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I bought something off the side of a bus

Kai Lovel
Kai Lovel
3 min read

(And what that means for digital marketing.)

Today I was getting fuel at a busy petrol station. Filling time, I was scanning the surrounding roads for something of interest.

A bus drives past, with an advertisement on the side. The purple colour catches me, the clever words intrigue me and the compelling offer grabs me.

Australia's affordable meal kit. $5 per serve. Quality local ingredients. Dinnerly is the new kid on the block for meal kits in Perth. Owned by Marley Spoon and catering to a more everyday demographic, it's an interesting offering.

And one I had never heard of until that bus drove past.

When I got home, I grabbed my phone, searched up "dinnerly" on Google and clicked on the first result (which happened to be a Google Search Ad).

I then proceeded to sign up for an account and order my first box. It's coming next week and I'll be sure to let you know how it is.

It also helps to add context to this unusually fast customer journey. Two important facts were true:

  1. I fit their target market. That bus ad wouldn't be very compelling for a competent home cook for 2 picky kids, or a food critic who's out 4 nights a week, but for myself (who's somewhat time-poor, looking for something cheap, but also wanting to be healthy) it was a perfect fit.
  2. I was in a "ready to buy" mindset. I had been actively researching options for meal kits as a result of feeling a pain point around my eating/cooking habits. I was ✅ problem aware (poor eating habits), ✅ solution aware (meal kits) but not yet 🤔 product aware (Dinnerly). That changed with the bus ad.

I realise not every buyer goes from awareness all the way to revenue (and now referral through this blog post) in a matter of hours (or at all). But some do.

This personal experience is a good example of both the opportunities and challenges for the marketing teams at such companies.

As I was approaching the end of sign up (after I had put in my card details), a Typeform popped up asking me how I heard about Dinnerly. I chose the "Digital Poster / Billboard" option and kept going.

This form popup is probably a non-event for most consumers. But as someone who works in marketing, I could see that this was an effort by Dinnerly to make their customer attribution model as accurate as possible.  

See, the customer journey I took would most likely come up as "acquired through paid search" in most marketing platforms, but of course, it was really a harder-to-measure bus ad that actually made the friendly introduction.

Alice de Courcy from Cognism speaks about this concept as a dark funnel.

“Dark funnels represent all the places that buyers are engaging and making decisions that no attribution software or tracking can account for. It's called the dark funnel because it's just, well, hard to see.”

And it's not just out of home (OOH) advertising like bus ads that lives in the dark. Word of mouth, public relations, events, online communities, organic social, podcasts and other open content are all examples of hard (but not impossible) to track, highly valuable marketing activities.

Chris Walker from Refine Labs believes the dark funnel is where a lot of a product or service's "demand generation" happens. Whether it's in a B2B context, or you're selling to consumers, this will continue to be true.

When thinking about this, I've considered a future possibility. One where consumers and brands are more connected in the dark funnel.

There is work being done in the space that will enable more and more attribution even in the dark. Take AdQuick's new OOH technology solutions for example.

Even still, a lot of these attribution solutions feel like a "one way mirror." While companies are getting more data on these interactions, consumers are still largely in the dark.

Imagine this:
When you look at that poster on that particular bus (for an extended period of time), you then receive a notification on your phone to follow up on that offer.

While some may argue that might step over a privacy line, I would personally embrace that as an opportunity for both parties. But that's an idea for another day.

For our current reality, however, as consumers, we're likely to keep being asked "where did you hear about us" for a little while longer.

And marketers will probably still have to work with incomplete attribution on their campaigns.

But even still, people will keep buying subscriptions to meal kits. And while that's true, something's going right.