Archive for Subway Advertising

For nearly 12 years, an AIDS awareness campaign was a familiar sight in the subways.

Old advertisements have the power to transport us back in time. An old jingle remembered only on YouTube or a glimpse at a magazine spread from decades past often scream out an era in history. Subway ads are no different. While Dr. Zizmor still survives as youthful as ever, subway car advertising has changed a lot over the past few decades. We no longer see cigarette billboards or anti-graffiti placards. Today, we see floor-to-ceiling ads for NBC’s fall lineup as we walk through Times Square, fully wrapped trains promoting London tourism or Swiss watches, or entire cars replete with of Budweiser placards.

Some ads though stick with you even as the years tick by. One that definitely lives on in the collective memories of New York’s straphangers was a serious campaign, aimed at a public health crisis that defined the era. It was a Department of Health PSA starring two Hispanic 20-somethings named Julio and Marisol. For many, just the names will bring back memories of The Decision or La Decision, as they started out first in Spanish. In 1990, these ads made their debut as the AIDS epidemic had reached a crisis. The first black-and-white strip involved a spat between Marisol and Julio when Julio balked a using a condom. From there, they took a darker turn as friends died and conversations grew more candid. This was heavy stuff for a subway ad campaign.

Over the years, Julio and Marisol garnered a fair amount of press in the city’s papers, and a Times article from 1993 offered up some background on the campaign. A $60,000 grant from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spurred on the PSAs in 1989, and the NYC Department of Health tabbed Connill Advertising to set the story. Targeted at first to higher-risk communities, the story seemed to resonate with the public at large.

After six years, though, a new MTA ad policy torpedoed the soap opera. It was then, 17 years ago, that the MTA announced a new policy that would see the vast majority of subway car ads limited to one major advertiser per side. The MTA figured to earn an extra $3 million per year, but the DOH wouldn’t be a part of it. They didn’t want their campaign lumped in with the Dr. Zizmor’s and toe carbuncle removal ads underground and couldn’t afford the higher rates.

The agency standoff lasted two years, and in 1997, Julio and Marisol made their triumphant return. “Many New Yorkers have told us that they appreciate the Decision series not only for the practical information about HIV/AIDS which it provides, but also for the deep emotional feelings, questions, and concerns expressed by the characters in the story,” then-Health Commissioner Benjamin Mojica said. “The situations in the story are the kinds which people may see themselves in, situations which people can relate to. The great value of the Decision campaign is that, because it is fun and because people can relate to it, they will read it and internalize the more detailed messages we target each issue to — especially the importance of safe sex and the alarming dangers of drug abuse.”

The second iteration of The Decision, not nearly as widespread as the first, lasted until the early 2000s when one of the characters died and another found out a previous lover was HIV positive. As a Daily News piece from 2002 notes, by then, AIDS deaths in the city had dropped from 7000 annually to 2000. In 2010, that figure stood at under 1700, and Julio and Marisol live in on the Smithsonian but not the subways, remnants of another era in New York City history.

Categories : Subway Advertising
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An MTA ban on demeaning advertising has been overturned by a federal judge.

On and off over the past two years, the MTA and Pamela Geller, head of a prominent anti-Islam organization, have squared off over bus ads. Geller wanted to run a series of placards on the outsides of buses that the MTA claimed violated its advertising policies, and although the MTA seeming faced a tall legal order, the agency turned down the ads anyway. Late last week, a federal judge ruled that effort unconstituional and enjoined the MTA from enforcing its advertising policy.

In a way, the outcome of this case preordained. Geller opted to try to buy bus placards because the Second Circuit had previously declared them to be designated public forums and thus subject to strict scrutiny and sweeping free speech protections. In a 35-page opinion [pdf], that’s exactly what District Judge Paul Engelmayer decided on Friday.

“MTA does not offer any justification for selectively allowing demeaning speech to appear on the exterior of its buses, let alone demonstrate that its content-based restriction on transit advertising is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest, as is necessary to survive strict scrutiny,” he wrote. “Whatever weight might be assigned to the governmental interest in banning demeaning speech on the exterior of New York City buses on an even-handed basis, there is no good reason for protecting some individuals and groups, but not others, from such abuse. MTA’s nodemeaning standard, as currently formulated, is, therefore, inconsistent with the First Amendment.”

The MTA’s problem is one many government and quasi-government agencies face. How do you craft a policy that does not run afoul of the First Amendment when your advertising space spans various public spaces and audiences? The MTA, whose own internal guidelines prohibit ads that demean an individual’s or group’s “race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation,” has not achieved this goal. “It is unavoidably clear that MTA’s nodemeaning standard differentiates based on the content of the proposed ad,” Engelmayer wrote. “Outside of these ‘specified disfavored topics,’ MTA’s standard permits all other demeaning ads.” Such a content-based determination violates the First Amendment.

