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July 29, 2021

Episode 071 - The Motorized OOH Revolution Part 1 | Cherian Thomas, Octopus Interactive

Episode 071 - The Motorized OOH Revolution Part 1 | Cherian Thomas, Octopus Interactive

We have a 2 part series coming up on the next two episodes of OOH Insider! On this episode, Cherian Thomas, Co-Founder & CEO of Octopus Interactive, chats about the new fourth approach to out-of-house advertising: during transportation.

Octopus Interactive is the world’s largest ride-share advertising network. They provide ride-share drivers with HD screens to engage riders through live games, ride information, and interactive games.


  • As the world becomes more autonomous, transportation has become a new platform for out-of-home to capitalize on consumers’ time. This is done through interactive games with an opportunity to win prizes from sponsored brands.
  • Scalability is key to a successful product.
  • There is a lot of white noise in the industry. There needs to be truth and transparency about what agencies’ network of screens looks like.


Special thanks to OneScreen.so for making this show possible. Check out OneScreen.ai and learn How to Beat Facebook with Billboards at www.onescreen.ai

Looking for your next job in OOH? Start here: www.oohired.com


Welcome to out-of-home insider the loudest voice in out of home. It's funny. A lot of people stop and ask me, they say, Tim, what's that mean? What does it mean to be the loudest voice in out of home? A lot of folks assume it has something to do with being louder than other industry trade coverage. It actually has nothing to do.

Anyone other than the community that is out of home, whether you're a big operation, a small operation have unique marketing insights or a ton of out-of-home expertise. This is a platform to help the community grow the community to learn. So I invite you to subscribe, follow share, please do all those things that help the, the community of out of home grown.

Through this podcast through the amazing guests that we have, it's all about democratization. And that's one of the reasons I'm most excited to be a part of the team at one screen that AI, where we're bringing buyers and sellers together to help brands win. If you want to learn more about what we're doing at one screen, visit one screen.ai without further.

Let's go welcome everybody to the out-of-home insider show, a podcast like no other hosted by the one and only Tim Rowe.

Ready to have the knowledge dropped on. You went to be entertained because nothing's more valuable than food for your brain. So sit back, relax. We're about to dive in as the best industry podcast is the bathroom again, Jerry. Thanks for being. Yeah, happy to be here at 10. What's happening. Oh man. It's, it's exciting because as I'm looking out the window here, uh, it's a beautiful day.

I see lots of people walking around, which indicates to me that out of home is back, but, uh, for octopus out of home has been back for a little while. It's been back. Yeah. I mean, those of you don't know essentially what, what we create is a interactive advertising platform of digital, out of home screens inside of Uber and Lyft vehicles and Uber and Lyft riders are first movers, right.

They are, um, out of their house, uh, out and about inside of a rideshare vehicle. And so they are willing and able, uh, to, to come to your restaurant or, or, or travel and so forth. And so yes, we have seen a huge, huge resurgence. Um, obviously it was a big dip back, you know, in 2020. In March and April, but it's been month over month, over month, over month increase since then.

So pumped about that. I got it up here on the screen. So that, that, uh, you know, the video audience, you can take a look, but I mean, what you have is, is pretty unique, right? You're taking advantage of the gig economy, rideshare platforms, and you're putting screens in the back of, of rideshare. Like these are cool screens.

Yeah. I think what we're taking advantage is really of the, the fourth place for you to consume media. Um, and just as things went from, you know, television to desktop, desktop to mobile, um, we're very bullish on that next relevant revolution will be motorized. And, um, you know, you've got this captive setting.

You've got unbelievable amounts of dwell time and why not be able to, you know, engage your audience, deliver sight, sound and motion. Uh, to not only a captive audience, Tim, but quite frankly, you know, if you look at kind of the rideshare demographic, it's a really, it's really that quintessential hard to reach consumer, uh, that we're, we're getting while they're on the go.

