Republic Leads the Way For Tech Startups With New ‘Crazy’ NYC Subway Ad Campaign
By: Carli Evilsizer | October 22, 2018
If you live in NYC you probably enjoy seeing new batches of creative subway ads every few weeks during your morning commute. And you might have noticed that it’s no longer large-scale, big brand names that are taking over subway cars and busy subway stations – recently startups are entering the arena. In fact, a NYC subway station and/or car takeover is almost a startup’s way of announcing, ‘we made it!’.
Like all NYC real estate, subway ads are an expensive advertising outlet, but startups are taking risks that often pay off. One of the latest startups to take over a key NYC subway station is Republic, a leading equity crowdfunding platform for tech startups. Republic is currently taking over the Fulton St. station and running subway ads to let everyone know that they can become an early investor in tech startups that might seem futuristic or ‘crazy’ now but could someday change the world.
We interviewed Theo Ohene, who helped lead Republic’s “Crazy Today-Obvious Tomorrow” campaign. Theo shares his thoughts on why out of home subway ads are becoming more popular among NYC tech startups and tips for tech startups considering doing their very own subway campaign. Keep reading to learn more about Republic’s campaign and what they’ve learned along the way.
How Republic Executed Their New “Crazy Today-Obvious Tomorrow” NYC Subway Ad Campaign
Republic is a highly curated platform that hosts a diverse set of equity and crypto-focused offerings, with minimum investment amounts as little as $50. Anyone can invest in the startups they believe in for the chance to earn a return. Republic operates under U.S. equity crowdfunding regulations and is under the supervision of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. To date, the acceptance rate of companies applying to fundraise on Republic is well below 10%, while funding success rate exceeds 90%.
Theo is a startup growth guru and has worked with many startups to help improve their growth marketing metrics and experiment their way to scale.
1. Tell me about Republic’s campaign, “Crazy Today-Obvious Tomorrow”.
“Some of the most commonly used products of today were considered unrealistic at the time. Let’s take the smartphone for example 15-20 years ago, you would have been called a fool to think phones were for anything other than calling and texting.
Now, most of society are using apps on their phones on an hourly basis. At Republic, the goal is to support startups whose ideas may change the world. So the campaign is intended to show that although some ideas may not seem like game-changers now, they may be in the future.”
2. What was the inspiration behind the campaign?
"Big ideas are often misunderstood and called crazy. These same ideas that were written off previously are now mainstream. So we wanted to create an expansive but realistic vision of the future that startups could create. We drew inspiration from the 80s sci-fi movies, because this era of film had such a vivid picture of what the future would look like.
Another big influence was from one of Republic’s friends Peter Diamandis, entrepreneur and co-founder of Singularly University. He once said: “The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.” This definitely resonated with us and helped us with the campaign theme.”
3. What is your main goal with this campaign?
"To inspire more open minded individuals to think about the future, what's coming up next, and to give them the idea that it's not too soon to invest in that future now. In fact, it's around the corner. Going back to the smartphones, remember how fast they spread around the world with everyone suddenly having one? That’s why we want people to invest early - even if it seems crazy now. Traditional investing isn’t going anywhere but people are starting to look elsewhere for financial returns. Startup investing in the US has only become accessible to the non-rich in the last few years so we want to make people aware that this avenue is open to them.
It’s so easy to become a startup investor but often people don't know they could invest in this way. The mission at Republic is to democratize investing, so if more regular people are investing in ambitious companies, the goal is being achieved."
4. How did you build out the campaign strategy?
“As Republic allows startups to fundraise via a crowd, we decided to crowdsource ideas from the entire Republic team. We wanted it to be simple, crisp and noticeable. Crazy is a controversial word - some people on the team were concerned about the negative connotation - but we convinced them that it's ok to be a little bit on the controversial side. We were confident that people would ‘get’ it.
Thinking about location - Fulton street is a central place for people in finance, plus it has one of the best ROIs in terms of cost per exposure in New York. So we thought this would be a good place to reach the target demographic."
5. What was the creative process like?
"We wanted to showcase some technologies that are currently emerging but feel futuristic. These ended up being a hoverboard, a flying car, some augmented reality glasses, a drone and crypto. All of these technologies exist but we’re not sure exactly what they will look like or be used for. So to fit with the theme, the visuals needed to show these technologies being used in a normal way, but in the future.
For example, rather than the drone having a camera - something that you may see today - we had the drone delivering pizza. There is a real possibility that drones will be the main way pizzas are delivered - we wanted the readers to think about this. There is a talented designer on the team called Dmitry, who did a great job bringing the illustrations to life. Peter, the Head of Product, lead the creative direction and ensured the campaign stood out.
To really illustrate the “crazy” theme, we decided to base the copy on stories related to businesses that are now mainstream but were written off before. For example, we talked about selfie apps that are now popular but wouldn’t have been a long time ago."
6. Why did you decide to run subway ads? Why now?
"We wanted to reach an audience that is in the target demographic but are harder to reach online. In particular, people who are interested in investing but never thought about startup investing before. This is because they didn’t think they could invest in startups. So we wanted to make them aware of Republic and how easy it is to invest in startups these days. The plan is to get millions investing in startups so reaching a mainstream audience was important. We wanted to test our hypotheses around OOH ads and it felt like this was the right time."
7. What is the hardest part about putting together a NYC subway campaign?
"Managing the logistics and ensuring the messaging and creative came out right. Unlike digital where you can allow a reader of your ad to do further research there and then, on the subway the ad needs to tell the entire story. It was similar to other creative projects run by the team on a regular basis, just on a much larger scale. Also, as bright colours were used on the creative, ensuring that the designs came out with the right coloring was a challenge."
“Subway ads help to legitimize a digital startup as
they ‘exist’ in the real world and aren’t just a website or app.”
8. Why do you think NYC subway ads are becoming so popular for tech startups?
"It’s another way to reach an audience that may have become tired of digital ads. There’s less distractions - no ad blockers or other tabs to think about. So readers of your ad are more likely to engage and take in the message. In some way, it helps to legitimize a digital startup as they ‘exist’ in the real world and aren’t just a website or app.
Finally, startups are always looking for places to market where their competitors aren’t. Most startups are marketing on Facebook, few are on the Subway. So there’s less competition offline."
9. At what stage should a tech startup consider investing in OOH ads?
"Once there is some form of product / market fit. OOH is a large part about branding and long-term relationships being built with customers. If you don’t know who your customers are or if they actually want your product, it would be unwise to do campaigns like these."
10. What advice do you have for tech startups considering subway ads?
"There's still much learning to do around the subway ads and how they can be optimized for greater performance. So the advice would be to treat it as an experiment that can be improved and not done again if it doesn’t work. Be bold with your messaging - boring advertising doesn’t appeal."
Tips For Tech Startups Considering an OOH NYC Subway Ad Campaign
If you are a NYC tech startup you’ve probably wondered if it’s time for your company to do your very own takeover campaign. Like Theo mentioned, a subway ad that your customers can see in ‘real life’ are a great way to help your digital brand feel more real and help customers connect. It’s also a great way to get your brand out in front a large-scale crowd very quickly.
Before doing a campaign, be sure you’ve established solid, simple brand messaging and have a clear idea of who you want to attract and why. NYC subway ads can definitely be a financial risk for tech startups but Republic believes if you know who your customers are and are bold with your messaging, it is a great experiment and a risk worth taking.