Carvertise: Driving the Next Frontier of Out-of-Home Media
How an observant busboy’s lightbulb moment led to the creation of Carvertise – Greater Philadelphia’s national rideshare advertising media company
July 9, 2021
“Why isn’t everyone doing this?”
That’s the question that kept running through Mac Macleod’s head in the summer of 2012 as he wiped down tables as a busboy at The Stone Balloon, a dive bar on Newark, Delaware’s Main Street.
Each afternoon, as Macleod, then a junior marketing major at the University of Delaware, got busy setting up tables outside the bar, a colorful car wrapped with the Red Bull logo would whiz by.
“The car was remarkably memorable – so much so that I’d be on the lookout for it as I worked,” remembers Macleod. “I started wondering why every brand in America wasn’t also advertising on wrapped cars.”
After doing a bit of research, Macleod was shocked to discover part of the problem: there wasn’t a single company that specialized in deploying fleets of cars wrapped with branded logos as a form of advertising.
“A lightbulb went off,” says Macleod. “The marketing opportunist in me said, ‘If no one else is doing this, then i’m going to try.’”
Macleod’s first priority was to recruit drivers. He raced off to the library and printed out hundreds of flyers promoting the opportunity for people to get paid to put an advertisement on their car. The next day he launched a webpage where potential drivers could sign up. And then came the ground game – he and his college buddies started canvassing local shopping centers passing out flyers to any prospective driver that would listen. “I instantly became totally obsessed with this idea” Macleod says, “I spent every waking hour thinking about the next thing I had to do to make this real”
One of Macleod’s former professors got wind of Macleod’s venture, so he asked him to speak to his entrepreneurship class about it. One of the students in the class, Greg Star, was all ears.
“When Mac was describing this idea of using cars to be moving billboards, it instantly clicked.” Star recalls, “I couldn’t believe that this wasn’t a thing yet – and I knew it was only a time until this would become mainstream. I wanted to be in on the ground floor of creating it”
Star emailed Macleod after the class and told him he’d like to help any way he could.
“I told him I couldn’t pay him, but he was welcome to hop aboard,” Macleod said. So, in 2014, the duo officially launched Carvertise, with the promise of providing advertisers a more impactful, more memorable option to their traditional out-of-home advertising efforts.
It turns out that the idea showed foresight: A Nielsen study would later corroborate wrapped vehicle’s memorability, by revealing that more people remembered seeing a wrapped car in the last 30 days as compared to buses, taxis, or digital boards.
Missteps and Milestones
In an effort to get their first clients, the budding entrepreneurs began showing up at Chamber of Commerce events, ad club get-togethers and other business gatherings all around Wilmington. Star would look up then Gov. Jack Markell’s public schedule and use it as a tip sheet of events to meet up with the area’s movers and shakers.
“We quickly became the de-facto networking kings of Delaware,” Macleod recounts. “Anytime there was any businessperson gathering anywhere—networking receptions, cocktail hours, whatever – we were there.”
Star, who by nature was shy, says he “was terrified to talk to anyone” at first. “But even though people were probably saying, ‘Who are these kids?’, they respected our hustle and were intrigued by what we were offering”
Of course, building a fledgling business takes both time and money, and at first, Macleod and Star had little of the latter. In their first year in business, Macleod sold old furniture to raise money for the venture (an electric chair lift brought in a much-needed $8,000), while Star couch-surfed in friends’ apartments because he couldn’t afford to commit to a lease.
“Looking back at it we still have no idea how we made it by in those years” Macleod chuckles reminiscently “It was nothing but pure excitement and ramen noodles that were fueling us”
And both Star and Macleod are candid about their share of missteps along the way. When they brought one of their first clients on board, a local jeweler, they couldn’t afford to pay the driver to have her car wrapped, so they offered to give her a commission if anyone who rode in her car purchased a diamond at the store. (She never saw a dime.) They initially wrapped their cars in a poorly-lit parking garage adjacent to their office, guided by a team of inexperienced installers that they had trained in less than a week. “Those beginning days of figuring out how to wrap cars were rough” Star says. “I kind of shudder thinking about it now.”
A Turning Point
But Macleod and Star worked to build a legitimate business infrastructure to be able to service larger clients and campaigns, and 12 months into it, they began to gain serious traction. The company got a big boost when Alan Levin, the Economic Development Director for the state of Delaware at the time, introduced Macleod and Star to the CEO of Shoprite, who agreed to do a 15-car campaign for 3 months. That proved to be the account which gave the business enough credibility to start landing meetings with others. Shortly thereafter advertisers in Delaware and Greater Philadelphia started signing up for campaigns.
By 2017, Carvertise had gained several larger accounts and had reached $1 million in sales, enabling Macleod and Star to hire a professional wrap designer and its future VP of Sales, Jim Fischer – an up-and-coming radio ad sales star from CBS.
But that year a monumental turning point for the company was still to come. During a seemingly ordinary pitch with a prospective client, Fischer was asked if he could fill a campaign with only Uber and Lyft drivers.
“We laugh about it now, but Jim jumped the gun and said, ‘Of course we can!’” Star says “This new recruiting constraint was terrifying to me and Mac, so as soon as that contract was signed, it instantly put us all on our toes to figure out how to do it. But lo and behold, we ended up recruiting all the rideshare drivers we needed and pulled it off”
Fischer’s promise to this client produced what would become a seismic shift at Carvertise. Recognizing that Uber and Lyft drivers — who logged considerably more road time than the average driver — resonated with clients and produced much more advertising exposure, Macleod and Star changed up their business model to begin contracting with rideshare drivers for most campaigns. Sales skyrocketed. The firm soon began working with established advertisers in the Philadelphia DMA including Thomas Jefferson, Virtua, Rothman, Inspira, DeSales University, Cabrini University, Manor College, Harcum College, Bucks County Community College and Penn State. The next year, 2018, Carvertise doubled its sales and quickly gained steam across many other sectors, including tourism, legal, and home improvement. Pivotal in this advancement was their learned ability to launch campaigns in any major market throughout country.
“We had clients that started asking if we could launch campaigns outside of the Philadelphia DMA.” says Macleod, “Fortunately for us, we knew that there were already 1000’s of Uber, Lyft, and Doordash in these major markets, so we just had to learn how to scale our operational model”
Macleod and Star would recruit and screen these out-of-market rideshare drivers from Delaware, and then sub-contract the installation work to local wrap shops. Once the cars were wrapped, all drivers had to download Carvertise’s GPS app so their mileage and exposure could be tracked and reported back to the client.
Companies loved the concept because of its novelty, memorability and performance analytics, which is reflected in Carvertise’s high campaign renewal rate.
In 2019, the company underwent a significant expansion again, now establishing sales offices in major markets including New York City, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and Los Angeles.
Today, Carvertise is an ‘Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company’ with over 1,000 branded vehicles currently wrapped in campaigns for brand partners such as Netflix, 7-Eleven, WaWa, Draft Kings and Buffalo Wild Wings.
As the company continues to expand across the country and into new markets, Macleod and Star are continually innovating.
The company is experimenting with signage for the tops of rideshare vehicles, reflective wraps, 3-D elements that can be incorporated into the car designs, along with advanced digital tracking products. A recently invented feature called ‘SWARMS’, has proven to be a boon to clients, allowing them to deploy their fleet of wrapped cars to specific locations at specific times.
Moving forward, Macleod says he and Star plan to keep their feet firmly on the gas pedal. “It’s been a wild ride so far, but we feel like we’re just getting started.”