So, um, yes, you know, that that's kind of what we're capitalizing on and primarily because, um, you know, we're, we're very bullish, right? There's going to be an autonomous. Uh, vehicles, uh, we're not there yet. You're not driving, you're not sleeping in your car, but you know, as you see apple and Google and Amazon and Baidu and all these folks, they realize that, um, this becomes a fourth place for people to get time and time to be productive, time to be entertained.

Um, and, and time to socialize with. We, we focus on the entertainment aspect there. Right. And that's something that you do so well, it's not just ads in the back of an Uber or Lyft. Like these are games, they're interactive experiences. They're, you know, exclusive content. Talk a little bit about some of the possibilities with what you're able to do, uh, on those, on those.

Yeah. I mean, think of it as a blank canvas. And our goal is to really capture your attention and then maintain that attention throughout that rideshare journey. And we do that with a combination of, of games. Think of games as our content. That's our cook. That's what gets your attention? Um, I don't know what it is, but people love playing trivia.

Uh, like you'd go to the bar and the things on the bar and you're playing, you'll find the, find the objects and whatnot. It's the same idea just in case. Exactly. You're not going to be playing world of Warcraft. Right. But you're going to play kind of like these, um, you know, short games that you can play in 60 to 90 seconds.

Um, we also give you prizes, right? You're playing games to, to win money and women prizes. So that definitely hooks you and gets your attention. And then he goes, we have your attention and we have the vehicle location. We can deliver a relevant on noninvasive, either branded games or 32nd ads to a captive audience.

And so. Um, you nailed it, right? It's not just ads. We've actually found. We get the best engagement with branded games, um, that, you know, we'll get anywhere from five to 10% click through rates on, on a brand. Right. And so, um, and so our goal is really, you know, we think the best form of advertising is kind of what we're able to offer on our branded games, where it's sold on a CP.

Um, but the consumer, right? It's an ad it's sold in a CPM, but the consumer thinks they're playing a game and they are right. But it's actually an ad. So we find that to be really noninvasive and impactful, um, which is what we try to do. Unpack that for me before this, isn't your first startup, your startup guy.

How did the, how did the idea come to be? Oh, wow. Yeah, let's let's dive 8,888 meters, uh, you know, under the seat. Um, and I'll tell you kinda the, the origin story. And we're very unique, right? Because, uh, this company was actually incubated within one of my other companies. And, um, so many of our team have been working together for five plus years.

And so, um, yeah, I'll, I'll, I'll turn back the clock a little bit and just kind of explain how this started and it started with a mobile application. Uh, Right. Um, while, you know, we, we actually created a mobile app that dynamically changed prices and restaurants based on daytime and weather. Um, so think like we, we felt that your salmon on a Tuesday at 2:00 PM when it's raining should not be the same as a Friday night at six when there's a, our weight of that.

And so thank Priceline for restaurants. Right. And so, you know, we built that out that business out. Can the number one dining up on iTunes, hundreds of thousands of active users. And Tim throughout that journey, we realized that we not all users were created equal. The best users, right. Of our mobile app were someone that was between 25 to 35, lived in a city, you know, uh, dined out two to three times a week.

Had a beer on a Tuesday, right. That was our consumer that we needed to get in front of. And it turns out that is the exact same consumer inside of a new Berlin vehicle. And so it was a side project where we would essentially. We started putting, you know, tablets inside of, uh, Uber Lyft vehicles. And it would play, you know, ads for our own company.

Um, and in between the ads was the games. Right. Um, and that's kinda how the origin started. It started with a true need for our, our own brand to get users and acquisition. It worked ridiculously well. Um, and we started small. We were like, Hey, let's, let's see if we can, you know, put out a couple of local restaurants and some core power yoga studios and some Studer companies, and that worked great.

And then we're like, wait a second. Yeah, let's go to Madison avenue. Let's see what the ad agencies think about this. And, you know, we were signing fortune 50 brands who loved the format, um, the setting and, uh, the audience. And so a long-winded way of kind of explaining. Uh, our origins, but I did want to kind of just tell you this, this didn't start one day, whether or not high, it started out of a true need to reach to the right person and the right setting and, and acquire customers, which seemingly really like the best ideas do, right.

