Archive for Subway Advertising
Once upon a time in 2008, the MTA and its advertising partner Titan proposed GPS-based advertising for New York City buses. The idea was a simple one: By equipping buses with LED screens and GPS responders, Titan could feed location-based ads to buses around New York. In 2009, the authority even tested a few buses with these next-gen ads, but the idea has seemingly fallen by the wayside. Likely, the costs were too high to justify the technology.
Up in Boston, we receive word of a similar initiative with an auditory twist. The MBTA is thinking of selling location-specific audio ads on its buses. Ben Wolfrord from The Globe has more:
For the second time in four years, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is considering selling audio ads on public transit as a way to drum up new revenue for the cash-strapped agency. A new pitch calls for targeted ads on buses that would be triggered by GPS technology. When the bus passes a particular business, an ad for that shop could play over the vehicle’s loudspeaker. If the audio advertising idea can generate money for the MBTA without irritating riders, officials said they will give it a try.
In 2007, the agency’s T- Radio, a program that mixed music and talk on T station platforms was short-lived. Hundreds of complaints poured in, and the MBTA killed the initiative after two weeks, before ads were aired. The MBTA is not yet sold on the latest idea, general manager Richard A. Davey said. “We’re going to take a look at it. We haven’t made a decision, but it’s something I’m interested in.’’
Before the end of the month, MBTA officials will hear a pitch from Ohio-based Commuter Advertising, which has launched similar advertising with several transit authorities, from Toledo, Ohio, to suburban Chicago, since its founding in 2008. “The company was founded by two transit riders,’’ said Russ Gottesman, cofounder of Commuter Advertising. For that reason, he said, they have the riders’ interests and their tolerance levels at heart. If the ads are profitable, Gottesman said, it could help prevent fare hikes.
According to The Globe, Commuter Advertising has figured out how to exploit audio ads that don’t annoy passengers. These ads would be short — only 29-39 words — and would play “when a bus drives past a business whose owner has purchased air times.” Only a few minutes per hour would be devoted to ads, and other cities — including Champaign, Illinois, have deployed these successfully.
As Boston debates this potentially revenue-generating projects, I wonder how New Yorkers would respond to such an auditory intrusion. Already, our daily rides are saturated with noise. Announcements than range from the unhelpful to the annoying bombard subway riders, and advertisements seem to be the next logical step. After all, the FIND displays have a space for video ads that the MTA doesn’t currently exploit; why not use the public address system to generate revenue?
For some reason, we seem to be more sensitive to paid advertisements than to run-of-the-mill announcements, but if these measures can drive revenue into the pockets of cash-starved transit agencies, why not? The MBTA thinks it can avert fare hikes if it can just find alternate sources of revenue, but that seems to be nothing more than wishful thinking. Still, if the choices are some audio ads or service cuts, I’ll take the ads every which way ’til Sunday.
When: June 15, 2011
Where: The staircase leading up from the Shuttle platform to the entryway to Grand Central Terminal at 42nd St.
I found myself last week walking past the Shuttle platform after entering the subway on 42nd St. and Madison Ave. As I neared the walkway to the IRT complex, I spied these in-staircase advertisements on the steps leading up from the Shuttle platform. As an orange juice connoisseur, I thoroughly enjoyed the subject matter, but what struck me even more so was the presentation of the advertising. I believe this is the first time the MTA has placed a billboard ad inside a staircase.
The ad, on display just a few yards from a train wrapped in a promotional campaign for Lady Gaga’s latest album, works best from a distance. As harried straphangers approach the staircases, the ad comes into view, and Simply Orange is on display for everyone to see. This presentation too is appropriate only for stations that have expansive views and staircases. It wouldn’t work at, say, the 79th St. entrance along the 1 train because those exiting the station never see the staircase from a distance.
As we know, the MTA is trying to eke as many advertising dollars as possible out of the subway system, and the 42nd St. corridor is the ideal location for it. Grand Central is the system’s second busiest subway station, and commuters bound for Midtown office buildings filter through the Shuttle station. This isn’t the first advertisement to adorn the staircase, and we’ll have to see where else these types of ads end up. For now, I’m a fan of the presentation even as advertising becomes more pervasive throughout the system.
While not covering much new ground, Alex Goldmark has a short bit up at Transportation Nation on the MTA’s advertising efforts. As the authority searches for more ways to draw in revenue, it has expanded its attempts to secure more advertising deals underground. Currently, Goldmark reports, 16 train cars — one 10-car 6 train and two 3-car shuttles — are currently wrapped in ads, and the MTA hopes to sell more external space this year.
