As mobile sales continue to boom, we all expect to be online and connected 24 hours a day, from any location. Rapid developments in mobile technologies mean that smartphones and tablets are now must-have devices for anyone trying to keep up with colleagues and friends as they race through their busy day. Being stuck on a train or in a taxi with intermittent signal is no longer an excuse to be unavailable, especially in our capital. London is a city that truly never sleeps as it fights to maintain its influential position in the international business community and, of course, its status as a buzzing cultural and retail hub.

The black taxi is the transport mode of choice for the busy professional searching for comfort and privacy as they commute across the city. During the 17 minutes of an average taxi ride, research that we carried out found that 84 per cent of passengers will check emails on their handset; 60 per cent will check Facebook and 60 per cent surf the web. For passengers looking to spend this peaceful journey time so productively, it is irritating when phone signal frequently drops out or batteries run dry. If all black taxis provided the means to charge your phones or access a stable internet connection for free, more passengers could benefit from the calm waiting for them in the back of a taxi.

At the tail end of 2012, Transport for London approved plans to install advertising-funded Wi-Fi in hackney carriages. Now, passengers are on the brink of being able to rely on a quick and constant internet connection as they dash around town. But it’s not just passengers who are set to benefit from this new initiative. Mobile and technology brands are being presented with an opportunity to build a reputation for providing an invaluable service to customers for free.

Some brands are ahead of the game, having already implemented in-taxi marketing initiatives in a bid to target smartphone consumers. The most notable of these is our client Vodafone, who has installed free phone chargers in 800 branded London taxis. With 93 per cent of passengers looking to hail down a taxi that offered such a service, this initiative has positioned Vodafone as a brand that cares about the needs of busy Londoners. Having found that 79 per cent of taxi users are more likely to hail a cab that offered free Wi-Fi, there is now a similar opportunity for mobile or technology brands to offer a highly valued service to passengers.

For marketers who are always on the lookout for new ways of engaging consumers, offering brand-sponsored Wi-Fi provides a positive means of capturing a passenger’s attention. Currently, the only way to deliver moving content is through the traditional monitor-style digital screens, which offer limited content scope. We know from our research that taxi users want a choice of content and interaction with suitable brands and that they admit they would pay more attention to brand messages if they were able to choose what they looked at. Here is another opportunity for the Wi-Fi sponsor to connect with consumers by creating a mobile friendly ‘hub’ – a branded portal that offers passengers the option to  further interact by exploring engaging content, creating that all important two-way brand dialogue.

QR codes and NFC can strengthen these conversations further and prompt consumer response, especially since over 64 per cent of smartphone users in taxis would be happy to access offers or vouchers through QR codes and 65 per cent see NFC as a great way to find out more about brands ‘on the move’. While advertisers are already extensively using QR codes across all types of media, the potential of NFC is in its infancy. In an attempt to change this, we are fitting 225 of London taxis with NFC tags in the passenger compartments this month, in the first trial of its kind permitted by TfL.

And let’s not forget, taxi advertising in a traditional sense is an outdoor format that truly works hard to broadcast a brand’s message around town. Combining eye-catching exterior taxi adverts with recent advances in in-taxi technology will only make the format work harder to captivate an audience of both pedestrians and passengers.

Whether we are at home or on the move, we rely on a steady internet connection to be able to check emails, look up store opening times or read local restaurant reviews. Where many bars, cafés, and even parts of the London Underground now provide free network connections, it is time for taxis to catch up. In its bid to become a 24/7 switched on city, the installation of free Wi-Fi into London’s taxis is certainly a step in the right direction. It is a new era for commuters who will be able to hail connected black cabs and a glaring opportunity for brand’s to gain credit for bringing a free and useful service to life.

Andrew Barnett

Andrew Barnett


Andrew Barnett is the Managing Director at Ubiquitous.