It's based out of a real need to solve a problem. And, and, and you've done that. And the technology is, is really interesting and that you can, you can see where that car is on a map and take advantage of contextual components that are going on around. The vehicle itself, right. And really taking advantage of the entire environment.

How are brands using octopus as part of the mix in 2021? Has that changed at all versus years past? Yeah, let me, um, you know, just go back to one of the points that you made, right. In order for us to capture the rider's attention and get them to really lean in and engage. It's really important to have the UX be relevant based on day, time, even weather, right.

And location. And so, uh, if you get into an Uber or Lyft vehicle with octopus, it is a much different experience. You know, a Wednesday at 6:00 AM in the financial district than it is on a Friday night at 11:00 PM in times square. Um, and so we are able to curate a they experience based on not only, you know, the time of day, the location of the vehicle, what's the weather like.

But when you do that, you get higher click through and engagement, which is the name of the game. In our perspective, uh, from our perspective and brands love this, right? We have, we have brands that are on, you know, activating mini games where folks are giving out a chance to win, um, you know, a free lottery tickets or a chance to win life ice cream for a year or a win a free cyber truck.

Right. And so the brands are really being cool about offering something. If someone is going to engage, let's make sure that. We get that bottom funnel. Um, so put in your phone number first party opt-in value exchange. Do you want free ice cream for a year hip? So put in your phone number and this is, this is the key, right?

It's, it's really that opt in. Um, and, and that's what brands really love is that it's a blank canvas. They can do baseball games where you're tapping the swing and you can do clogging games where you're looking to grab something. You can do photo hunt trivia. Um, we've really, you know, done, done it all. It is truly a blank canvas in a new format.

So, what are the expansion plans? Obviously you're available on, on, on some of the DSPs and, and, uh, actually we're, we're doing, uh, going to be doing a campaign with y'all in the fall with one screen and, and one of our brands and advertisers. And initially we had, we were looking inside of this star. We socked put somewhere like, oh my gosh, like this makes a ton of sense, but the things that we're talking about here, Aren't necessarily just displayed inside the DSP.

What's the best way for brands, for advertisers, for agencies to be working with octopus. Yeah. Look, I mean, people want to buy something easily and we provide that for them. Right. So if you want to buy this programmatically, if your PMP is through pipes, that's no problem. Right? We are unique in the sense that, you know, we are on Vistar where you can buy this in the digital, out of home.

But we're also video with sight sound and motion. Um, and so we are also integrated with folks like DB 360 on GAM, and soon to be played folks like Talaria and FreeWheel and so forth. So, um, we definitely want to make it easy that said, we also want to make your ad unit impactful and to make it really what to really truly pull out all the bells and whistles.

Contacting us directly. And that's where we can do either a branded game or a really unique activation that has both click through rates, phone number, capture, email, opt in, and gets that both top, top of funnel all the way down to bottom funnel. Um, and quite frankly, you know, some of the SSPs just don't have that ability, right?

You can't run a programmatic game, um, with interactivity and lead gen. And so. Um, you know, we, we do those in direct deals with our friends. Makes sense. Makes sense. The format is so fun. It's so engaging. I want to get in the back of an Uber and, you know, take a ride home just to play a game and maybe win a chicken sandwich or something like that.

Has, have you considered moving to other types of screens, other formats? Is this still just, you know, just in its infancy. W where do you see, where do you see the most growth coming from over the next 18 to 24? Yeah, to two things. One, we have run the, find the chicken sandwich, a game, which kills it gets through rate and 16% convert.

I mean, it was unbelievable. Right. And guess what? It was running during a time where there was chicken wars going on right on the chicken sandwich itself. Um, but one thing I will tell you just to your previous question a second ago, um, regarding markets and scale. This is scaling out, right. We're shipping out 2000 plus screens a month.

Wow. Um, you know, we just launched 21 markets, uh, two weeks ago, all at the same time in tandem. So all, all those markets went live at once. We had the driver demand, we've got a hundred thousand plus drivers in the pipeline on applications. So we just started opening it up because we saw the rebound coming right from folks getting back out in this post COVID world.