Over the past few years as the economy went south, the authority’s ad revenue numbers had dipped. After earning $118 million in 2008, revenue totals were approximately $10 million less in 2009 and 2010, and a rebound this year would help ease the MTA’s fiscal pain. Meanwhile, the MTA currently has eight stations that have been dominated by one advertiser. These include Atlantic Ave., Wall Street, Union Square, Columbus Circle, Broadway/Lafayette, Grand Central, Times Square and the Bryant Park stop. With ad-covered turnstiles already here, we may be to look forward to in-tunnel ads as well.
For the past few years, the MTA has decorated its turnstile arms at Herald Square with a variety of advertisements. Other transit agencies across the country had eked out some dollars selling sponsorships on their entry gates, and the authority had hoped to do the same in New York. The early ads never really spread beyond the busy 34th St. station though.
Over the last few days, however, I’ve seen the ads creep southward. Last week, when I arrived at West 4th St., I noticed blue wraps on the southern turnstiles. The ads — supporting New York’s anti-smoking campaign — are on the three turnstile arms on each of the entry gates at the West 3rd St. entrance to the station, and it’s a part of the MTA’s attempts to squeeze dry its advertising potential.
I posted the photo to my Twitter account earlier today, and one reader questioned the wisdom of these ads. Should the MTA be hosting advertisements that will make straphangers slow down to reach the ad info or jot down a phone number as they swipe through at a busy and hectic station? I’ll leave that one up to you, dear reader, to decide.
Take a look at this 6 train. It’s the latest and greatest from the MTA’s advertising department. For the next eight weeks, as part of the authority’s attempts to draw in more advertising revenue, this 6 train will be fully wrapped in Swatch ads. On the heels of last year’s Target campaign, this is the second such fully-wrapped train.
“The MTA earns more than $100 million per year from sales of advertising space, mostly through traditional print media, but we continue to map out new ways to maximize the value of our physical assets,” MTA Chairman Jay Walder said in a statement. “One way we are doing that is by creating more dynamic advertising opportunities.”
To draw in more money, the MTA is also looking into 3D images and in-tunnel advertising. All of this advertising is a balm for hurt minds indeed.
For nearly two decades, placards of poetry greeted observant straphangers in various subway cars across New York City. While these bright spots of art and literature amidst the drabness of subway advertising proved popular, “Poetry in Motion” met its demise in 2008, and a similar program called “Train of Thought” replaced it. When the MTA rebranded its house ads, “Train of Thought” was axed, and New York’s literati were saddened.
Have hope though because the MTA may be searching for ways to restore poetry to the subway. Michael Grynbaum broke the news yesterday. The authority, he says, “has entered preliminary talks to revive Poetry in Motion.” He writes:
The transportation authority is discussing the matter with the Poetry Society of America, which helped coordinate the original “Poetry in Motion” campaign from its inception in 1992. The series, modeled on a similar program on the London Underground, brought Yeats and Browning into the unusual locale of a gritty subway train, peppering the usual Dr. Zizmor ads with classics of literary verse.
“Walder really loves the poetry; I wouldn’t be surprised to see it come back,” said an official at the transportation authority who is familiar with the plans, referring to the authority’s chairman, Jay H. Walder. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about discussions that were intended to be private.
The Poetry Society is said to be seeking a financial sponsor for the campaign, which would be a prerequisite. Officers at the society declined to comment.
If the poetry makes the subways seem friendlier, I’m all for it. Spotting a verse or two in the trains always brought a smile to my face. Even if the verses aren’t quite as out there as some, the return of “Poetry in Motion” would be welcome indeed.
As the cash-starved MTA looks to milk dollars out of its existing physical plant, the authority may soon begin running moving ads inside its subway tunnels, WNYC’s Jim O’Grady reported this morning. The authority, says O’Grady, has been receiving bids from companies looking to run these ads and believes these ads will help boost its ad revenue. “Anywhere there’s a dark tunnel, you could do it,” authority spokesman Aaron Donovan said said.
O’Grady has more on the latest push to find non-tax sources for dollars:
The tunnel ads would show a string of varied images that, when viewed from a passing train, would move like a flip book. A similar effect is visible in a subway artwork called Masstransiscope between the Manhattan Bridge and the DeKalb Avenue station in Brooklyn. As the D train glides by an unused station at Myrtle Avenue, painted images flash behind vertical slits and appear to be animated.
