Lime’s new ad campaign puts efficiency on par with sustainability

When it comes to getting around a city, each one has its own conveniences and obstacles, and Lime — an electric scooter and bike startup — wants to tap into what makes residents tick.

To market its electric scooters and bikes, the company is finding more ways to focus on local markets that get people to think about why they should use new forms of transportation and how its products could fit into residents’ daily lives.

A new campaign — which is rolling out this week in Berlin, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — includes digital billboards and Spotify ads that aim to capitalize on unpredictable commuting moments. The goal: To reach people in the very places where their cars and trains might fail them — or where they can avoid traffic, delays and parking.

“There’s plenty of things that Lime could be the antidote for in these cities,” said Christian Navarro, Lime’s head of brand marketing. “Whether it’s trying to find parking in Adams Morgan in D.C. or sitting in traffic on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, we know that there was a reason for Lime to exist to make people’s lives better in those cities.”

That’s not to say sustainability isn’t at play in this campaign. (A new ad in San Francisco mentions “climate anxiety.) The company also had a “Break Up With Cars” campaign in April that offered people rewards if they pledged to ditch their gas guzzler for a certain period of time. Lime did not say how many took the pledge. Meanwhile, some reports have noted that higher fuel prices have prompted people to make the switch to scooters.

The latest campaign also comes as Lime looks to expand on a number of fronts. Along with raising $523 million last year as part of its IPO efforts, Lime also added a new electric moped offering in certain cities, which were briefly available in New York before they were pulled off the streets earlier this year.

This isn’t the first time Lime has focused on local marketing. In 2019, the company worked with ad agencies in various cities to create local ads. However, it’s also faced regulatory setbacks in some, such as in St. Paul, which recently allowed scooters to return to the city’s streets while still banning bikes. (Lime also recently suspended operation in South Korea due to regulatory issues and other concerns.)

Beyond Lime’s consumer marketing, the company is also marketing to policymakers in various cities with targeted campaigns focused on issues like safety and parking.

Lime didn’t disclose its ad spending, but so far this year competitors have spent contrasting amounts. Although the ad-tracker Pathmatics didn’t have spending data for Lime, it said Bird Rides has spent $668,000 so far this year, up from $369,000 in 2021. Meanwhile, Lyft has spent just $16,800 marketing Citibike but spent $19,400 last year.

Navarro didn’t say which ad channel has performed best, but that acquisition on paid social as a category has been “wild.” To recruit new riders, Lime has been giving new riders offers for when they sign up. However, Navarro said the top-line goal of the campaign is to improve brand awareness; he did not say how many have signed up as of late.

Navarro — who joined Lime in May — previously worked on marketing teams at Soul Cycle and Spotify, where he spent time working on the streaming service’s annual Spotify Wrapped playlist. He said context matters when it comes to helping people make a habit of something — whether it’s listening to music, riding a stationary bike, or renting something that moves.

Part of Lime’s localized strategy is touching on each city’s heritage. For example, Berlin’s ads reference the city’s club culture. (One billboard tells people to take a Lime to places like the KitKat Club, which is known as a famous fetish club.)

“The English translation is ‘When you’re open for dirty fantasies but not dirty air, it’s time to Lime,’” Navarro said. “This is how we think super local. So for me, it’s sort of like how can we find like a little bit of that sharp edge? This category is super ripe for that kind of thinking.”

Lime is just one of several brands looking to get would-be riders to hop onto the micro-mobility wagon. In April, Lyft — which operates electric scooter systems in several major cities and also owns Citibike — debuted a campaign highlighting the diversity of bike riders. In June, Razor debuted its first brand campaign for the company’s scooters and bikes.

Access to e-bikes and e-scooters continues to expand. As of July, 35 cities in the U.S. had dockless bike-share systems and 158 had e-scooter systems, according to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation. Just 19 cities had e-bikes and 93 had e-scooter in 2020, which grew to 34 cities with e-bikes and 136 with e-scooters in 2021. Overall ridership is also trending upward in various cities after falling during the pandemic. In D.C., total bike-share trips grew from 250,000 in July 2020 to 335,000 in 2021 to 42,000 in 2022. And on the west coast, total trips in San Francisco have gone from 340,000 to 462,000 to 533,000.

Tech companies and consumers alike were thinking more about sustainability when it comes to both developing and purchasing products, according to a recent report conducted by Morning Consult. That also could apply to the scooter market, said Jordan Marlatt, a tech analyst at Morning Consult.

“You look like a brand like Tesla and it’s the poster child for EVs [electric vehicles],” said Jordan Marlatt, a tech analyst at Morning Consult. “They’re seen as a tech company rather than just auto. Scooters kind of occupy this space where it’s an alternative for short transport.”

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