The Advantages of Transit Advertising

People around the world are in a perpetual state of motion. That’s why transit advertising—the practice of reaching consumers on their bus, cab, or train commutes—has “been around as long as public transportation itself,” according to the New York Times in an archived article from 1984.

The Advantages of Transit Advertising

People around the world are in a perpetual state of motion. That’s why transit advertising—the practice of reaching consumers on their bus, cab, or train commutes—has “been around as long as public transportation itself,” according to the New York Times in an archived article from 1984. Over the years, this practice has risen and fallen in popularity with patterns in ridership. In 2020 and beyond; however, the practice has the potential to become a strategic competitive advantage for reaching people. There are a few reasons why:

  • Gen Z and millennial cohorts have shown tendencies against purchasing cars. In cities such as San Francisco and New York, young adults rely on buses, trains, and ride-sharing to get from points A to B. Transit ads make it possible to reach younger people in an unconventional way.
  • Transit advertising revenue goes directly into improving the quality of transportation in a region. It’s common for cities, train lines, and bus systems to offer formal programs to help brands reach consumers. These municipal agencies also have insight into ridership and demographic variables that may influence your campaign.
  • Ads reaching consumers-in-transit are functional. The City of Madison, Wisconsin points out, for instance, that these ads are repeated, attention-grabbing, have constant exposure, are effective, and are timely. You can reach people in an organic, impactful, and meaningful way.

The capabilities of transit advertising are evolving. For instance, you can create multimedia experiences, integrate your digital and non-digital campaigns, and even buy media online, (through AdQuick). But is it the right strategy for you, and how do you make the most out of your budget? The following tips will help you navigate these two essential questions.

Understand how transit ads fit into your overall growth program

Transit ads make logical sense. Consider Think with Google’s timeless research around the concept of micro-moments—the idea that consumers expect an immediate, relevant, and frictionless experience when it comes to finding, doing, or buying something. Marketers need to be there to meet them in these moments.

With transit ads, you’re meeting consumers where they are, in a physical space. But how should your program tie into your other marketing initiatives?

Consider the following anecdote in AdWeek, from Instacart’s former expansion manager, Matt O’Connor, who went on to become the founder and CEO of AdQuick.

This initiative began with a challenge that O’Connor and his team ran into: social media and online ads were declining in effectiveness. One of the challenges that he ran into was a suspicion, that he could not prove, that a high percentage of clicks were fraudulent. He elaborates, from his experience, that transit ads have the following advantages over social media:

  • Advertisers don’t risk losing money to click fraud.
  • It’s high frequency, meaning that consumers get significant exposure and traffic.
  • It reaches a wider cross-section of the general population around the world—of whom, many are not online.
  • You can build a campaign that integrates with social media, since transit ads are straightforward to share online.
  • You can choose media based on the exact community that you’re seeking to reach.

Research from Nielsen has also found that as a category, out-of-home is the most effective offline medium for driving online activity.

“According to the OOH Online Activation Survey, online activations including search, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram activity generated by OOH indexes at about four times the expected rate given its relative ad spend,” explains Nielsen’s research.

Results like these require intentional planning. One AdQuick customer, a car sharing marketplace called Turo, uses a broad digital strategy that incorporates marketing to scale up the business.

“We focus on a core group of channels,” says Adam Miller, head of user acquisition and growth at Turo. “It includes a mix of search marketing, paid social, and offline efforts. These channels have largely been ignored in favor of digital channels, and the fact that they have been ignored means that what’s old is new again. This integrated approach has enabled us to gain market share because we’re creating the category by ourselves.”

Plan the experience from the audience’s perspective

At a minimum, your transit ad needs to be memorable—that means telling a clear and compelling story that connects with your audience. Give an introduction to your company, explain what you do, and include a memorable takeaway. Here are some examples from some of AdQuick’s highest performing campaigns:

Your marketing message needs to reach the right audience at the right time in their buying journeys. This marketing mantra is timeless—and has been one of the most important principles of marketing since the beginning of marketing as a discipline.

There are a few logistical steps worth taking as you build your strategy:

  • Decide where you want to advertise. Will your message be more impactful in a train station or on the side of a bus? What about advertising inside of a train or inside of a bus? To help answer that question, take a walk through a few transit hubs to observe where people are likely to be spending their attention. Align your message to the level of attention that you should expect to get. Tailor your creative to your context.
  • Determine your target markets based on your existing customer data, lookalike audiences, and demographic details that align with the profile of your ideal buyer. You can use public data to identify the right markets—all the way down to the community level—to reach your exact audience.

For instance, you can study the performance of a campaign in one market and replicate successes elsewhere.

“Regardless of the type of campaign that you’re running, it’s important that it’s scalable,” explains Dan Laufer, head of growth and product marketing at Nextdoor. “You can find the perfect time, place, and moment to catch someone during a commute.”

  • Run a small A/B test through digital channels. This strategy is especially valuable if you’re not sure what message will stick. Run a test campaign with a small budget of several hundred dollars, in the geography that you’re trying to reach. This technique will help you develop more precision in your offline marketing strategies—and across your entire digital strategy, overall.

Focus on your data to figure out when, where, and how to advertise—to understand how your campaign fits into an overarching strategy.

Plan your multimedia strategy

Mobile phones make it possible to bridge online and offline worlds. A recent report confirms that people are likely to engage in search and social activity after seeing an online ad.

Using multimedia, you can bring a unique dimension to your transit advertising strategy. If you’re advertising within a bus or train, for instance, you can encourage audiences to learn more by following a link to a website.

If you’re advertising within a station, you could consider creating digital content for a multimedia billboard, incorporating video or augmented reality elements, for instance.

At a bare minimum, your campaign direction could be a simple collaboration with local artists. A creative strategy can be impactful at all levels of sophistication.”

“Digital out of home media can accommodate dynamic and interactive campaigns that can change in real-time, based on triggers like weather, time of day, and location,” writes the team at Intersection, a company that brings digital technology to physical, reality-based experience.

“More traditional media such as bus advertising and station dominations are powerful in grabbing consumer attention and driving people to venues or online.”

Get people to take pictures of an awesome campaign—that they’ll enjoy sharing on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and other social channels.

Measure results

Who says that transit ads are tough to measure? All marketing is tough to measure, given the sheer number of interconnected touch points that it takes for a customer to get from A to B.

  • Measure the lift in your website traffic by geography
  • Integrate your analytics with Google AdWords, to track how keyword costs-per-click are trending in your geography
  • Run a social media brand lift study
  • Use shortcodes or coupon codes to give your campaign a call-to-action
  • Use geo-fenced mobile ads to measure engagement rates by area
  • Run geo-targeted surveys to measure brand awareness
  • Track movements to quantify and measure foot traffic near your ad

The more you measure, the more you can learn, optimize, and improve. You can bring the capabilities of a digital advertising experience to a physical space. Using data, you can build an integrated customer picture, to truly reach audiences on a human level.

Disclosure: Turo and Nextdoor are AdQuick customers

Contributors Statement

This blog post was a collaboration between the AdQuick team. Chris Gadek, John McClung, and Jack Gaylor contributed to this piece. Payton Biddington created the visuals.

If you'd like to learn how out of home can work with your unique marketing campaign and business, send a quick email to [email protected] or call (213) 986-6179. We'll reach out with case studies and recommendations tailored to you.


The opinions expressed are those of the authors. This material has been prepared for educational purposes only. Please be sure to consult with your internal team of stakeholders to assess your specific needs before adapting any practices from this blog, as your own.