It's only fitting that the ad-flashing fleet of MyFreeGas began on the racetrack, where racing hobbyist Doby Atilano had impressed a gas manufacturer enough to offer him 100 liters of complimentary fuel in exchange for advertising space on his trophied speedster.
It didn't take long for this financial planner to take the idea off the tracks and onto the metro’s streets: With its patented web-based car tracking system, MyFreeGas, set up in 2008, gives free fuel coupons to motorists who sign up to have an advertiser's sticker stamped on their vehicle.
But the business was far from an instant hit. When it entered the publicity scene, Mt. Atilano and his partners—Jibby and Charisse Tinio, and his wife Jacque Atilano—had to persistently convince companies to include MyFreeGas in their list of marketing avenues.
The firm is presently backed by at least 10,000 registered cars, but even these initially struggled to grasp Mr. Atilano’s novel concept. "We had to tell [them] that the free gas that we give out does not come from our own pockets but comes from our advertisers," he recalls.
A serial number and tamper-resistant sticker are issued to vehicle owners, who can sign up as many as five cars through the MyFreeGas website. To guarantee thorough exposure for the client, every roadster is required to rack up at least 300 kilometers cruising around Metro Manila each month before they can claim a Caltex Starcard worth P1000 in complimentary fuel.
"Our Caltex partnership also gave credibility to our business idea," says Mr. Atilano. The petroleum giant, which had signed on to MyFreeGas from the get-go, spread the word about the platform through events like Ka Road Trip and the 15th Philippine Hot Air Baloon Fiesta. Its other corporate partner, auto service franchise Rapidé, oversees the installation and removal of stickers.
Advertisers can choose the vehicles that will bear their name by leafing through MyFreeGas' car database, which details their average mileage per month, common routes, color, make and model, enabling the former to zero in on a specific target demographic. A client service officer will give firms regular updates on their mobile marketeers with help from the MyFreeGas web system. "Everyone [wants] to see where their company money is going, so we show very transparent proof," says Mr. Atilano.
For good measure, Caltex also provides companies with a list of the motorists who have claimed their free fuel. Towards the start and end of each month, images of the car’s dashboard, body, plate number, and the sticker are taken and uploaded for monitoring purposes.
Rectangular stickers, which can bear a company’s logo or web address, have standard dimensions of 20x3.5 inches, but odd-shaped ones can be as big as 70 square inches. A special adhesive is used to ensure that it doesn’t damage the car's finish once it's removed. "What I like about it most is that it doesn’t cramp the style of your car," he says. "Even high-end luxury cars will still look good with our approved stickers."
Mr. Atilano also thinks the scheme does more than increase a company’s brand recall among the other road users eyeballing the ads from the outside. “The stickers are only the secondary message communicator to our target audience,” shares Mr. Atilano, adding, “Car owners that a company sponsors are highly unlikely to buy the competing brands.”
Ultimately, the benefits MyFreeGas offers to both corporate client and car owner amount to what Mr. Atilano describes as socially responsible advertising in the face of fluctuating fuel prices and skyrocketing print space and air time charges. "We not only offer an alternative, out-of-home avenue to advertise, but a venue for advertisers to extend goodwill to the public," he says. "We want to encourage big companies to give to thousands of Filipinos that need gas subsidy."
Several firms are scheduled to come onboard MyFreeGas this year, but Mr. Atilano is on the lookout for more. "Hopefully [new clients] will provide confidence in other major companies that they may consider advertising with us as well."
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