Consumers on the West Coast can charge their electric vehicles (EV) for free, since new charging stations are paid for with advertising by brands like Macy’s and Whole Foods.
Inspired by Google and its sponsorship-based revenue model, which provides a valuable service to the community free of charge, Volta Industries installs the charging stations in prominent shopping malls and convinces companies to fund them in exchange for advertising. The start-up has just raised $7.5 million in venture capital to install an additional 400 stations by the end of the year. The stations promise a lift in brand perception as well as a valuable, eco-friendly public service, according to Scott Mercer, chief executive (CEO) of Volta.
“By putting ads on Volta stations rather than billboards, brands get better community perception because it aligns them with a service that benefits the community,” Mercer says. “Not only do they get the visibility of the message, but they’re making a connection with people by providing something back.”
The project initially started three years ago in Honolulu, the city with the highest per-capita rate of EV ownership in the U.S., before expanding to Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area. Sponsoring the stations – there are currently 110 between those five cities – gives brands “seven-foot-tall beacons for sponsored messages” along with their “green credibility,” says Mercer.
In addition to Macy’s and Whole Foods, sponsors include Sungevity, a California solar sales company; the Oakland A’s baseball team; and General Growth, a real estate investment trust that owns 120 shopping malls throughout the U.S. While some brands seem to be more natural fits than others, sponsors like Macy’s and General Growth want to appeal to the higher-educated, higher-income EV drivers.
“The social psychology of a free service is huge,” Mercer says. “When you provide free EV charging, people tend to stay a little longer and they’re more likely to spend a little more.”
Though the U.S. leads the world in EV adoption, charging stations are relatively rare sights. By using advertising to make electric fueling stations economical, Volta has addressed a clear hole, says Ben Kartzman, chief executive (CEO) of advertising technology firm Spongecell. As the company grows, Kartzman believes its success ultimately depends on customer experience.
“Advertisers aren’t just looking for impressions, but engagement, as well,” Kartzman says. “To get the ad dollars to really flow, Volta will need to offer a platform that allows brands to create a meaningful experience. That’s what stands out.”
For many consumers, simply seeing a charging station could be considered a meaningful experience. According to Volta research, 75 percent of consumers said they’re more likely to buy an electric car after seeing a charging station. And seeing a brand affiliated with the charging station resulted in a 68 percent favorability increase.
Volta’s long-term plan is to expand to 20 other major cities within four years.
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