Donovan said most ideas for non-traditional ad placement come from advertisers themselves. In recent years, the MTA has permitted video on the outside of buses and ads that wrap entire train cars, like the 6 train that became a long rolling ad for Target last fall, when the company opened a store on 116th Street in Harlem.
Then there is a program called “station domination,” in which a single company plasters ads on multiple surfaces — columns, stairwells, turnstiles — throughout a subway station. Ads at Union Square Station have even been projected onto floors and walls. And now the MTA website displays ads for free credit checks and the Crate & Barrel wedding registry.
Over the past few years, the MTA has seen a marked increase in advertising revenue. Despite a recession that has hit the advertising industry particularly hard, the authority drew in $109 million annually in 2009 and 2010 and has seen that total annual take increase from $27 million just 20 years ago. The authority is hoping to realize $120 million in sales this year.
These days, ads are everywhere underground. From branded stations to fully wrapped train cars, we see commercial space throughout the system, and the in-tunnel ads will be just another source of revenue upon which transit agencies throughout the world have long relied. For a few dollars more, I’ll take it.
In yesterday’s excerpt from my interview with Jay Walder, the MTA head and I spoke about the economic pressures which the authority is currently facing. Walder spoke at length about avoiding future service cuts and ensuring that money promised to and raised for the MTA actually finds its way into the authority’s coffers.
Today, we pick up the thread of the MTA finances but with a different bend. One of Walder’s biggest failings — and he’ll admit it himself — has been management’s strenuous relationship with labor. The TWU, the authority’s largest union which is currently suffering through dissension in the ranks, has not shown a willingness to compromise on benefits, pensions or raises, and with contract negotiations on tap for late 2011, the MTA is searching for ways to rein in runaway labor costs.
Meanwhile, while maintaining spending levels are a priority, so too are increasing revenues. To do so without service cuts or fare hikes, the MTA has looked to non-traditional sources of advertising. By offering station branding and full train wraps, the authority can drive marketing opportunities and generate more dollars to fill its depleted coffer. Even station names are for sale.
Second Ave. Sagas: One of the assumptions in the 2011 budget projections, as far as I can tell, is that the labor costs won’t really be increasing over the next two years. Do you think that that’s a realistic and obtainable goal?
I strongly believe that labor has to be part of the solution. That is a view that has been stated by the governor-elect. It’s a view that has been stated by the mayor.
Jay Walder: I’m actually very proud of what the MTA has achieved in reducing costs so far, but an area where I’m terribly disappointed that we clearly have not achieved what we’re trying to do is in forming partnerships with our labor unions, to be able to look at this and in essence, say that we’re talking about a historically difficult time in which businesses and families all across the state are struggling. One might have hoped that we might have found the context to stand together with our workforce, shoulder to shoulder and show that we were able to do things differently, that we were able to find different productivity. We recognize that some of the arrangements that had existed for long periods of time, even if you don’t change them for existing employees, need to change on a going-forward basis. We didn’t find a way to be able to do that.
Having said that, I strongly believe that labor has to be part of the solution. That is a view that has been stated by the governor-elect. It’s a view that has been stated by the mayor. People are saying, “Look, we can’t do this apart from labor. We have to do this with labor.” Some people point to the period in the 1970s when the city was in the midst of its financial crisis, and labor and management did stand together and did try to find a solution to be able to deal with that crisis. It allowed the city to get back on its feet and prosper and grow. I think we’re at that same sort of time.
Do I believe that it is possible to do it? Yes. It is easy to do it? Obviously not. We haven’t succeeded to this point. I’d be kidding you if I said that. But I do think it’s possible to do it.
The point that we made is not that our workforce should not be compensated; it’s to say that you really should be tying compensation into the achievement of productivity improvements. Everybody I’ve talked to inside and outside of our organization believes productivity improvements are possible. What we need to do is bring it to the table, to stand together to be able to do this and to say, “Hey, if we’re really trying to figure out how to do this, to protect our transit system, to continue to have jobs for people but to show people that we are really using every dollar wisely, how do we do it together?” I’m not giving up on that. I haven’t given up on that. I believe it is achievable. I think we’ll get there.
Second Ave. Sagas: The Chicago naming rights deal with Apple has gotten a decent amount of attention over the last few weeks. I know the Barclays deal was the first major MTA naming rights deal. Are there other efforts being made to identify naming partners? Is there a push to look out of the box beyond the traditional sources of revenue?
