Matthew Miller
Apr 18, 2018

New taxi screens make ad-watching all but mandatory

OPINION: Moove Media risks creating resentment by making it harder for "captive" Singapore taxi passengers to opt out of advertising.

New taxi screens make ad-watching all but mandatory

ComfortDelGro’s outdoor advertising arm, Moove Media, is installing a new generation of interactive screens in 3,000 Singapore taxis, so that passengers can “enjoy interactive ads during their taxi commute”, according to the company.

Perhaps “can” is not the right word, however. “Must” might be more appropriate, as the screens “will be activated once the meter starts running and will not be able to switch off until the journey ends”.

The company will permit passengers to silence the system’s volume, although why anyone would want to reduce their ability to absorb valuable advertising messages is quite beyond me. And if there are any deviants out there who for some reason feel determined to entirely forego the complimentary enjoyment of interactive advertising, they can also press pause.

However, the screen will resume playback after 30 seconds. Take that, you anti-consumerist, economically unpatriotic oddballs. You should appreciate that you are very lucky to live in a society where benevolent companies are looking out for your best interests and protecting you from the tragedy of insufficient consumption of interactive advertising.

To be fair (and less facetious), the screens, provided by a company called IDOOH, will also offer users a selection of content in eight categories including beauty, fashion, travel, food, entertainment and health. CNBC, SPH Magazines, Mediacorp, movie distributors and social-media influencers are providing content, Moove Media says. Whether or not that content itself is serving a commercial purpose, one expects it will be surrounded by ads.

Admittedly, the system is inherently attractive from an advertiser point of view. It’s a bigger, more difficult to ignore screen than previous generations. And of course the interactivity provides mechanisms for clients to not only track clicks but also harvest personal data in exchange for rewards like coupons. The first advertiser using the system, Burger King, served up a game that provided an electronic voucher for players who were able to collect five of the chain’s menu items by dragging a virtual box around the screen. The devices can also serve up geo-fenced ads.

Perhaps most enticing of all, the audience is a captive one. Which brings me back to the fact that people can’t turn the thing off. There are times that I might want to, you know, think about something. Or relax in silence. Or chat with friends who are along for the ride. Or simply not have a screen trying to seduce my eyeballs. I'm paying for the car, and it’s going to annoy me that I first have to interact with a machine to do any of those things. If I press pause and it pipes up again after 30 seconds, my irritation will only increase.

I will also recognise, as many people would, that someone is monetising my attention. And I will ask what I’m getting out of it. A small discount on a cup of coffee if I also provide my phone number? Some content that probably doesn’t compare to the self-curated universe of information, games and entertainment that I am literally holding in my hand? Not even a discount on the taxi ride itself?

Perhaps you can write off me off as as an old weirdo who enjoys a quiet moment or two now and then. But as someone whose paychecks are underwritten by the advertising industry, I assure you I’m by no means against companies trying whatever they can to wrest attention and eke out effectiveness. It’s just that those companies also have to recognize that they can push consumers too far. When the so-called “value exchange” is not fair, people will end up resenting it. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg.

It’s fine line between offering me access to something and being rudely intrusive. In-cab advertising schemes have failed before. And I can always use a ride-sharing service.

Matthew Miller is Campaign Asia-Pacific's online editor. 

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