From long tunnels underground to broad sweeping structures over miles of city blocks, subway systems are an integral part of the urban experience. Millions of people rely on these trains and trolleys every day to get from A to B while skipping the streets and sidewalks.
Subway scenes are also an ideal canvas for marketing campaigns of all kinds, and advertisers are always searching for new ways to optimize their efforts above and below ground.
From platform posters to cards and displays within cars themselves, the opportunities for ads are plentiful – not to mention the untapped creative potential that can set your brand apart.
Let’s explore how you can optimize subway advertising with the current array of tech and network strategies, and what common pitfalls should be avoided in the process.
Know Your Location (Macro and Micro)
Since subway ads reach such a wide audience, precise targeting is not so easily done on this broad scale. Instead, your focus should be on the location of your campaign in a geographic sense (cities and systems) and where the ads are placed within those domains.
For example, a New York City Metro system ad campaign may look different from a campaign run in Boston, DC, or Los Angeles. These ads tend to work best with a city-specific theme and content that is relevant to the region.
Also gather details as they relate to the placement of ads within the subway system, including the dimensions of the assets, the duration of the campaign, and the possibility of digital formats. As always, your goal as an advertiser is to strike the ideal balance between location, duration, reach, and impact – all while staying within budget.
Perfect the Format (Large and Small)
One trip on the subway will reveal just how many advertising spots can be found throughout the infrastructure, and each format requires a smart and applicable design.
Want to place a large poster along a busy walkway leading to the platform? An eye-catching image and short but sweet message will work best. How about a card located within a train car? That’s your chance to add some more info and draw readers in.
Keep in mind that these various components can be used in tandem to create a comprehensive vision and message. Since subway users will be experiencing the journey from start to finish, you can present different aspects of the ad campaign from each viewpoint.
The takeaway here is that large and small ad formats should not be interchangeable when crafting a subway campaign. Each ad spot needs a unique treatment since there are varying levels of exposure, attention, and investment from viewers.
Only deploy an ad in a specific location once you’ve tested multiple versions and ensure the message is getting across.
Include an Offer (Call to Action)
Subway ads are unique in that you have a somewhat captive audience, unlike on social media or television where viewers can quickly skip ahead. This gives you a chance to elaborate on a theme and include more information than you otherwise would.
On the other hand, you don’t want to bore or alienate viewers with too much text or unneeded info. Most importantly, your offer must be front and center every time, sending viewers on the customer journey from the start.
Conveniently, nearly all subway riders are now glued to their phones, and can immediately follow instructions to visit your site or take part on social media. As an added bonus, include a discount or promo that is only available to those on the subway, compelling them to act on the spot.
Effective subway ads have an element of intrigue, encouraging viewers to “find out more” by continuing the customer journey online. Use this to your advantage for supercharged results.
Keep it Consistent (Build a Theme)
The basics of branding remind us that consistency is key in any ad campaign, including subway advertising. While your ads may take different shapes and sizes within a subway system, the core message and branding assets need to remain consistent throughout.
Keep a familiar set of colors and imagery so that subway riders and pedestrians can recognize your ads from afar or from the corner of their vision. Mix things up while maintaining a similar theme so that viewers always have something new to look at.
The most effective subway ads go through multiple iterations and update with the times, making it an enjoyable part of the city experience instead of an interruption to daily life.
Full Steam Ahead on Subway Ads
The subway is thriving in major US cities, and ads still make an impact despite the prevalence of smartphones. Use these strategies to upgrade your ad campaigns and see if you can work some subway magic for your brand moving forward.