, they love to complain in surveys that they turn it off, but the data says otherwise. When we did a recall study for one of our clients, the highest ad awareness was among the group that later said that they turn off the TVs “All the time. Right when [they] get in.” And since we overhauled the design and functionality of the screens in September (another one of those hats I’m still wearing), the engagement levels with the “tabs” and clickable ticker are up over 300%.
The Makegood: How do advertisers buy Taxi TV? Do they buy through their agencies or do you have a platform where they can buy direct?
JG: Right now, the majority of the ads are bought through agencies, with the remainder being client direct. As we roll out our gas station network, which should include tens, if not hundreds of thousands of screens, it will start to make more sense to create a real audience-based network which can allow for self service. Right now, the entirety of digital out of home seems to be bought on more of a DMA basis. And that makes sense. No one really has the capital to build a truly national network. But when you look across the 60,000+ gas station locations and 1MM retail devices VeriFone has today, you can see how we can get there.
The Makegood: Which campaigns on the Taxi TV platform are you especially proud of?
JG: I’ll give you two. Last year, Bing ran a campaign of several ads featuring “celebrity” New Yorkers sharing their favorite spots in the city. The Wall Street Journal ran a piece saying essentially that seeing yourself in the back of a taxi was the new way to gauge if you’ve truly “made it” in New York. Another is the custom intros Jimmy Kimmel does for his spots. At this year’s television up fronts for ABC, he kicked off his hosting gig by saying “Hi. I’m Jimmy Kimmel. You may recognize me from Taxi TV…” It really shows how Taxi TV has become a part of the fabric of New York City life.
The Makegood: What is the next frontier for Taxi TV? Any plans to integrate mobile into the experience?
JG: The next frontier is really all about transacting. Thinking about it in online terms, it’s moving down the purchase funnel from impressions, to engagement, to sale. One of the great things about being part of VeriFone is that accepting payments is a core competency. Although I can’t go into too many specifics yet, you will soon be able to get on-demand coupons, buy movie tickets on the way to the theater, or even grab that instant deal by essentially adding those items to your bill when you swipe your card to pay for the ride. As soon as the handsets catch up, you’ll be able to do all this and more by simply tapping your phone via NFC (Near Field Communication). NFC is going to be a real game changer for the media industry.
The Makegood: When Steve Jobs of Apple passed away, Taxi TV ran a tribute message throughout the day. How did that come about?
JG: We were at dinner with the team from NBC the night he died. Within 30 seconds, everyone was on their phones reading the story and sending it around to their friends. Some weird sort of race we all do to be the one to tell our friends first about some huge breaking news. I started thinking back about my own relationship with Apple. My first computer was an Apple II+ when I was seven or eight years old, and I think I’ve had just about every device they’ve ever made. As an art director early in my career, our entire industry was in a constant state of evolution tied to each release of a new, more powerful Mac. I realized we were near an Apple Store, and that of course our content management system is web based. I created a tribute graphic with a sad-faced mac icon, and sent it out to all the cabs from the Apple store itself (yes, I was touched by the symmetry). For the next few days, every cab ride in NY began with a moment of silence.
The Makegood: Thanks, Jason.