Carvertise drivers put the word on the street

Carvertise founders Mac Nagaswami (from left) and Greg Star worked out a campaign with Anas Ben Addi and Matt Heckles of the Delaware State Housing Authority. (Photo courtesy of Carvertise)
Carvertise founders Mac Nagaswami (from left) and Greg Star worked out a campaign with Anas Ben Addi and Matt Heckles of the Delaware State Housing Authority. (Photo courtesy of Carvertise)

by Kathy Canavan

The Delaware State Housing Authority drives its message about down-payment assistance home.

Literally.

They wrap cars with ads.

In this attention economy, the housing authority and four other state-funded agencies contracted with Carvertise to get eyes on their advertising. The fast-growing Wilmington company pays drivers $100 a month to have advertising decals applied to their cars.

Matt Heckles, director of housing finance for the authority, said they tried other methods to get their message across.

They rented billboards: “The first time you walk past a billboard, you look at it. The second time, you don’t look because think you know what’s on it.”

They wrapped buses: “With a similar budget, we might get one or two buses wrapped, and they travel on a fixed route.”

The housing authority has moved away from what they dub state-government-style advertising. Their new branding concept, dreamed up in a staff meeting, is a little edgier — “Kiss Your Landlord Goodbye.”

When Heckles met Carvertise CEO Mac Nagaswami at a downtown development event last year, he said liked what he heard: “It seemed pretty awesome to me,” Heckles said. “We want to get people’s attention and we figured we could tell them more about our programs once we got their attention.”

State ads now represent about one-third of Carvertise’s revenue. They have helped the four-year-old company grow from $210,000 in revenue in 2015 to more than that in January 2016 alone.

Nagaswami said agencies like the fact that Carvertise uses agencies’ constituents to carry their messages to other constituents.  As Heckles said, “It’s sort of social media.”

“We’ve had tangible and trackable success within the state departments we’ve worked with,” Carvertise’s Nagaswami said. “You do successful work with one department within the state and other departments within the state that also have these same marketing needs realize it’s a very natural linkage to go across that vertical.”

Carvertise, at any one moment, has between 75 and 150 cars on the road in Delaware and Philadelphia. The number varies as one campaign starts and another ends.

The company’s long-term strategy is to focus on contracting with the state, with higher education and with health-care organizations. “They’re a good fit for us because they all value outdoor advertising and they’re all geographically bound, but the most important factor is that they’re all well-received social causes,” Nagaswami said. “If you’re using the community to carry your messages, it’s very important that we work with well-received institutions.”

So far, their government clients include the housing authority, the University of Delaware, the Department of Education, the state tourism office and the Delaware Council on Gambling. Their health-care clients include Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Christiana Care Health System. In addition to the University of Delaware, the company’s cars also advertise Wilmington University.

Mikayla Paul drives a car that advertises help is available through the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems. (Photo courtesy of Carvertise)
Mikayla Paul drives a car that advertises help is available through the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems. (Photo courtesy of Carvertise)

Nagaswami said he’s turned down some businesses because he didn’t think they were the right alignment for Carvertise — title loans, bail bondsmen, a liposuction clinic.

When the housing authority first signed a $34,500 contract with Carvertise in 2015, officials liked Carvertise’s analytics, which track when and where the cars go, and the fact that about 20 percent of the money they paid went back into the pockets of the Delawareans whose cars were put into service.

And the 16 drivers, who are paid $100 a month, didn’t just drive. When passersby had questions, they handed them a housing authority brochure.

“It’s kind of shocking when you see one of these cars. Every car doesn’t have something written on it, so you look at them,” Heckles said. “It’s not uncommon for us to start a staff meeting talking about the Carvertise campaign because someone will say, ‘I was driving down the road, and I saw one of your cars.’ ”

Heckles has spotted cars wrapped with the ad when he’s dropped his kids off at school, in the Home Depot parking lot and at the parking lot at work.

The first phase of the campaign — from July to December — had cars circling between U.S. 40 and north of Del. 2 home to the highest concentration of houses that the authority’s average client could afford. The second phase, a $78,900 one-year contract, put 20 vehicles on the road in New Castle County, MOT and Dover. This summer, the authority will pay $5,000 to put five cars at the Delaware beaches for the season.

Heckles said there’s another advantage to using Carvertise: “Part of our investment in marketing is actually going back into the pockets of people in Delaware when they sign up to drive the cars. That’s something we really like a lot.”

During the current 20-car campaign, $24,000 of the housing authority payment will be paid out to Delawareans working as drivers.

The Delaware Department of Education also contracted with Carvertise to market its job openings. It paid $6,600 to have six cars wrapped for two months last year. The cars circled the University of Delaware.

The Delaware Center for Gambling Problems, a nonprofit that receives state funds, currently has Carvertise vehicles up and down the state with a logo designed by AB+C Creative Intelligence in Wilmington.

Their succinct message is tailored for passing glances:  “Get Better. Before Your Car is Your House.”

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