In an effort to squeeze money out of every available surface, the MTA announced in July an initiative to sell ads on Metrocards. With the potential to make up to half a million dollars per ad campaign, the cash-strapped authority saw this venture as a potential revenue maximizer, and this past weekend, the MTA unveiled the first such cards carrying an advertisement for The Gap.
The cards themselves, seen above, come as something as a shock to those of us used to the familiar gold background with blue lettering. Gone is anything identifying the thing as a Metrocard, and in its place is a coupon for The Gap. In honor of the clothing giant’s remodeled flagship store at 34th Street and Broadway, just possessing and presenting the Metrocard at any Gap in the city nets its owner a 20 percent discount from October 10 through November 18. These cards are the first in over 15 years that don’t say Metrocard on the front.
“Opening up the front of MetroCards to advertising gives the MTA a new source of revenue,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota. “We will monitor public acceptance of ads going forward to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with use of the transit system. There is no reason why the MTA shouldn’t put every resource it can toward helping its fragile finances.”
According to the MTA, The Gap cards will make up around 10 percent of the monthly Metrocard sales and will be available at station booths and vending machines at 10 stations near the new flagship store. Those stations include Herald Square, Penn Station, Union Square, Grand Central, Columbus Circle, Times Square, 59th/Lexington, 86th St. on the East Side and the E/M stop at Lexington — essentially all of Manhattan’s most popular stations. The cards are inserted randomly into the preexisting supply of the regular blue-and-gold cards in the vending machines, but station agents can sell ad-supported cards with rides until supplies run out.
Interestingly, The Gap’s reasoning for using the Metrocard as an ad platform contains some interesting contradictions. “Because the MTA MetroCard is an iconic element of every New Yorker’s life, it felt like an appropriate vehicle to promote the opening of our newly remodeled flagship store at 34th and Broadway,” Chris Gayton, Gap’s senior director of media, said. “We’re excited to take part in this historic moment as the first advertiser on the front of the MetroCard.”
Of course, by buying out the entire front of the Metrocard, the flimsy piece of plastic is hardly iconic. In fact, it’s even easier to lose in one’s wallet because nothing on it other than a magnetic strip identifies it as a Metrocard. It’s just a generic fare payment card with some Gap branding, and nothing about it screams “everyday New York life.” This problem will be solved in the next full-card ad campaign, likely to launch in December of January. The MTA will print ad-supported cards with the word “MetroCard” on the back in the white space near the top. This is designed to “remove any doubt a customer could have about what he or she was purchasing.”
Still, the MTA can’t complain about the new revenue stream, and in fact, MTA officials say the calls from interested advertisers keep pouring in. “Since we first announced that we would accept branded MetroCards, our phones have been ringing non-stop with inquires,” Paul J. Fleuranges, the MTA’s Senior Director of Corporate and Internal Communications, said. “In the coming months, MTA customers will see other branded cards in the system. Like The Gap, advertisers are looking to showcase their logo and provide customers with a call to action. We look forward to seeing how creative advertisers can get with the card.”
On another note, the site went unexpectedly dark last Wednesday for a few days, and more than a few of you wrote in concerning my disappearance. My grandmother passed away on Wednesday evening, and I took a few days off to spend some time mourning and remembering her with my family. She was an avid reader of this site and always loved seeing where I’d end up next. Thanks to those who wrote in, and thanks for your patience over the past few days.