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Dotcoms discover a new marketing vehicle

Monday, 25 September 2006 - 10:33pm IST

Corny couplets about love and communal harmony may soon disappear from auto-rickshaws.

The ubiquitous auto-rickshaw is proving to be a cheap and effective ad carrier.

Corny couplets about love and communal harmony may soon disappear from auto-rickshaws. Auto-rickshaws in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore seem to be getting net-savvy in their own little way - serving as advertising vehicles for websites. 

Check out the little plastic window set in the yellow top. It probably sports mouthshut.com's distinctive logo either just above or just below. Or stickiewicket.com above the window and the tagline "It's all about cricket" just below it. Five years after the concept debuted in Mumbai, auto-rickshaws careening around the streets of Bangalore and Delhi are now sporting logos of websites. Pune, Lucknow and Jaipur could be next, at least for mouthshut.com.

It started in 2001, the time of the dotcom bust when struggling websites needed cheap and effective ways to grab eyeballs. That's when Faisal Farooqui, CEO of mouthshut.com, a member-driven consumer products reviews site, thought of using the numerous auto-rickshaws zipping across Mumbai's suburbs.

Convincing auto drivers wasn't too difficult, with mouthshut.com paying anything between Rs100 to Rs1000 per auto (apart from bearing the cost of the painting) as one-time payment.

The response, he claims, was quite encouraging. Some drivers did get the painting cleaned out after some days, but many continued to retain them. Farooqui says many people logged in to mouthshut.com after seeing the signs on autos. "Something that started out of necessity has now gained intrigue value," he says. In April 2006, the campaign moved to Bangalore and then to Delhi in June. The website says it has covered hundreds of autos across the three cities.

For three-month-old cricket website stickiewicket.com, the auto ads (which figure only in Delhi right now) have brought in more hits than the initial marketing at marketplaces with people standing around wearing stickiewicket.com T-shirts and caps. "We found this the best way to spread the word through the wide expanse of Delhi," says CEO Siddhaartha Vaid.

Forget exorbitant outdoor hoardings, print advertising and television spots, even banner ads on other websites cost between Rs30,000 and Rs40,000 a month. The auto ads come almost free, in comparison. Farooqui won't say how much he spends on these ads but Vaid says he's spent around Rs5,000 in the four months that the company has been in existence. Much of the cost is really the painters' fees (Rs300 per auto). The auto drivers are given stickiewicket.com T-shirts and caps in return. Fussy ones who complain about losing passengers in the 15-20 minutes that it takes to paint each auto are mollified by a Rs50 or Rs100 note.  Both websites approach individual auto drivers either at stands or elsewhere. Farooqui says they tried the union route but that didn't work out. Delhi was the only city that they faced some suspicion. "The first month was a struggle, but now it's not so difficult," he says.

Vaid also says he's planning to do this in other cities as well. It is a happy win-win arrangement. Cost-effective advertisement for websites, and an extra source of income for auto-rickshaw drivers.

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