One day this fall, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski put on a bushy blonde wig, a baseball cap, and wraparound sunglasses. He slid behind the driver's seat of a car bearing a fuzzy pink mustache. His task for the afternoon: Pick up a succession of Lyft passengers in the Boston suburbs and engage them in unscripted conversation. His goal: Go undetected among rabid Patriots fans as long as possible, to make for good drama on the Undercover Lyft video series.
The series started in the summer of 2015, when the ride-hailing company partnered with the Chicago Cubs, enlisting star third baseman Kris Bryant as the first driver. In the first episode, Bryant chauffeurs unsuspecting passengers--well, somewhat unsuspecting, given that they've signed a mysterious video-appearance waiver--around Chicago. (Typically, according to Lyft, the passengers are told they're helping train a new driver.)
Lyft's chief marketing officer Kira Wampler explained that the Cubs organization told Lyft's San Francisco-based team, "If you guys can get out here in the next few days, you can get two hours of Kris Bryant's time." According to Wampler, "We said, 'Of course we will be there!'"
Since then, stars such as Demi Lovato and Danica Patrick have participated. One of the most absurd and most popular episodes, in which Shaquille O'Neal drives passengers around Atlanta, came about as a result of the former NBA star catching football legend Jerry Rice's episode. Shaq posted on his Facebook wall: "I should try this to see if people could recognize me." More than 1,000 people "Liked" his post--and Lyft reached out.
Despite his hulking 7'1'' size, few recognized O'Neal off the jump. He disguised himself with varying hats and wigs and names and backstories ("I make bracelets." "I used to chase trains").
To put together the concept and car-cam-enabled videos, Lyft worked with production studio Alldayeveryday and director Alex Richanbach, who's known for doing some Funny or Die shorts, according to AdWeek.
Lovato's stint is the most-watched on Lyft's YouTube channel, having racked up more than 6 million views. But the company's goal goes beyond the raw numbers, Wampler says. "We ask: Are we also expanding the audiences with whom we're interacting? Are we bringing our brand to life in new and interesting ways?"
The most frequently recognized celebrity-turned-Lyft-driver? Snapchat phenom DJ Khaled. Half of the passengers who got into his car recognized him right away--despite his disguises, including a shirt with a sewn-on patch reading "Bill." Turns out you just can't mask the DJ-turned-social-media-phenomenon's well-known Khaled-isms.