So what happens next? Does Pam Geller run her ads calling all Muslims uncivilized savages on buses across the city? Not quite. Engelmayer stayed his decision for 30 days, and the MTA is currently assessing its advertising policy and whether or not it wishes to pursue an appeal. Meanwhile, the judge seemed to leave the MTA with something of an opening:

In holding today that MTA’s no-demeaning standard violates the First Amendment, the Court does not impugn in the slightest the motives of MTA and its officials—either those who put the standard into place or those who applied it to the AFDI Ad. Quite the contrary: From the testimony and evidence, it is apparent that, in promulgating and applying the no-demeaning standard, MTA has aspired to hold ads on public buses to a standard of civility. Its goal of preventing ads on city bus exteriors from being used as a medium for abuse and division in this diverse metropolis is entirely laudable. It appears likely that MTA drafted the standard in question with an eye toward the groups it felt most likely to be targeted by demeaning ads, without adequately considering the First Amendment implications under R.A.V. of such a selective prohibition…

Today’s ruling does not disable city authorities from adopting rules that hold ads and commentary on the exteriors of buses to a standard of civility. And in resolving this case on the narrow ground that the no-demeaning standard as currently drafted is impermissibly content-based, the Court pointedly does not reach any of the broader grounds for invalidation urged by AFDI under the First Amendment. Today’s ruling instead leaves—and is intended to leave—MTA the latitude to investigate and experiment with alternative mechanisms for using ad space on the exteriors of city buses productively, profitably, and constitutionally, while ensuring that this space is not used as a tool for disparagement and division.

And so that’s where we leave things. The MTA has been temporarily enjoined for enforcing its policy, and the case moves forward as the authority searches fo a constitutionally permissible standard and procedure.

Categories : Subway Advertising
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Ads could soon begin appearing on the front of your MetroCard.

Everyday, millions of New Yorkers run a flimsy piece of plastic through a prickly card reader as they head to and from work, school and play. Since the middle of 1997 when the gold card made its debut, these MetroCard have looked the same — a logo on front and an ad or PSA on the back. My current card urges me, tirelessly so, to say something if I see something.

Now, though, the MTA, in an effort to milk some more dollars out of the MetroCards, is willing to change the front. For the right price, the authority will accept advertising for the MetroCard fronts. “Millions of New Yorkers carry MetroCards with them everywhere they go, and use them multiple times a day,” MTA Chairman Joseph J. Lhota said in announcing the move today. “For those with a message and a desire to reach millions of people in a novel, attention-getting way, there is no better way to advertise.”

The MTA is billing this as a relaunching of an advertising program, and as such, they have unveiled new rates. Depending upon the number of cards purchased, the authority will charge between 18 and 51? per card for those who wish to utilize the back of a MetroCard. They expect to realize between $25,500 and $450,000 per ad campaign. While rates for the front were not released, the MTA said such deals would be “offered at a premium.” Ads that include a Transit-sponsored campaign will be 20 percent off.

It’s tough to see this as anything but a positive for an agency searching for cash. I could care less about the sanctity of the MetroCard. It’s hardly iconic, and in a few years, it’s going to be replaced anyway. Plus, most of us already carrying advertisements for whatever company sponsors our credit card bonuses or the banks that issue our debit cards. So we’ll be bombarded with one more ad in the subway, and the gold and blue card may look a bit busier on the front. It’s the price to pay.

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An ad campaign for the upcoming Prometheus movie has taken over a ghost station in the Paris Metro. (Via

I grew up at 91st and Broadway, and for the city’s subway buffs, that intersection holds a special place in our hearts for it is the location of the one of the city’s abandoned subway stops. Once a local stop along the West Side IRT, the TA shuttered this station in 1959 when the southbound extension of 96th St. left 91st St. as an unnecessary relic of another age. While the Transit Museum once offered tours of the station, these days it is a dimly lit gallery for graffiti artists and history buffs who know where to look as the 1 travels between 86th and 96th Streets.

This station at 91st St. is hardly New York’s only abandoned platform still visible to the general public. Along the East Side, Worth St. and 18th St., both of which met a similar fate as 91st St., remain in place, covered by decades of neglect. The City Hall loop is visible for those who ride around the loop on the 6, and the Hoyt-Schermerhorn platforms are on full display for another waiting for an A, C or G train. Joe Brennan’s site has everything you’ve ever wanted to know about these abandoned stations and more.

The MTA has, now and then, debated what to do with these stations. Due to safety and liability concerns, they remain off limits to the general public, and a plan to turn City Hall into a Transit Museum annex were quashed by Mayor Giuliani over security concerns. Instead of anything, they are nothing but barely remembered parts of subway history. They could however find a second life with some creativity.

The ad campaign has taken out space on the Line 9 route maps in Paris.

New York’s isn’t the only subway system with abandoned stations. In Paris, in particular, the twists and turns of their tunnels are laden with ghost stations, and now in the City of Light, they’re putting these stations to use with a twist Madison Ave. would appreciate. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is set to take the movie world by storm. A quasi-prequel to the Alien series, the film has a mythology all its own, and the viral marketing campaigns have been widespread and effective. As numerous movie sites reported this week, a new campaign has opened in the Saint-Martin station. Closed since just after World War II, this station now features giant heads and lighting straight out of the movie.

