A critical review of bus shelter ads

October 23rd, 2012

Bus shelter ads are sort of a window into the soul of a region and a transit agency. They show quite clearly:

  1. What the transit agency is saying; after all, since they get a discount on their own space and have direct access, they use it more.
  2. The type of people who use the system, as seen by the advertisers, and what’s important to them.
  3. The aspirations of people who use the system, again, as perceived by the advertisers.
  4. What the transit agency is willing to tolerate. Where they see themselves standing in the big scheme of things. Self-confidence and financial surety.

I’m thinking this might become sort of a regular thing. Here are the first few shelter ads:

Bus shelter ad

Bus shelter ad from the ‘go-metro’ campaign across from P&G on Fifth.

This one’s from SORTA. It’s part of the ‘Go-Metro’ campaign, an effort to normalize riding the bus by showing middle and upper-middle class people along with their reason for using transit. Why should you use transit? Because these people do, and look how like you they are! Or at least how like you aspire to be. This actually isn’t too bad, as long as it’s accompanied by other marketing efforts. Where does transit go? When does it run? Is it actually useful where and when you need it to be? These are essential questions that aren’t answered by this ad. But it doesn’t need to answer them as long as it’s companions will. This sort of marketing is in line with marketing for anything else, if a bit less subtle. Why should you buy an i-widget? ’cause that guy in the commercial has one and look how cute and successful he is! This stuff (generally)works to get people to be open to your product if not actively pursuing it. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this (I really wish it weren’t) only slightly self deprecating bus ad.

Bus shelter advert for the #38X

Bus shelter advertisement for the #38X on west 9th St between Plum and Elm

Now this is what I get excited about: An ad that  really tells you something! “What is the 38X? you ask. Why, let me tell you. It goes from the Glenway Crossing park and ride directly to UC and uptown.” This is a great companion to the ad above. Hit ’em from both sides. You got your soft aspirational appeal, and here you have the kicker. Your trip to uptown from the west side just got one connection shorter. Notice that the ad is on the west side of Downtown. It should be right where people who are making a now unnecessary transfer downtown might pass by. But it isn’t quite. The only express bus from the Glenway Crossing Transit Center to Downtown has it’s closest stop to this location at 9th and Vine more than two blocks away. And of course anyone going to uptown would have got off earlier at Government Square or somewhere on Main Street to transfer. So who is going to see this ad? I’m not quite sure. It’s a pretty specific message, so I would hope the targeting would be rock solid. I’ve seen this a few other places(uptown, I think), so this location may be an outlier.

Bus shelter ad for mobile service

Bus shelter ad for AT&T mobile service near Xavier at the intersection of the #4 and #51.

Here’s an interesting one! AT&T’s 4GLTE(whatever that is) now covers almost all of the region. How the region is defined is what’s interesting to me. The map shows only a very few things. In order of prominence:

I won’t dispute the river. That should be on every Cincinnati map. Are the rest of these things important to you? Are they important to people waiting for the bus? Does transit even go to Hamilton? Why are these specific cities mentioned? It’s a plainly suburban map, directed at people who live in or near the suburban cities mentioned and who are used to navigating by car on the highway. The ad is less directed at transit users, more at the people in cars passing through the intersection and waiting at the light on Dana going east. Transit is advertising with it’s infrastructure a view of the region that is, really, antagonistic toward an understanding and acceptance of transit. It’s also taking money from the advertiser, ostensibly to pay for transit itself. Complicated.

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