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Uber used drones to advertise carpooling to drivers stuck in traffic in Mexico

The future of advertising?

DJI Phantom 3

A few months ago, drivers stuck in Mexico City traffic were greeted with a strange sight: drones carrying signs advertising UberPool. “The city would be for you, not 5.5 million cars,” one drone’s sign read. “Driving by yourself? This is why you can never see the volcanoes,” another read, a reference to the smog that obscures the mountains surrounding the city.

Photos of the unique drone-based advertising strategy first surfaced in an article published last week in Bloomberg about Uber’s growth in Latin America. MIT Technology Review characterized the drones as “heckling” drivers, while Jalopnik said they were being “badgered.” Popular Science fretted over whether we could soon see ad-bearing drones here in the US.

A spokesperson for Uber confirmed that drones were used to advertise its carpooling service in Mexico City, but that the company has no plans to replicate the strategy in other markets. In other words, this was a one-time thing.

Or was it? As PopSci points out, Uber would need to obtain a federal waiver, as well as jump through various other bureaucratic hoops, to get permission to fly its ad-drones over drivers stuck on the 405 in Long Beach, or the BQE in New York City. That said, as long as the ad is “securely attached to the small unmanned aircraft” and is flown over human beings ”inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft,” the Federal Aviation Administration says ad-drones would be okay under federal law.

In some ways, what Uber pulled off in Mexico City could be seen as the future of advertising. It’s eye-catching, cheaper than a billboard, and clearly results in a lot of earned media for the brand. Which is another way of saying, I’d like to apologize for whatever role this article may play in our dystopian future where coupon-bearing drones dive-bomb unsuspecting consumers. My bad.