Free rides in the miniature German-made electric vehicles were being hawked across the street from Betabrand's Mission District headquarters. The premise was simple: walk up to the Yo/Smart pop-up promo station (sponsored by Mercedes-Benz), "Yo" @smartmission, and then scrunch your way into a two-seater and be driven across town.
"The main priority is to get people to drive the vehicle, and tapping into that Yo audience is a great way to do that," a spokesperson for Mercedes-Benz, the United States distributor of Smart cars, explained to TechCrunch. "We're giving 'Electricurious' San Franciscans the world's first-ever Yo-powered test ride."
While a line of cars were parked along Valencia Street, idly waiting for passengers that would never come, a Smart representative I spoke to insisted that you must download Yo and summon your ride through the app. "That's part of the promotion," she told me.
Of course, the event was a flop. People already have Uber and Lyft for on-demand rides, and the entire premise of walking to a glorified taxi stand undermines the promise of convenience that has fueled the growth of service apps. And for some reason, the media—presumably the only people in San Francisco interested in this stunt—were not welcome to participate.
For the fifteen some odd minutes I hung around the area, the only people there were a film crew, Smart handlers, a man delivering fruit to a nearby restaurant, and a bored police officer tasked with protecting the scene.
Unfortunately for Smart, the company paid to bring a film crew out to document the brand synergy, hoping to shoot a commercial featuring excited Yo-users blasting around town in the easily-flippable car.
"Are you about to take a ride?!," one of the cinematographers asked me as I lurked about. "No, I'm just press," I responded.
He went back to filming the parked cars while a production script sat abandoned on the sidewalk. Like Yo, it was of little use to anybody.