Brand Strategy

Inside the company placing ads on unbranded delivery trucks

“It’s the only form of advertising that no one knows is a form of advertising,” Tom Shea, co-founder and CEO of Adgile, said.
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Anna Kim

· 6 min read

Chances are high that you’ve seen at least one truck with an ad on the side and assumed the truck was carrying that brand’s products. Chances are also high that wasn’t the case.

Across North America, last-mile delivery trucks in major cities carrying everything from lobsters to appliances are advertising on behalf of brands like Glossier, Crown Affair, Jolie, and Olipop with the help of out-of-home advertising companies like Adgile.

Adgile, which connects small businesses with unbranded trucks with brands eager to advertise, began operations in 2020 and has since completed more than 400 campaigns. In 2022, the company made $1.7 million in revenue, which nearly doubled last year to $3.3 million, according to co-founder and CEO Tom Shea. So far this year, it’s already pulled in $2.5 million, which Shea said is a “big change.”

Much of that change might have to do with the results seen to date. When speaking with recurring clients, Shea told us that “what [he] heard from them was, ‘We like this form of advertising because it’s the only form of advertising that no one knows is a form of advertising.”

We spoke with Shea about the stealthy way that Adgile is looking to change the out-of-home (OOH) industry.

Billboard on wheels

The idea of a “mobile billboard” first came to Shea and his co-founder Max Flannery as a digital screen on the side of an interstate shipping truck. It soon became clear that the costs of digital signage were simply too high to be feasible, so they decided to focus on building an OOH attribution model for static ads and home in on more local markets. But even that came with risks.

“There are a lot of variables that can make something unattractive in this context,” Shea said. “What if [the truck is] on the road four days a week, but it’s only on the road four hours a day? What if it’s only driving during nighttime to avoid city congestion? The average truck is not performing from a return-on-ad-spend or growth marketing perspective.”

Urban last-mile delivery trucks, however, often stop at highly visible places like laundromats during the day, which helps Adgile’s ads get more eyeballs. Shea said.

According to Shea, Adgile tends to work with a lot of DTC and digital-first brands, with contracts averaging around $72k last year. There are some requirements: Generally, brands must have at least 5,000 daily website visitors, and low average order value (AOV) retail-first brands must have at least 25 physical points of distribution, he said. (High AOV, retail-first brands must have at least 10, Shea said.) These requirements, he said, are based on campaign performance measurements to help level-set sales expectations.

“We sell trust more than we sell media,” Shea said. “That comes with making the hard decision of staying out of business if you don’t think the net outcome is going to be a positive one for [a brand].”

So how does Adgile measure impact, exactly? The company uses GPS to track its trucks while software on the backend collects device IDs captured in the truck’s vicinity and matches it to data from providers, including weather and dating apps, that can collect users’ location data. Adgile then follows those users and conducts what Shea calls “ID stitching” to measure the effects of the ads based on what those exposed to the ads do on their devices.

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“The lion’s share of people who are exposed are gonna take action on a mobile phone, but there will be a significant nonzero percentage of individuals that take action on the advertised brand’s website at home on their desktop or tablet, or tell their partner about it during dinner,” Shea said.

As trucks drive around, Shea says there are also “ghost trucks,” which are not actual trucks but rather a software program that gathers data in the same locations where actual trucks were 10 minutes earlier to create a control group and compare conversion rates to exposed groups, which can help to isolate incrementality from brands’ other marketing.

Stop and stare

At the end of the day, an advertisement on a truck is only useful if people see it. For a brand like Glossier, Shea said that may mean finding trucks with routes through neighborhoods like Williamsburg and SoHo where two of its stores (and therefore potential customers) are located, or paying drivers to park their trucks at a Taylor Swift concert.

Period-care brand August used Adgile’s trucks to kick off a retail deal with Target, creating man-on-the-street-style videos featuring the ads in the background for social, Shea said. Beauty brand Saie, meanwhile, used Adgile trucks to give out free products outside of NYC Sephora locations, he said.

“People have always liked out-of-home for creating random, serendipitous moments,” Shea said. “Because we have something on wheels and because it’s portable, we’ve been able to manufacture serendipity by making sure it’s in the right place at the right time.”

To help clients with creative decisions, Adgile’s design team pulls from “data and experience,” Shea said, including information about what colors might make someone give a truck a second look. Red, the color of brake lights and stoplights, is Adgile’s top-performing color, followed by purple, the “least naturally occurring color in society,” he said. This month, Adgile put a photo of a giant bottle of Glossier’s You perfume on the side of a truck and drove it near Smorgasburg, an outdoor food market in Williamsburg. The look, which placed great emphasis on the red and pink bottle, was inspired by the fake OOH trend, Shea said.

As he thinks about the next iteration of the company, Shea said he’s not ruling out digital screens, even if they weren’t the right move at first. He said he wants Adgile to “be on the right side of history when the programmatic digital OOH wave does actually come,” calling it the “inevitable evolution of this industry.”

Correction 5/31/24: This story has been updated since it was originally published to accurately reflect Adgile's client list.

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