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Transit Advertising: Wherever the Wheels on the Bus Take You

America, as a country, has had a love affair with automobiles for the past century, but public transit is steadily becoming more popular. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), public transportation ridership has increased by 21% since 1997, a growth rate higher than the 19% population increase over the same period. This is mostly due to urbanization; while the Pew Research Center reports that nationally, only 11% of Americans ride public transit regularly, that number jumps to 21% for urban residents. Depending on your metro area, that percentage could be even higher.

Every metro area has some sort of public transit option - bus, subway, light rail, commuter train. Some places even have more creative options such as trolleys, cable cars, ferries and monorails. Each and every one of these forms of public transportation is an opportunity to utilize transit advertising. What better place to catch a potential customer than while they're waiting at the bus stop, waiting on a subway platform or sitting on a crowded bus stoically avoiding eye contact with other passengers?

No matter if it’s the middle of a snowstorm or a pandemic, the buses and trains are almost always running. And by taking the time to get it right, transit advertising can be an excellent way to market to a local economy and a captive audience.

The Ads on the Bus

Transit advertising is a type of out-of-home (OOH) advertising that - unlike other OOH ads - is not tied to a static location. This form of advertising can be placed in or on modes of public transportation, targeting both riders and pedestrians.

Public transportation really evolves as a city grows and changes, so transit advertising allows you to interact with a large cross-section of a community. Even if your audience may not be utilizing these services to a great degree, they still see these ads as they sit in traffic or walk down the sidewalk. Transit ads are unavoidable, and that’s only one of the benefits.

A Captive Audience: According to the US Census Bureau’s 2014-2018 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Americans spend an average of 26.6 minutes commuting to work each way. That’s about an hour every day in which they’re sitting in traffic, sitting in a subway car, shifting around on a packed bus or waiting at a bus stop for a terminally late bus. Transit ads catch people during these moments of mental downtime. In many cases, audiences will spend several minutes with nothing else to do but look at your ad.

High Visibility: Unlike so many other types of advertisements, viewers cannot fast forward through it, turn it off, throw it in the trash or exit out of it. It also has the benefit of mobility. Unlike a billboard or a poster, it travels throughout a city racking up thousands of impressions on a daily basis.

Many Options: With some other mediums - such as print media or online video - you aren't always sure where exactly your ad will appear. Transit ads are designed for a specific space, though, whether that be inside or outside of a transit vehicle, on the back or the sides of the bus, an entire wrap or just a small banner. You can have a small, interior ad for passengers riding or a large, exterior ad for the passersby outside a vehicle.

Go “Look, Look, Look!”

In the ad industry, transit advertising is a special kind of animal. It technically falls into the OOH category, but it’s more mobile than most outdoor ads. In order to make your transit advertising campaign a success, you need to consider all aspects of this unique medium.

Think In & Out of the Bus (or Subway, Train, Taxi...You Get the Idea)

As a general rule, interior ads are targeted at people using public transit service, and exterior ads are targeted at passersby who may or may not be using public transit. However, when you consider where you want to place your ad, there’s more to evaluate than just interior or exterior placement.

Super Sides: These banner ads are placed higher on the side of the bus in order to be visible above the heads of pedestrians on the street. These are ideal choices for targeting crowds along busy streets.

Street Liners: For a more cost-effective option, these smaller ads fit at eye-level on the sides of buses. These may also be called queen banners.

King Banners: These are similar to queen banners, but they stretch all the way to the top of a vehicle’s available ad space.

Tail Signs: These ads are located on the rear of a vehicle. They’re mostly targeted at drivers who end up stuck behind the ad in traffic.

Interior Cards: Interior ads are smaller, usually appearing on panels above passengers heads or on the divider behind drivers. These will only be seen by bus or subway passengers and are great for heavily-traveled routes.

Wraps: If you’re a ‘go big or go home’ kind of brand, a full vehicle wrap is always an option. These ads utilize every square foot of ad real estate to deliver a larger-than-life ad that can be seen from a fair distance. Fun fact: the first bus wrap was an ad for Crystal Pepsi in 1993.

Design for the Streets

Designing ads for transit advertising is not so different from designing other OOH creative, except in this case, the billboards and posters are constantly on the move. While passengers have several minutes to spend with interior ads, exterior ads have a small window of time in which a passerby sees it, so consider your design carefully.

Overall Simplicity: Your ads should be easy to read from a distance, and their intent should be easy to perceive from a few seconds of viewing.

Messaging: External ads should be designed with succinctness and brevity in mind, using as few words as possible and carefully choosing eye-catching visuals.

Text: Anytime you have to use text, sans serif fonts are the most readable from a distance. You should also make it a point to avoid decorative fonts or italics.

Colors: Use bold, eye-catching colors that will stand out amongst the metal and brick of an urban environment. High contrast color pairings are recommended, and avoid putting complimentary colors of similar value right next to each other in a way that causes simultaneous contrast.

Visual Elements: Avoid using complex scenes in your exterior transit ads such as landscapes. You want to keep the visual hierarchy simple: one headline, one image, one logo. However, don’t worry about maintaining negative space; this isn’t a print ad. Your goal is to catch people’s attention.

Routes, Ridership, Roll

Interior transit advertising is all about the passengers. Public transit riders are an untapped audience for your brand - of all riders, APTA reports that 71% are employed and 7% are students - and with a little research, you can strategically target this captive audience.

If you’re advertising to a local audience and the goal of your transit advertising is to drive customers to your location, targeting nearby routes is a smart course of action. You could even target routes that take passengers right by your business. These passengers likely live, work or have other interests in your trade area and are most likely to visit your business while they’re there.

If the goal of your advertising is to drive visibility and brand awareness for your business, you should target routes that have the most traffic. These routes usually pass through busy, commercial districts or high-density population areas where you can catch many pairs of eyes, especially during the morning and evening commutes.

All Through the Town

Public transit moves to the pulse of a city. When the time is taken to learn how people move around a metro area, targeting your brand to the correct audience is no longer a guessing game but a strategic exercise.

Unfortunately, OOH - and especially transit advertising - isn’t a speciality you learn overnight. It’s very helpful to have a media partner familiar with the local market options when determining how to structure your transit advertising campaigns around the correct audience. They can help you determine the proper routes and locations.

As media stewards, our role is to help you think outside of the box and make an impact in your community. Through market research, we determine who lives, works and shops in a given area. By analyzing, evaluating and understanding the interests of your target audience, our planners and buyers at The Ward Group will find the best spaces to expose consumers to your brand. Contact us today to start taking your advertising to new places.

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