On the train the other day, I overheard a conversation with two college-aged kids. There was a handwritten, plain piece of computer paper with sharpie written over it taped over the map. It had a poorly written note on it from an aspiring rapper asking people to check out his music on his Soundcloud. The kids started laughing at how amateurish the note was and how he didn’t think to put any visuals on it. They made fun of it for a few minutes, but when they were finished talking smack, they said they were going to check it out. I laughed a little to myself, especially when they said how shocked they’d be if his songs were actually good. For all the judgmental things they said about him and his ad, it still achieved its purpose, and they were still looking at it with an open mind.
The CTA is a hotbed for advertising. Part of the genius behind advertising there, or any city’s system of public transportation, is that you can’t avoid it. Even if you bring a book, tablet or iPod on the train, you’re likely to get bored and look around. Advertising agencies representing countless colleges, ongoing studies and other things appealing to your average CTA passenger, but ad agencies aren’t the only people that take advantage of that market.
Amateur advertisers take to the trains as well, many of them not fully appreciating what they’re doing. They take advantage of the same things ad agencies take advantage of on the trains. They know their demographics are likely younger, many of them working within the city or going to school. But amateurs do have one advantage over the professional advertisers: their stuff sticks out. We’re used to seeing banner ads. We’ll glance at them for a few minutes, and tune them out afterwards. When you see an amateur’s ad, you know it’s something they really put their heart and soul into and whatever they’re advertising is something they care about.
Many also use the train as a method of direct advertising as well. Like I mentioned earlier, some musicians even perform on the train. Sure, it can be annoying when it’s bad or they keep going too long, but people listen, and when it’s good, it makes the ride go by a lot faster.
I’m blogging about this because many of the people that take to this kind of advertising come from low-income neighborhoods and probably not the best backgrounds in education, but they’re more effective at advertising than many professional advertising agencies are. There’s something to learn from that.