Um, and so, you know, It is something that, you know, we, we certainly take a lot of pride in, is that not only the format, is it unique, but you have to have scale and, you know, you can have this unbelievable setting. You're going to have this unbelievable audience, right? You can have all these features of interactivity and lead capture.

But if you don't have scale, it doesn't really matter. Um, and so we're, we're really pumped to, you know, kind of unlock the, the nationwide rollout now sort of available and, you know, send her all the top 45 DMS. Um, and we're covering, you know, literally what advertisers want. They want national campaigns and we're able to, to rock and roll with them, swim with them, I should say.

So. Um, but yeah, sorry, hopefully I answered your question, but just wanted to go back to kind of. That scale question, right? Cause it's, it's, it's really about the, the, the format and this premium video, but being able to do that at scale is what the brands want. And we're going to deep dive that with Ryan and part two of this conversation.

Uh so-so so we'll let you talk about the fun stuff here. Are you a podcast guy? You read her, where do you go for motivation, inspiration education. What are, what are some good resources to get into inside the, the Mindshare? Yeah. You know, I'm actually an avid YouTube guy. I think there's a running joke on, in, in our company.

Right. I, I pay for the subscription for non ads, which is kind of ironic, but, and it's even coming from the ad industry. I kind of feel like I'm cheating right. For a lot and not paying to bypass that. That said there is an unlock feature with YouTube where you can still use your device while it is running in the background.

The only way to get there is to pay monthly. Um, but I'm a huge fan on just, you know, being able to digest things via video and audio. And I love doing it at a time where I'm not at my desk. And so if I'm at the gym or if I'm at on a Rhonda and usually, you know, that combination of YouTube to learn something, I try to learn something new, every single.

Um, and so to go on a run or go work out and just, you know, consume an hour of, of content. I didn't know about before, uh, always educational, right? Um, industry-related or educational. And, um, I love that you can pick up your phone in the middle of the run and see. The the, the bell curve, if they're talking about it right.

And on, on YouTube, whereas audio only, you can't get the visual behind it. Yeah, no, I am with you there. So speaking about education cause that a home is, is an industry that I think one of our biggest challenges is education. What's something that you wish existed for out of home that would make it better just for everyone.

Um, honestly, transparency. Right? I think that one of the biggest challenges with our industry is that, um, you know, there's a lot of fly by night, you know, white noise out there. And so someone, you know, creates a website, puts, you know, Two or three screens out there, but their public facing brand makes it seem like there's hundreds of screens and you can buy this self-serve and all, and it's like, you know what?

People need to really just, just do an audit and say like, how many screens are out there? What is the format? What are the seconds? And, and that's something that we're going to be looking into doing is really just a state of the mobility and where, you know, w who are the players? Um, what is the formats or is it one to many?

Is it one to few? How can you buy it? Um, and what are the real numbers? And so. I think, uh, one thing I wish was a little bit better in our industry is just a truth and transparency, um, because it makes everyone, every other publishers job harder when talking to an agency that's been burned in the past.

And, um, so it's, it's for the greater good of all. If, um, we can get to the bottom of just, you know, Um, here's, here's open transparency on what the, what the network of screens looks like. So, and, and, and this is your invitation to pitch. Uh, it's something that, that octopus does really well, which is shows advertisers.

Here's exactly what your. Right now in this moment. And he used some pretty slick technology to do that. Maybe just add a little bit of color to that and how this is different. Yeah, for sure. I mean, we, we give our brands a dashboard and it's super transparent. Right. And, and most folks don't get this transparent because it might not be working.

Right. But if you have something that's working and you can, uh, get all of the data from top of funnel to bottom, you might as well. Is it. So our brands can literally click on live and they see a live map of every moving vehicle right now. In real time, that's showing where they're at is playing. They could zoom in and see that they can see their impressions delivered by day.

