Work/Life: Lazy advertising hard at work

Spotted on a train this morning, on my way to work/life: For those using a Crackberry on a slow connection, the poster shows Mr Met, a Disney-esque character with a large baseball for a head, pointing to a bag on the seat of a train. The headline reads: “Please don’t let good manners slide, Keep your stuff off seats for a better ride.”


Spotted on a train this morning, on my way to work/life:


For those using a Crackberry on a slow connection, the poster shows Mr Met, a Disney-esque character with a large baseball for a head, pointing to a bag on the seat of a train. The headline reads:

“Please don’t let good manners slide,
Keep your stuff off seats for a better ride.”

I call this “under-writing”. It’s not quite there, and it doesn’t make me at all guilty about not wanting to park the filthy underside of my bag on my lap, or parking it on the seat rather than the filthy floor.

And just who gets “the better ride?”

It looks like someone either spent 2 seconds dashing off the headline, or 2 weeks over-thinking it with several committees on the finer points of tone and political correctness.


What the poster really wants to say is this:


I’d like to see Mr Met about to go for an almighty strike at the bag with a baseball bat. What a fun TV that would make, broken window and all. Or, how about about picturing a girl chatting on a cellphone with a little triangular pink purse occupying four buttcheek’s worth of real estate beside her, glared at by a Mr Met with his arms around 100 baseball bats bursting out of a paper sack, clinging desperately to the pole with one hand while losing his footing?

Why use the goofy Mr Met at all? There doesn’t seem to be any organic connection between baseball and trains other than a convenient pun on ‘Met’.

Here’s another poster in the same carriage:


It reads, “TO YOU. Stranger, if you, passing, meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?”

I’m told this is called “Poetry in Motion”.

The concept here isn’t bad; there’s a subtle attempt at social service. (I’m surprised no-one committed the original sin of using the world ‘Met’ in place of ‘meet’).

The problem with this poster is simply lazy art direction. It’s got a bit of decoration like the border on cheap boxed stationary.

All together now, what’s a more compelling way to illustrate this little sonnet about loneliness and disconnect? How about a shot of two people sitting at opposite ends of a train seat ignoring each other, with the poem separating them? Make one person black, the other white and add an extra layer of discussion. Make one person in middle Eastern dress and you’ve really got people yammering.


Or, how about printing the poem in vinyl letters on the actual train seat backs, and the floor itself where people look, so the words separate real people?

How about a poster inviting interaction: “The person next to you might know a great sushi bar. Ask them now.” This might stimulate commerce and conversation.

Here’s a third poster, just across the aisle.

The headline in Spanish, basically says in a roundabout way, “mind the gap”.

So why not show a pair of shoes wedged between the train and platform rather than one doing the right thing? How about some hands clinging to the edge of the platform? How about a cross mounted at the edge of the platform like they do on busy roads where pedestrians have died?


OK, I’m being dramatic now, but the the point of all of this is about striking past first base and driving an idea all the way home.

A million people sit captive every morning and evening on their way to wherever. You’ve got them for 20, 30 minutes or more, especially when there’s no room to sit or grapple with a newspaper (and has anyone thought of making a transit newspaper the size of a small novel so we can read it with one hand and cling to the pole with another?)

So if you’re going to assault us with your poster, make it good and you might sell something – you paid for it.

There’s a huge opportunity in the smallest of places, but transit posters are often seen as hum drum by overpaid copywriters, who dash them off while clawing to work on a blockbuster TV ad they think will make them rockstars, and during which we get up to raid the fridge anyway.

There was no remote control, no bathroom and no Ben & Jerry’s close at hand in this train carriage, I was stuck staring at these posters.

Clients are as much to blame. They’ll crack up at Seinfeld or Monty Python, but go all (b)anal when it comes to promoting their own products.


I say forget paying market researchers millions to have people rock up to focus groups and say all kinds of irrelevant stuff because you’re paying them $30 to fantasize about being self-styled marketing pros for an hour.

Put yourself deep into in the shoes of your viewers, be your own ethnographer, you shower, s*** and shave too – you’re one of them.

If you listen to your gut and have the confidence they’re paying you the big bucks for, you’ll be 99% right.

Few people take that step. I don’t drink Coke, but I’ll never forget the ad with the polar bears admiring the northern lights. When challenged about the “campaignability” of this ad, an exec said something along the lines of, “That’s eighties thinking. We’re looking for something truly out there.”

You can be “out there” in the most “in here” of places.

Who was it that once proposed a carriage on the train just for singles, or auditioning musicians for the subway, or those little art happenings like the mosaic eyes and bronze figures in the halls of the NY subway? They should be writing these ads.


They’re actually thinking like a customer evangelist, thinking at all times about the space, time and community that surrounds them, the messages that pass back and forth, how they land, how they take root … and just letting the commerce follow.

Bike Friday Customer Evangelist Lynette Chiang only does ads that tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – and which hopefully don’t bore the bejaysus out of people. It’s known in the trade as “Say it straight, then say it great.”

About the author

"Be social and the networking will follow." Lynette Chiang is an award-winning copywriter, brand evangelist, social media community manager, filmmaker, solo world bicycle adventurer and inventor of useful things. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Harvard University curriculums, the New York Times Book Review, FastCompany and the relationship marketing business press