Home Subway Security An update for a ubiquitious ad campaign

An update for a ubiquitious ad campaign

by Benjamin Kabak

As September 11 dawns, the city takes a collective breath. It’s always a little quieter, a little more somber around New York as we all think back to 2001 when nothing made sense.

This year, the MTA has, perhaps coincidentally, released an update to that ubiquitous” anti-terrorism campaign. “Si ves algo, di algo,” our MetroCards exhort us in Spanish. “If you see something, say something.”

In their press release, the MTA is touting is “the next generation” of the See Something/Say Anything ad campaign. No longer content with bragging about the 1944 people who bothered to say anything, the MTA is again pushing the message that unattended packages should be viewed suspiciously. Korey Kay & Partners, the ad campaign contracted to product the creative, has released a few television commercials (here, here and here) and new placards and print ads.

The ads are very reminiscent of the first generation placards. Again, the MTA is focusing on something — a box, a backpack, a suitcase — that is alone on a platform unattended. No one is around to notice it; no one is around to claim it as his or her own. It’s minimalism at its finest.

“The security of our customers is our paramount concern,” MTA Executive Director and CEO Elliot Sanders said. “These new ads remind our customers not to be complacent about what they see around them. They also reinforce the important role our customers play in ensuring the safety of transit users throughout the entire MTA system.”

The MTA also informs the world in their press release that they’ve licensed this catchy awareness slogan to 37 other transit networks around the globe, and in fact, the authority earned a trademark in the phrase last December. But is it an effective slogan?

As I look at the ads and think about the responses the MTA has — or hasn’t — gotten as a result, I wonder if they’re driving the point home hard enough. It’s not easy to associate a forgotten bag with a potential terrorist weapon. We see forgotten bags on the subway all the time, and so far in New York, none of them have blown it. Collectively, we know it can happen; we’ve seen it, on TV and in the papers, in Madrid and London. But those images seem remote to us in New York City where, seven years after the World Trade Center attacks, our city has that false aura of impermeability around it again.

The MTA can’t use scare tactics to convince its customers to report any potential package. With a vast, open system filled with easy access points, due diligence on the part of the riders is a necessity for any anti-terror efforts. But perhaps it’s time to refresh the old “If you see something, say something” refrain. It’s old hat by now, and if it’s one thing New Yorkers manage to look past, old hats are it.


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Doc Barnett September 11, 2008 - 8:34 am

While advertising the campaign’s 1,944 false positives might make people feel better, or at least that “something is being done”, it’s a failure rate, not a success rate (which is zero). Asking people to be suspicious of everything and everyone in a PSA has not stopped any attackers, and it can not stop a perfectly normal looking person from wearing a bomb-laden backpack onto a train. (Nor can the random subway searches that—as they must do—allow people to opt out by leaving the station.) What has unravelled several plots is regular police work, and the fact that airline passengers are not going to sit idly by as someone sets his shoe on fire (they did not need a poster to tell them to do something).

The MTA’s duty in fighting terrorism is to improve emergency response. Investing in that infrastructure not only reduces the harm of an attack (thereby reducing the impetus to commit it), it also reduces damage from a hurricane, earthquake, or colossal accident. And thinking along different lines, it wouldn’t hurt to lower the density of rush hour trains to make worst case scenarios less bad—but the MTA is heading in the opposite direction, by removing seats on some trains. Not that it’s their fault; our city and federal governments throw money at them only to be spent on certain kinds of disasters and only in particularly showy ways (the benefits of which are the subject of little analysis).

This is all Schneier doctrine, of course. (http://www.schneier.com/blog/a.....ee_so.html)

Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » An old announcement, not really out of date September 11, 2008 - 12:30 pm

[…] 2nd Ave. Subway History « An update for a ubiquitious ad campaign […]

The incompatibility of seeing something and saying something :: Second Ave. Sagas September 25, 2012 - 12:25 am

[…] announcements, placards, posters and everything else in between. The trademarked phrase has been leased out to transit agencies around the world and has become a hallmark of subway systems everywhere. The […]


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