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Lyft's First National TV Ad Makes a Statement About Ridesharing. It Also Reminds Us TV Still Matters. The commercial makes commuting look like Dante's 10th circle of Hell, replete with a wandering giraffe and zebra.

By Catherine Clifford

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


TV may not be the grand monarch of the advertising world that it once was, but it's still a heavyweight on the chessboard of advertising influence. With that said, Lyft today launched its first national television commercial.

For a mobile-technology, sharing economy startup to look to reach its next consumer on the boob tube is both a comment on the explosive growth of ridesharing and the continued relevance of television marketing.

The 60-second Lyft spot, embedded below, features a young-ish, hip professional woman in casual officewear getting stuck in a traffic jam of comic proportions. There is a mound of cars, junkyard style, a giraffe and a zebra. Oh, and every single car stuck in the traffic jam is occupied by one person -- a point meant to hammer home the notion that driving in a car by yourself is a terribly old fashioned and slightly backwards way of getting to work.

Our despondent princess climbs atop the mountain of cars and orders a Lyft car. The rideshare driver appears instantly in the commuter lane, and the similarly hip, young professional lady greets our heroine with the most friendly of all greetings, and the two drive off together into the happy glory that is ridesharing. It seems quite the sacrifice to leave your car to the buzzards because of a traffic jam, but alas, I suppose this is television. Perhaps our princess will come back for her car later. Or perhaps I ought to not be so literal about a TV commercial.

Related: Uber and Lyft Will Collaborate With Public Transportation So You Don't Have to Own a Car

"They are featuring an "any woman' behind the wheel -- that can appeal to a wide swath of humanity -- and juxtaposing that with "the crazies' out there. She is then picked up safely by another "any woman' -- and off they go," says Corey Elliott, vice president of research at Williamsburg, Va.-based media advertising revenue analysis company Borrell Associates, in an email with Entrepreneur. "They are emphasizing not having to deal with the madness and letting someone else worry about it."

The goal of the commercial is to get our grand, glorious car culture to begin to entertain the possibility that there is a better way. "Parking tickets, little fender benders, learning how to drive, having to do car repairs culminating in this mountain of cars that really bring to life the frustration and the circus that we have allowed our lives to become when we are so driven by cars," says Kira Wampler, the chief marketing officer of Lyft, in a behind-the-scenes video (embedded below) about the process of making a commercial.

"We are bringing this commercial to life as part of helping people better understand our vision and our mission, which is really fundamentally every seat, every car, every driver," says Wampler. The tagline for the ad campaign is, "Riding is the new driving."

The boob tube may not seem like the most logical place for a mobile-first tech company to be spending ad dollars. Lyft declined to share just how much the commercial cost, but it will air on national networks ranging from Comedy Central to MTV to ABC Family. You can be sure that's a pretty penny.

"There are many opportunities to capture consumer attention, and TV advertising certainly still is relevant when delivering a broad message," says Traci Gregorski, the senior vice president of marketing at Market Track, a Chicago-headquartered advertising market research firm, in an email with Entrepreneur.

Related: What This On-Demand Startup CEO Thinks the Sector Should Really Be Called

And people do watch television commercials. More than 60 percent of respondents of a survey of 1,000 consumers that Market Track conducted two weeks ago about TV viewing habits reported that they watch commercials, says Gregorski. Often, television watchers who do keep the commercials on are multitasking during the ads, but they are watching them. "Traditional advertising such as TV continues to be relevant because of its broad reach," says Gregorski.

And the reach of television is particularly noteworthy this year because of the race for the White House. "It is a hot year for TV. Not many people have noticed, but there seems to be an election of some sort going on," says Elliott, sarcastically. "Seriously, people tend to watch more TV during an election year, so it is not crazy at all to go there to seek new users."

Also, while some television watchers may have seen Uber commercial spots in specific regions of the country in response to local regulation battles, the Lyft commercial is the first national television ad in the ridesharing space. "They also have that magic benefit of being first to the space," says Elliot.

Related: For 100 Years, General Motors Was All About Cars. Now, It's All About People.

To be sure, being on television shouldn't replace digital advertising for Lyft. "It is fair to say that people still watch traditional TV, but streaming and online viewing is increasing very quickly," says Gregorski. "Advertisers realize it's not an "either/or' but an "and' if they want to increase their chances of capturing the attention of a wide audience by being everywhere they are."

And Lyft isn't going after its San Francisco technophile early adopters with an ad on MTV and Comedy Central. It's going after users who may have heard of ridesharing, but aren't yet convinced. They need to figure out how to speak to the people who aren't yet using Uber and Lyft. "They don't need people who use Lyft. They need people who might," says Elliot. "They are casting their net wider."
Catherine Clifford

Senior Entrepreneurship Writer at CNBC

Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.

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