Walder: I wasn’t here at the time that the Citi Field issues came up, but I gather we didn’t succeed in that. I think the Barclays deal is the first time we have succeeded in doing something of that nature. Should we be thinking out of the box? What are the ways we should bring revenue in? The answer is yes.
I hope you’ll think of our advertising contracts in that way. What you saw this year were some real efforts to break down some of the barriers. We’ve done some really neat things in terms of advertising that are bringing real money in, and I think that the win-win on this is where you’re doing some things that both improve the ambiance of the subway environment and the bus environment but also raise some money for the transit system. My favorite one was the wrap on the train for TBS with the television screens. I think that’s a great example of breaking down some barrriers. We’re bringing about $100 million in doing that.
Let me give you another example which I just looked at this morning which I really like. You’ll look at this and say it’s not revolutionary but I don’t think you need revolutionary. We just opened up a Bank of American ATM location inside the subway station at 42nd St. and 8th Ave. in the mezzanine level above the 8th Ave. Line. Why do I like it so much? Because it’s bringing into the subway environment the type of retail presentation that we’re used to above ground. In other words, you look at this and you’ll say this doesn’t look very different from another type of ATM space that I might go into. But that’s exactly my point. What’s that doing is raising money for the subway but it’s also actually making people feel that this is what I see underground, it is the way I do it, it is bringing me that kind of retail that I want to see. I thought it was terrific because it was doing that.
All of these things come together. Can we make some money on some of these initiatives? Yes. We will make more money if we can improve the retail environment in the subway system, get greater value out of the spaces that we have there, improve the ambiance and the customer satisfaction. We’ll make more money than all of the naming rights deals that you’re talking about.
These other things are much more valuable to us if we can find a way to do that. The wrap that we did — the Target wrap — was terrific. There are lots of things you’re seeing this year that are breaking down some barriers.
I also believe that the way we incorporate technology into our stations also provides an opportunity to be able to increase revenue flow. In that case, we might well be able to actually meet three objectives. We can make some money off of the way we bring digital into our stations. We can be improving ambiance, and we may well come up with some ways to be able to provide useful real-time information to customers that follows and is all part of the same goal. If we can do those three things, than we really knock the ball out of the park.
Still to come, Jay Walder discusses capital expansion plans, the Second Ave. Subway and next-generation fare payment technologies.
The MTA’s fleet of shiny new R160s all come equipped with video screens on the FIND displays. Originally intended to show a rotating mix of MTA announcements and advertisements, these screens have served only as self-promotional vehicles for New York City Transit. This week, though, the MTA announced the introduction of video advertising to its favorite marketing guinea pig, the 42nd St. shuttle.
As part of an effort to milk every last dollar out of potential advertising opportunities, the MTA in conjunction with TBS and Major League Baseball unveiled 10-inch video screens in a fully-wrapped shuttle car that allow TBS to air its ads, sound-free. While the authority declined to reveal how much TBS had paid for the video screens as well as a fully wrapped shuttle train complete with seats resembling those found at a baseball stadium, the authority drew in over $127 million in ad revenue last year. That total is up from nearly $89 million in 2004, and the authority has only begun to tap into its branding potential.
“The MTA earns more than $100 million per year from sales of advertising space, mostly through traditional print media, but this traditional advertising has suffered as a result of the recession,” MTA Chairman Jay Walder said in a statement. “Our uncertain finances mean that we have to think creatively to maximize the value of our physical assets. One way we are doing that is by creating more dynamic advertising opportunities.”
Shuttle wrapping has become de rigueur lately, and in fact, the 6 recently received a wrapped car of its own. The video screens, however, mark the first time that moving images have been used for the purposes of in-car marketing campaigns.“The MTA is creating new, dynamic advertising opportunities utilizing the latest technology to both increase ad revenue and communicate better with our customers,” Walder, in a buzzword-laden statement, said. “Inviting advertisers to “wrap” entire trains and the use of digital displays will generate a buzz among customers and advertisers alike.”
For the first few days, the in-car video screens will simply promote the upcoming baseball playoffs on TBS while star players — Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera from the Yankees; Cliff Lee from the Rangers — decorate the outside of the cars. Once the playoffs begin, however, TBS says the video ads will include highlights from the previous night’s games and “up-to-the-minute information” on match-ups to come. “As people are commuting home and making decisions on what to do with their evening, Turner will reach millions of potential viewers in a creative way with messages about the excitement of the Postseason,” MLB Vice President Tim Brosnan said.
While executives can spew on-message quotes, baseball fans are the ones who are latching onto the ads. “It’s too bad I can only take this train one stop,” Anthony Polini told The New York Times. “I’d do this in my room, but my wife wouldn’t let me.”
