Putting a friendly face on a major daily commuting disruption

On October 10, 2016, Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) transitioned all tollbooths to an all-electronic tolling system, effectively eliminating cash transactions in Massachusetts highways. Starting in spring 2016, ThinkArgus worked with MassDOT to strategize, create, and execute a campaign to gain public support for the upcoming change, which was expected to create confusion among drivers and bring about a significant disruption to their daily commutes. Based on initial research, including reviews of similar projects in other states, it was clear that increasing E-ZPass adoption was key to a smooth transition into the new system. But how do you improve an adoption rate of 85% on a product that has been free for almost two decades?

The Challenge

In Massachusetts, meetings and conventions generate economic activity, spark innovation, and keep us at the forefront of industry. The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) operates several of the most important convention and event venues in the region, including the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC) in South Boston, the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center in Back Bay, and the MassMutual Center in Springfield. These venues do more than attract over 700,000 visitors and generate nearly $800 million in economic activity: they also drive innovation. But the convention market has been changing; new technology has transformed the way people gather, exchange ideas, and network. How does an agency dedicated to growing the convention business stay relevant in such an environment? How can Boston compete with larger cities? As the marketing and communication agency of record for the MCCA, we were tasked with finding answers to these questions.

What we did

First, we had to understand why 15% of drivers had not already adopted E-ZPass. Formative research revealed that some people had privacy concerns, while others lacked bank accounts and found it difficult to participate in a debit-based program like E-ZPass. After conducting focus groups and in-person interviews, however, we discovered a much more promising target: procrastinators. A surprisingly large population simply hadn’t bothered to sign up.

To reach that audience, we developed a campaign that used clever copy to drive home the message that E-ZPass made your life easier, and the transponder was free. A highly strategic media buy placed our creative online, on TV, radio, out-of-home, and even at highway gas pumps. As the go-live date approached, we revised the campaign to add a sense of urgency, playing off of the common anxiety of “missing out” on a good thing. All of this was executed with an understanding that our message had to engage not only the general public, but also policymakers and key influencers, whose support was crucial to the overall success of the project.


We’re proud to say that the campaign exceeded its target goal: 170,000 people signed up for E-ZPass accounts between July and October 2016, an 88% increase from the previous year. Furthermore, the highly optimized online component resulted in a click-through rate of 24% – much higher than the typical 2.5–3.5%. Most importantly, the campaign helped to change the tenor of the conversation, reduce anxiety among public officials and the general public, and help to build MassDOT’s credibility as an agency that is focused on the customer experience.

Services providedAdvertising & Creative, Video