Jan
04

To tell and show with a new branding campaign

By

These new signs will begin appearing in subway cars everywhere this weekend.

The MTA enters 2011 in a bind. Public trust in the authority has all but vanished amidst another round of fare hikes and service cuts, and politicians find it to be an easy whipping boy for their own failures. Yet, the subways are, except when felled by the weather, moving forward, and to do that, the authority must go, hat in hand, to Albany to ask for a way to fill a $10 billion hole in its capital budget.

That hole is not an insignificant one. As the MTA’s infrastructure inexorably continues to age, the authority has had to ramp up spending on non-revenue-generating maintenance projects. The Second Ave. Subway, for instance, is a traditional project that can be supported by construction bonds because the bonds can be issued off of guarantees of increased ridership and more fare revenue. Repainting a station ceiling and repairing a broken handrail do not lead to the same ridership and revenue increases.

So the MTA needs that money, and the authority needs to prove that the money is going toward making the system more pleasant and more useful for everyone. Enter SubTalk. For nearly 20 years, SubTalk posters had been the voice of the subway, but they have been the voice of no. Don’t hold the doors. Don’t run on the staircase and platforms. Don’t lean over the platform edge. Don’t litter. The informative posters — such as an overly optimistic one about the Second Ave. Subway’s once-projected opening date — seem few and far between.

And so in early December, as I reported then, the MTA rebranded its house ads. “Improving, non-stop” became the new tagline, and the posters featured innovations. One discussed the new countdown clocks; another presented the MTA’s embrace of real-time information on its website; a third talked about the Select Bus Service upgrades. “Traditionally we have used the space to tell our customers what not to do on the system,” Paul Fleuranges, the Senior Director of Corporate and Internal Communications, said to me, “but with this messaging we’re using the space to communicate with our customers by telling them what we’re doing or plan to do.”

What irked many though was the death of Train of Thought, the successor to the now-defunct Poetry in Motion. As part of the rebranding, the MTA temporarily shelved Train of Thought, the posters with quotes from leading intellects, and many were unhappy. “I don’t begrudge them wanting to put their best foot forward,” Gene Russianoff said to The Times. “But if it comes at the price of permanently kiboshing the poetry, I think that’s a mistake.”

The MTA insisting to me that the “Improving, Non-stop” rebranding “is not an image campaign, rather a better use of our internal space.” But even it were an image campaign, I can’t fault the authority for that. Amongst the blizzard and fare hikes, projects delayed and budgets exceeded, labor unrest and dwindling funds, the MTA doesn’t just seem as though it’s constantly under attack; it is constantly under attack. Oftentimes, those attacks are well deserved; other times they’re not.

Yet, we cannot deny the economic reality of the situation: The $10 billion that the MTA needs for its capital budget is far more important than a few posterboards of poetry or inspirational quotes that, by and large, are ignored by most riders. If moving, as Fleuranges said to me, “away from the ‘House of No’ to ‘The Church of What’s Happening Now’” leads to some recognition of capital improvements and an eventual outlay of badly needed capital funds, I think we can sacrifice a few quotations by Abraham Lincoln or Henri Poincare for a few months. I’m sure there’s an app for that anyway.



13 Responses to “To tell and show with a new branding campaign”

  1. Al D says:

    I think that there needs to be a balance between a fixed ‘infomercial’ and telling us something else, such as Albany ‘stole’ hundreds of millions of dedicated transit dollars. How’s that for PR? Either way, the message(s) should appear on the R160 FINDS, at least saving print costs and freeing up revenue producing ad space in those cars. Now, how’s that for a ‘train of thought’?

  2. SubwayAdman says:

    My favorite of the ads is “Improvements don’t just happen.” In my head I read it as “Improvements just don’t happen.”

    I snapped a pict of it a few weeks ago.

    http://adsonthesubway.posterou.....ust-happen

  3. Kid Twist says:

    I dunno. Feels a bit off to me. I don’t associate “non-stop” with the subway. It’s more of an airline term.

  4. John says:

    Like I said when the campaign began, “Improving, non-stop” sounds like the MTA’s only going to concentrate on fixing express service. Which would make sense if you stuck the posters on the lower Brighton line, I suppose.

    As for the posters, the MTA would do better given their financial position to be working on getting more fully-sponsored cars and wrapped ones, since they’re making money off that. Hard to justify going to Albany for more $$$ if you’re printing up thousands of ad space cards for the trains that provide no revenue stream.

  5. Edward says:

    I’d love to see the MTA print some strip maps for older model trains that don’t have electronic ones. Most train sets run on the same line every day, so (for example) they could print “R” train strip maps and post 2 or 3 of them in each car.

    My favorite SubTalk poster was the one that said “Did you ever think you’d be able to purchase a subway ride with a credit card?” I always wanted to write below it “Did you ever think you’d need a line of credit to do so?”. Welcome to the 21st Century!

    • Adam G says:

      The stock used on the 1, 3 7 lines already has these, albeit not in the most visible location.

      • Edward says:

        True, but the A,B,C,D,F,G and R trains don’t. A few strip maps on some old IRT cars, located in a place where they can barely be seen, is not very imaginative. It would cost the MTA zero dollars more than they are already paying to print these lousy PR ads. How about doing something to actually provide helpful info to the rider? Isn’t that why they’re in business?

        • Andrew says:

          Each A Division maintenance facility is responsible for cars on only one subway line. That’s why A Division cars can have strip maps.

          It isn’t so easy on the B Division. Cars on the R also run on the G (and maybe also the F, although I haven’t seen any there in a long time). Cars on the B also run on the N. At least for now, the A, C, and D have dedicated fleets (if the Rockaway Park shuttle is considered a branch of the A, but that’s reasonable).

  6. JK says:

    Ben, you imply that the bonds supporting 2nd Avenue construction are somehow related to future rider revenue from that line. Are there special 2nd Ave bonds supported by dedicated funding streams? Or, more likely, are the 2nd Ave bonds part of the general capital bond issuance for the capital plan — which is supported by multiple streams of MTA revenue?

    “The Second Ave. Subway, for instance, is a traditional project that can be supported by construction bonds because the bonds can be issued off of guarantees of increased ridership and more fare revenue.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Emerging street artist Beast made a few not-so-subtle alterations to the map and posted them at subway entrances around the city last week. Props to him for taking the Manhattan as phallus motif a step further and for poking (no pun intended) fun at the MTA’s silly new ad campaign. [...]

  2. [...] Emerging street artist Beast made a few not-so-subtle alterations to the map and posted them at subway entrances around the city last week. Props to him for taking the Manhattan as phallus motif a step further and for poking (no pun intended) fun at the MTA’s silly new ad campaign. [...]

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