Of course, while New York City Transit is celebrating an advertising first for them, City Room reminds us that PATH had video ads installed in 2009, and subway systems in cities such as Boston, Buenos Aires and Madrid have used video screens for years. The MTA says the agency’s budget problems will lead to more ad opportunities. “Customers in a transit environment can expect increasing levels of sophistication in advertising,” Aaron Donovan, agency spokesman, said.
The video screens on the shuttle — sans sound — aren’t the only new frontiers unveiled this week. The authority also set the first commuter trains with external display advertising on the rails. Fifty of the LIRR’s M7 cars are displaying ads along the bottom as many IRT subway cars do today. The ads, says the authority, are visible to those boarding at stations as well as drivers and pedestrians who pass the train. If this three-month trial is successful, the LIRR fleet may see an uptick an ads. The MTA, however, did not say by what measure “successful” will be judged.
Over the years, subway advertising, whose revenues were once called a balm for hurt minds, has become more intrusive. Moving images will do nothing to stop that forward march, and the MTA says it is going to explore 3-D images and in-tunnel advertising as well. As much as we may bemoan — or look forward to — the themed subway cars, the MTA’s economic situation demands it.
After the jump, a video describing the new advertising initiatives and a behind-the-scenes look at the way MTA crews wrapped the shuttle and prepared the new video screens. Read More→
In 2008, an alluring ad for vodka loomed over a staircase at Broadway/Lafayette. (Photo by flickr user Dom Dada)
Since day one, subway advertising has been controversial. Today, we argue over religious themes and offensive images, but back in the early days of the subway, potential straphangers were outraged that ads would be thrust upon them. The revenue, said Squire Vickers, could serve as “a balm for hurt minds.”
When news broke yesterday that the authority had approved an anti-mosque ad sponsored by a right-wing organization based out of New Hampshire, a mix of support and outrage developed. Some believed the ad should stand on grounds of free speech and tolerance; others were dismayed that a callous and wrong-headed message would see the light of day; still others support the message and the medium. The MTA, as Michael Grynbaum reports today, had very little say in the matter.
In a piece that delves into legal history without getting too technical, Grynbaum explores how the authority hasn’t had much success in turning down advertisements. It has tried to beef up its review powers, but every time a decision is challenged in court, the MTA loses. Grynbaum reports:
The authority adopted rules in 1997 that allowed transit officials to reject advertising they considered obscene, deceptive or “directly adverse to the commercial or administrative interests of the M.T.A.,” among other reasons. (The guidelines were prompted in part by complaints about a racy Calvin Klein underwear ad.)
But transit officials have faced legal challenges before, and in those challenges the authority tends to lose. New York magazine successfully sued the authority in 1997 after transit officials removed ads poking fun at Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, at the mayor’s request. (The Supreme Court rejected an appeal.)
An ad submitted by riders’ advocates in 2000, which compared the morning commute to a packed ride in a cattle car, was initially rejected because it might discourage people from riding the subway. Those objections were quickly dropped after the New York Civil Liberties Union brought a lawsuit claiming censorship.
In June, the authority removed a Georgi vodka ad featuring a swimsuit model from some city buses after complaints from Hasidic leaders in Brooklyn. “We try to limit more suggestive ads upon neighborhood request,” the authority said in a statement. This week, the executives of Georgi Vodka said they wondered why the twin towers image made the cut and their company’s bikini ad did not. “We didn’t feel they came to bat for us,” said Phyllis Valenti, executive vice president for Star Industries, which owns the vodka. But she said lawyers had advised the company not to sue.
The real issue with the MTA’s ability to review and ultimately reject ads is constitutional in its scope. The MTA is a government actor and thus cannot enact regulations that limit the freedom of speech we enjoy as a First Amendment right. Even though advertising doesn’t enjoy the same broad protections that other speech does, as long as the ad is not misleading or defamatory, the MTA must allow it to proceed. For nearly $10,000, Pamela Geller’s ad will stand.
MTA officials recognize the intractable position in which the law places them. Plus, in age of uncertain economics, the revenue is still a balm for hurt minds. “We do the best we can within our guidelines, with the understanding that in a lot of cases, we’ll have to put up ads that we may or may not agree with,” Jeremy Soffin said to The Times. “There will always be cases where people disagree…You have people who are purposely trying to be provocative, and sometimes, frankly, more interested in the publicity that comes with the conflict, as opposed to the benefit of actually running the ad.”