Fox has issued a press release promoting the use of this station as a blank slate for its advertising efforts. They discuss using the subterranean station to recreate movie sets. The curvature of the ceiling and the dim lighting are ideal for such a usage, and Paris Metro riders seem to love it. The studio has also paid Metro to slap the movie’s logos on strip maps in the Line 9 subway cars.

So let’s see it, New York. Our abandoned stations, not in the greatest of shape right now, could be great springboards for innovating in-tunnel advertising. Generally, the stations are located close enough to nearby stations that trains don’t go zooming past them. It’s always possible to spy 91st St. at a reasonable speed, for instance, and something creative in that space would certainly draw headlines and eyeballs.

On Thursday, I rode a shuttle fully wrapped in advertising for something in Switzerland. Even though I rode the same train twice in the span of an hour, I couldn’t tell you what I saw. But these Prometheus heads would stick with me. It’s a memorable use of an intriguing spot and a revenue opportunity worth pursuing.

After the jump, a viral video of the viral marketing in the Paris Metro. Read More→

Categories : Subway Advertising
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Big Brother-style video ads line the concourse at Columbus Circle. (Photo courtesy of New York City Transit)

For the past few years, the MTA has engaged in a comprehensive overhaul of the 59th St.-Columbus Circle station. The renovation was originally supposed to wrap in 2009, but like many a TA project, it didn’t finish on time. Instead, work continued until one day, it stopped. There was no grand ribbon-cutting and nothing to announce substantial completion of the project.

Lately, though, the MTA has been putting some of the station on display. Sol Lewitt’s work adorns the station, and straphangers can once again use the middle platform on the IND platform. Still, it seems as though something is missing. Early renderings of the project, for example, called for a retail corridor in the vast hallway before fare control that stretches north from 57th St. underneath Eighth Avenue. As of yet, no one has taken out space.

This week, the authority unveiled a comprehensive, if temporary, use of the hallway: It is a 60-foot digital video ads. A release from the MTA explains:

This week, Asics unveiled a stunning new advertising campaign featuring high-definition digital video at Columbus Circle, which serves the A/B/C/D and No.1 lines. Although the video is 60 feet wide and spans the length of 26 glass panels, it appears seamless—as if it’s being projected across one incredibly wide screen.

The campaign is a win-win for the MTA and Asics. For the MTA, the campaign represents yet another way we’re thinking creatively to find new revenue streams that help fund our transit system. For Asics, the massive, coordinated “screen” vastly expands the possibilities of traditional advertising. For instance, at one point the ad asks, “Think you can keep pace with an elite marathoner? Ryan Hall is approaching in …” Numbers then countdown from ten to one, at which point an image of marathoner Ryan Hall runs across the glass, in real speed.

As the MTA proclaims, customers can even try to outrace Ryan Hall. It is “the first time digital video has been done on glass panels and the first time digital video in our system has been done on this scale,” the authority noted. As Times reporter Michael Grynbaum observed on Twitter, it’s all very “Blade Runner-y.”

Yesterday, I rode a shuttle train decked out top to bottom, inside and out, in advertising for Dell computers. Today, video ads follow us through 59th Street as exit the system. As the MTA struggles to make every dollar count, advertising is truly everywhere. The revenue, as Squire Vickers once said, is a balm for hurt minds.

The video boards stretch throughout the Columbus Circle station. (Photo courtesy of NYC Transit)

Categories : Subway Advertising
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A vintage IRT trainset will be decked out in Boardwalk Empire ads this month.

Railfans and regular straphangers love vintage train car rides, but the MTA has found them to be a bit costly. During times of austerity, the authority hasn’t been as willing to let loose the old trainsets as they once were, but it seems as though they’ve solved this problem through advertising. For the month of September, a Boardwalk Empire-branded vintage trainset will run on the West Side IRT on the weekends as HBO gears up to promote the new series.

Here’s what the pitch e-mail has to say:

Starting on Saturday, September 3rd an authentic vintage 1920’s train will run on the express 2/3 track in Manhattan throughout September (specifically, from 12 to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays). Originally operated by the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) system, the train began service back in 1917 and will once again be operational. Customers who have the opportunity to ride the vintage train will be transported back in time to the Prohibition era with authentic details such as rattan seats, ceiling fans and drop sash windows, as well as a custom branded interior featuring Boardwalk Empire-inspired period artwork.

For the weekend of the premier — September 24 and 25 — so-called “brand ambassadors” will be giving away free MetroCards as well. HBO is apparently going all out, and as you can see from the image above, the faux-vintage ads in the Nostalgia Train cars have given way to Boardwalk Empire branding.

This is of course a rather unique promotion since there aren’t too many period pieces on TV that take place in New York, but I’m curious about the economics of it. I’ve reached out to the MTA for more information, and if I hear a pricetag, I’ll pass it along. In the meantime, click through for another look at the sponsored subway car. I wonder if it’ll be an air conditioned ride. Read More→

Categories : Subway Advertising
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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.

Categories : MBTA, Subway Advertising
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Photo by Benjamin Kabak

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.

Categories : Subway Advertising
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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.

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Photo by Benjamin Kabak

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.

Categories : Subway Advertising
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