Yahoo!, a global Internet communications, commerce and media company, was looking for a fun, fresh, and interactive way to raise general awareness of its irreverent brand, the Yahoo! global network, and particularly, its Yahoo! Everywhere wireless platform.  To reach consumers in the Big Apple and beyond, Yahoo! launched New York City’s first-ever fleet of Internet-enabled taxicabs, giving city residents and visitors the chance to hop in and hop on the Web during their ride – free of charge.  

The program, led by Yahoo! Brand Marketing Team, in coordination with Fleishman-Hillard/New York, made the taxi’s real function –getting people to where they want to go quickly and easily–synonymous with the power of Yahoo’s many services.  Transporting thousands of passengers through the city streets, the program helped to reinforce the Yahoo! brand and introduce and educate consumers about Yahoo! while simultaneously driving a key New York icon, the taxi cab, into the 21st century (purple leather interior and all).


The main challenge was effectively communicating Yahoo’s key messages without being eclipsed by the novelty of the taxi concept.  Secondary challenges included securing partners including Palm Inc., Team Systems, and Medallion Financial Corporation and uniting them to correctly brand and outfit the taxis while at the same time working closely with the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission (“TLC”) to place cabs on the road. The latter aspect was especially challenging as this was the first pilot Internet taxi program ever approved and authorized by the New York City TLC.  In addition, following the first test of the taxi program in San Francisco the past year (Sept. 1998 – March 1999), the team was challenged to drive extensive coverage and excitement for the New York cabs.  Lastly, we were faced with breaking through the wall of media noise in arguably the noisiest city on Earth, while at the same time incorporating that energy into a New York program that would receive local as well as regional, national and international press across all media (e.g., print, broadcast, online).


The primary objective was to generate widespread awareness of Yahoo! overall and the Yahoo! Everywhere services to consumers who used other Yahoo! services and those unfamiliar with the brand in general.  The goal was to reinforce that people can experience Yahoo! with or without wires, anywhere and everywhere, and drive sampling and/or usage of Yahoo! Everywhere services to busy New Yorkers trying to stay on top of and in touch with their professional and personal lives.

Taking key learnings from the past Yahoo! events, we focused on the most cutting-edge Internet-enabled hand-held device, in this case the Palm VII, to offer a fun, fast, and easy way to access Yahoo! services.  Yahoo! then worked for more than nine months with partners and in negotiation with the TLC to get the cabs on the road. The Yahoo! Brand Marketing and Public Relations team, along with the Yahoo! internal design group, Team Systems, and the TLC, created fun, imaginative graphics to clearly brand the cabs in signature Yahoo! style:  adding purple highlights and “Do You Yahoo!?” branding to the yellow cab exterior and a purple leather back seat.  Yahoo!, along with Team Systems, selected and educated Yahoo! cab drivers about the program.  The company also arranged an Easter Seals charity tie-in for an upcoming auction on Yahoo! Auctions, promoted through the use of taxi top ads. Approaching the launch, the team: arranged and directed a still (AP) photographer and a seasoned, local New York b-roll production crew; drafted appropriate press materials including key messages, Q&A, alerts, and lead release; and trained spokespeople on both the East and West Coast


Yahoo! and FH needed to maximize coverage and drive excitement for the launch of the taxis.  The day before the fleet was to roll out on the street, Yahoo! and FH let media ride for free in the back seat.  “Free rides” or “media tours” were arranged for key national and local New York media including wires, print, broadcast and online outlets.  The rides included demonstrations of Yahoo! Everywhere on the Palm VIIs. Picking up journalists in these eye-catching vehicles encouraged great “pick up” in the media overall.


With the issue of the lead release over Business Wire’s national circuit, including two photos placed on Business Wire/AP Photo for media usage, early morning media outreach commenced (and extended from a one-day effort to a frenetic five-day period based on the tremendous media interest). FH New York offices acted as the official Yahoo! taxi dispatch center for the media tour, booking interviews and scheduling runs.  A friendly cab driver navigated the streets of Manhattan while a Yahoo! spokesperson sat with media, drove key messages, explained the program and demonstrated Yahoo! Everywhere via the Palm VII as media went on errands, waved to passers-by, and queried bystanders on their reactions to the novel concept.  Some generous reporters even “treated” people off the streets to share their free cab rides, recording their comments en route. Yahoo! cab drivers also served as day-to-day spokespersons for media opportunities and ride-alongs.


In six months time, tens of thousands of passengers rode in Yahoo! Internet taxis in New York and used Yahoo! services. The top three services, in terms of use and popularity, were Yahoo! Sports, Yahoo! News, and Yahoo! Messenger.  More than 87,649,191 million media impressions were generated in placements which extended far beyond local coverage to regional, national and international outlets and in print, online, wire, and broadcast mediums.  Notable print coverage included Associated Press, Bloomberg, and Reuters wires, Time magazine, New York Times, New York Daily News, San Francisco, Boston Globe, The London Telegraph and Silicon Alley Reporter.  Broadcast coverage ranged from CNN, CNBC, and the BBC to local news stations across the country. Coverage and interest continues to date with ongoing media opportunities and programs being coordinated.  Several of Yahoo’s World offices have taken the Internet Taxi idea and have worked with partners in country to unveil international cybertaxis.

Yahoo’s partners in this campaign were extremely satisfied; Ken Saunders, Project Manager, Marketing Alliances at Palm, Inc. said the program “was well beyond [our] expectations” and would welcome the opportunity to work with Yahoo! again.  The TLC was so pleased by the coverage and experience for passengers that Yahoo! is currently in negotiation to extend the program through 2001.  
But perhaps the most satisfying result was the intangible “buzz” that surrounded these cabs on the street.  Passengers, consumers, and media noted the head turns, smiles, and—a true miracle in New York—cars allowing the cabs to easily switch lanes, all occurring to the melodious strains of “Yahoooooo!” as the taxis sailed down the streets of Manhattan.