Right. They can see it by time by week. They can see engagement in real time. How many times did the ad play? How many people clicked and engaged with the ad? Did they put in their phone number, right where we're. Timestamps and so forth. So for us, it's really about visualizing the funnel, right. Which is on the buy side.

That is what they're looking at. They're looking at a funnel as well. Right. Um, we, we don't feel all impressions are created equal and, um, you know, we want to make sure that when you get an impression from octopus, you realize that. Sight sound motion, captive audience, verified impression, Nielsen, SDK, right?

Like, and being able to not only get an impression, but to get a click through rate, which is typically unheard of and out of home and not to get a click through rate, but to actually have phone number, email capture with opt-in, which is typically unheard of and out of home. Um, and so, because, because we have those things we want to, we want to let, let our brands and agency partners have real-time access to it.

Um, and so it's definitely something that, um, we're constantly innovating upon. Um, and as we add new things, um, the, our brands get, you know, kind of like a, when you get a software update on your Tesla or iOS, it's like our dashboard is an update and it's new features happening all the time. So, um, certainly, certainly, um, we practice what we preach.

Right. We, we basically feel like there should be transparency and trust in the. And so we literally lift up the hood and then the hood under the hood and the hood under the hood. And you can literally see exactly what is happening with your campaign in real time. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And that's a great reason to be subscribed.

This is something I have to start doing more of like in the podcast instead of wait until the end is make sure to subscribe so that you know about things like octopus, right? Like before we all got interested, I didn't know that this existed. And I would venture to guess that there's a lot of folks in our industry that don't know octopus exists with the return of, of events in person events and conferences and all of those sorts of things.

Obviously the use of ride share goes up and around those it's a great opportunity to be able to take advantage of that captive. It is. And I think the best validation on knowing if it's working and if you're out there is do people see it? And over 50% of our clients on our platform work inbound inquiries, right.

Wow. 50%. Right. And that has been like. So like they were in a vehicle, saw it engaged with it, enjoyed it. They put, we put smiles on their faces and then they literally filled out a HubSpot form that said, Hey, can I, how do I get my brand on here? And so that, that by itself just shows that, you know, you were able to delight someone, they saw the value, they, you know, they have great brand recall.

They're able to spit out what they saw and so forth. And, um, you know, There is a network effect that occurs as we get into, um, more and more of these markets. But, um, our goal is really a delight. Those riders, make sure that they're ridiculously happy, make sure that drivers are ridiculously happy and then only connect the brands.

Okay. Right now we're in turbo growth mode because we've kind of checked all the boxes. The riders, drivers and brands are really liking it. Sharon, how do folks get in touch with octopus? How do they follow you? Give us your Latin longitude. Yeah, for sure. So, um, you know, obviously, um, you know, contact that play octopus.com, uh, pretty active on LinkedIn as well.

So please LinkedIn me or send me a DM there. Um, you know, like don't take my enthusiasm the wrong way. We've, we've built a good foundation. We've got a long way to go, but, um, there's some really promising early signs on, on this new format. Um, and we're excited to be part of the out of home community, uh, because we're not in your living room, we're not on your mobile device.

Uh, but what we do have. Some really cool bells and whistles that we're bringing to the industry that we'd love to get, get louder about what that feel like. We're excited to have you. I'm really excited to release this first ever two part episode. Uh, we'll go into the deep dive with Ryan on the platform and talk more about that in part to it, cherry and thanks so much for being here.

So you gotta have an eight part we're fans of eights over here. So that's true. We're going to just need you to roll. We'll do it. We'll do it. We're looking forward to. Definitely. Thanks, Dan, appreciate you having us on. And I'm looking forward to saying absolutely. If you found this to be helpful, please share it with somebody else who could benefit as always make sure to click that subscribe button down there in the corner and we'll see you all next time.

I finally came to my senses. I finally got my hand up on the tinted. Tinted lenses with the dream and the drive, the possibilities, endless friends that send this all the way to Tokyo. Take a trip down south van of Mexico. Next step, Shang how the world-class trade show of course, class all the way. Cause that's how we call us the rockstar.