Macau Business

Local companies have recently developed an AI-based media platform to screen ads in taxis – displaying information relevant to what has just been said in the cab.

By Tony Lai

From outdoor billboards to print media to social media like Facebook and WeChat, companies and institutions today have various options to announce their messages to their target audience. In recent months, one more tool has been added to the marketers’ arsenal to mull when undertaking promotional campaigns in the city – a platform that can narrow the target audience to specific locations, feeding back regular reports on how the campaign has fared.

Local companies WISOO Digital Marketing Ltd. and Macau Wang Taxi have recently developed a media platform based upon artificial intelligence (AI) technology ‘tailored’ to the local public transit system.. Tablet-like W A.I. Go devices will be installed in 300 local taxis to convey tourism-related information for promotional campaigns to passengers, a segment of high-spending customers in the eyes of hotels, casinos and high-end brands here, they believe.

According to Rickie Too, co-founder of WISOO, the W A.I. Go system has a speech recognition function and can accurately identify taxi passenger information, namely the number of passengers and their destinations on each ride. The system will display any relevant advertisements on the screen once it has successfully identified keywords uttered by passengers. For example, if the system detects passengers saying ‘hotel’, it will then automatically broadcast a relevant advertisement without the need to touch the device.

“We now have a list of about 30 keywords for the system to identify, which could be expanded to as many as possible,” says Tim Ma, co-founder and CTO (Chief Technology Officer) of the company.

Another highlight of the W A.I. Go system is that it can detect the instant location of taxis, allowing room for more specific marketing strategies.

“Right now we have designated 24 key zones in Macau; namely tourist areas and hotel-resorts,” says Too. “Our clients can request their ads be only displayed for passengers catching a cab in Galaxy Macau or Wynn Macau [for example].

“This location-specific approach is important as some companies may only want to have their products and services target a specific type of audience,” continued Too, who has accumulated more than a decade of experience in digital and content marketing. “For instance, the area around StarWorld Hotel [on the Macau Peninsula] is known for boasting high-spending customers… Ad placement on channels like Facebook, WeChat and Google cannot be that location specific, but we are able to achieve that.”

High conversation

The platform underwent a trial run in a number of taxis for several months in 2018 and was officially launched in November following installation in 50 taxis. Mr. Too expects the number will rise to 100 taxis in January and 300 in March, or over 18 per cent of about 1,600 taxis in the city.

“With about 300 taxis, the platform could generate a total of 1.2 million ad views every month,” he believes.

The platform has so far attracted four clients, including one hotel, two gaming-related companies and a high-end retailer, with some more in talks. One client – Suncity Group – is one of the largest junket operators in the gaming enclave, and utilised the platform to promote its title-sponsored Macau Grand Prix in November.

“There were close to 60,000 ad views across 25 taxis with some 1,400 passengers scanning the QR code on the video,” said Too. “This conversion rate is quite high for digital marketing . . . while the feedback from Suncity was that they were also pleasantly surprised by the figures.”

As a considerable number of taxis will be installed with the devices this year, WISOO will seek to work hand in hand with the government to broadcast relevant information about tourist sites in the territory.

“When the taxi enters areas like the Ruins of St. Paul’s, our system can immediately detect the location of the vehicle and automatically play the relevant information,” he explained.

Ad effectiveness

With the platform only officially launched in November, this part of the business has already broken even. The results of W A.I. Go so far might not be a surprise to Too, who formerly served in managerial positions in digital and content marketing for three local gaming operators, and says: “I’ve been in this industry for so many years I know what the difficulties in marketing are and what [the clients] want.”

Large corporations had been hesitant in placing taxi ads, namely on the outside of vehicles.

“Although you’d placed ads on, let’s say, 100 taxis,” he said, “the drivers might tear all the stickers down and sell the ad spaces to other companies immediately after showing you proof of the ads. In the past it was difficult for companies to check whether the ads were still in place.”

“Our system can now show

    how many taxis with the devices are running, how many times the ads have been played, and other relevant data,” he continued.  “They can now have more insights into the effectiveness of their ads.”

    According to Tim Ma, who has been involved in the technology field for more than a decade, the business model of W A.I. Go especially suits the local market because high-spending travellers, in particular, opt for taxis as their land transportation here, albeit only 1,600 taxis are available in the city.

    “The business model might not be replicated in other markets, where the target audience probably has more means of transportation,” he explained.

    As the speech recognition function of the platform can only currently identify Mandarin, Ma says the system will be upgraded to include English and Cantonese in the future, while the company also plans to devise more products – namely, tourism products – based upon the technologies it has developed.

    Patent pending

    Some local clients have contacted WISOO in the hope of using the technologies of W A.I. Go to develop new products for them, say the duo. The platform, which is locally developed, is now undergoing patent application.

    The company has also recently co-operated with entities backing the development of two upcoming cultural creative areas in the city – Taipa Old Village and the district of Rua dos Ervanarios – to set up outdoor screens displaying tourism related information and promotions; the screens in Taipa Old Village, for example, will display the promotions of Rua dos Ervanarios and vice versa.

    “We’re exploring whether the screens could be incorporated with thermal technology to detect the traffic flow of visitors in the areas,” Too remarked.

    In addition, important data, such as how many times the advertisements have been played and destination statistics, are recorded by W A.I. Go, in accordance with local rules, and could be used for detailed market analyses and trend prediction, according to the duo.

    “Our data [in the past few months] show Galaxy Macau is the most popular destination for taxi passengers,” said Too, “with the result in line with other reports and forecasts that Galaxy Macau has been the leading player among others in the premium mass market.”

    With the device coming online in 300 taxis by March, the company also aims to provide free public notices of the traffic situation of some main thoroughfares in the city via the taxi data collected.

    “As Macau works to implement its Smart City vision, we are also happy to work with the government to share the data we have to support the city’s development,” Mr. Too concluded.