Home Buses The pitfalls of GPS-based advertising

The pitfalls of GPS-based advertising

by Benjamin Kabak

The most compelling two seconds of a bus you’ll ever see.

In its ever-increasing quest to wrangle money out of the exposed services of its buses and subways, the MTA earlier this week announced yet another new source of advertising revenue. While the agency isn’t yet slapping product promotions on the names of its stations – do it! — it will now feature rotating, GPS-targeted ads on digital panels on the outsides of some buses. This will not end well.

Holly M. Sanders, writing in The Post, explored the ins and outs of this $800-million, ten-year advertising deal between the MTA and Tital Worldwide:

Titan Worldwide, which has a 10-year, $800 million-plus contract to sell ads throughout the city’s bus and commuter-train systems, said that using GPS technology, it can wirelessly beam ads based on the bus’ location and the time of day.

For instance, the screens can show an ad for Saks Fifth Avenue while in Manhattan and change to Target in Brooklyn. The ads can even change languages according to the ethnicity of a neighborhood

“In the morning, we can show Starbucks, and on the way home from work, a Budweiser ad,” said Dave Etherington, Titan’s global marketing director.

As Jossip noted, these ads are rife with the potential to display inadvertently racist message because the GPS is set to include ethnicity and demographic information as the buses travel the city streets. I will leave the pitfalls of this approach up to your imagination. But installing these monitors on buses that, for example, travel from the UN to Harlem (M104) or any myriad buses that run up and down Flatbush Ave. could lead to some social faux pas.

The MTA is currently running these screens on the ever-popular trial basis along the slow M23 route. If this is deemed a feasible source of advertising — and a with a ten-year deal in the works, why not? — these panels will annoyingly come to a bus near you next year.

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John October 23, 2008 - 1:42 am

Point taken but I think that nevertheless an ad company in the middle of a 10-year contract would have everything to lose by offending people. They have a lot of incentive not to piss people off.

Besides that, I don’t really see how these could be any more annoying than regular ads on buses.

Now those subway ads that advertise valet parking in English and a wanted ad for “Parqueadores” in Spanish? That’s offensive. And it didn’t even require gps.

Benjamin Kabak October 23, 2008 - 1:43 am

There’s also the condescension factor. Because I live in Brooklyn, I get a Target ad instead of a Saks Fifth Ave. ad? That is kind of insulting right there.

mike October 23, 2008 - 2:02 am

If they can get GPS working for this, why can’t they get it working for something useful like bus arrival time estimates? This is allegedly impossible in New York because of all the tall buildings around, even though it works (more or less) in other cities.

Max October 23, 2008 - 11:04 am

That’s the most irritating thing of all! The ad companies have no problem getting it to work. My $100 Garmin Nuvi never loses signal in the city. What the *#@& is the MTA’s problem??

Chicago and Atlanta both have advertising companies providing the train arrival time estimates, either currently or in the near future, and are getting cash from the deal by letting the companies display ads on the screens. Sure, they’re smaller systems, but if the Chicago Loop has 6 converging lines all sharing the same tracks and can provide the ETA info, then the MTA has no freakin’ excuse anymore because nowhere in our system is there a signaling operation as complicated.

Ray October 23, 2008 - 9:43 am

My thoughts exactly. I am sure that it has to do with active versus passive communication with the devices, but it would be a great opportunity for a win-win.

Well, There’s Always Grad School - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com October 23, 2008 - 12:17 pm

[…] that the M.T.A.’s $800 million-plus contract with an advertising firm to place GPS-targeted ads on its buses could lead to some embarrassing ethnic faux-pas. [2nd Ave […]

Mike October 23, 2008 - 12:33 pm

My question is what would be the racist ads??
I don’t understand.

herenthere October 23, 2008 - 7:34 pm

It deals with stereotypes…and how people might perceive the ad. But the MTA/Titan could fight back, saying that the ad companies requested to place the ad in specific neighborhoods either: a)they wanted to get more of that community to eat their products, or b) there are more of their stores there, and they want to let residents know…

LH October 23, 2008 - 12:44 pm

Who cares? They need all the revenue they can get at this point.

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