Tagadvertising

Metra finally updates its marketing strategy

Photo of a new billboard by John Greenfield. 

My Streetsblog Chicago partner John Greenfield writes about Metra’s new push to get more riders: free tickets.

The transit agency will be giving away two free tickets to any destination in the system to 500 people per week for fourteen weeks – a total of 14,000 tickets, good for the next 90 days. The recipients, who must be 18 or over, will be randomly chosen from those who register at MetraRail.com/TestDrive.

While there doesn’t seem to be any method for preventing current Metra riders from scoring free tickets, the hope is that the lion’s share of the winners will be newbies. To promote the giveaway to people who currently commute by car, the agency is spending roughly $390,000 on marketing, including billboards visible from expressways and radio spots in English and Spanish following traffic reports and gas price updates, as well as Internet advertising. The billboards emphasize the financial, time-saving and relaxation benefits of making the switch.

It’s about time that Metra got serious with its marketing and used messages that actually sell the service. Focusing on the kind of marketing that actually convinces customers – of any product or service – is the right move. That focus? Our product costs less than the alternative.

Metra’s current marketing consists of boring-looking billboards on its tracks as they cross expressways with things like, “Fly to work”, “We’re on time, are you?”, and “Easy come, easy go” (what does that even mean?).

There was no call to action, and no information for drivers to respond to immediately (or when their call is stuck in bumper to bumper traffic).

An example billboard over the Kennedy Expressway, south of Grand Avenue. This sign says “Easy come, easy go”. 

Do people really know the cost of driving?

Billboard over the Kennedy Expressway advertising Metra and that it’s “easy come, easy go”.

Updated 11:50 AM: I was mistaken about the vote timing: the Metra board will vote on the fare increase plan on November 11, 2011, not October 14, 2011.

I’m having a wonderful time reading the minutes from Metra’s September 2011 board meeting. This is when Metra staff made their first fare increase proposals. They made a second proposal at the October board meeting – this is available for public comment. These minutes are not yet available.

Here’s Lynnette Ciavarella, Senior Division Director Capital and Strategic Planning, talking about how Metra is cheaper than driving, in the same discussion she had with the board about how Metra fares have not been keeping up with inflation:

She [Lynnette Ciavarella] concluded that it is well known that commuter rail fares are much lower compared to the cost of driving downtown everyday. In previous meetings, staff has used a Drive Less/ Live More calculator. Staff has modified this calculation to be much more conservative. The drive cost now is calculated at traveling 22 days per month, averaging 25 mpg, at $3.95 per gallon, and an average cost of parking downtown at $18.00. The Metra fares no longer include a parking component, so under this approach, a Metra customer living 20-25 miles from downtown under the estimated proposed fare scenario could potential save over $5,000 per year.

I disagree that it’s well known that taking the train to work downtown is cheaper than driving. It does not advertise this; I don’t believe any Chicago transit agency publicizes this fact.

Metra has cryptic messages on its billboards: “Easy come, easy go” and “The way to really fly” neither describe what Metra is and where it goes nor the benefits of using it. These billboards are often placed on train viaducts over the highway so people driving in traffic jams can see them.

The message they should be sending is right there in the meeting minutes: “Take Metra downtown instead of driving and save $5,000 each year”. Complement that text with a link to a new website that helps interested drivers find a station near their home and a schedule; sign them up for a local parking lot wait list or tell them how to ride their bike to the station on a good route and lock up properly when they arrive.

The Drive Less Live More website, operated by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), has a maps page that links users to CTA station maps, a PDF of an RTA system map, a broken link to a Metra system map, and links only to an Illinois bike map, not the Chicago bike map. This doesn’t make it easy to switch to transit! The Metra homepage does have a “station finder”.

Study: American Public Transportation Association (APTA), March 2011 –  $11,889 annually in Chicago.

Board meeting minutes

Design a promotional message

If you were asked to design a poster, postcard, flyer, or what have you, to promote bicycling, what would you create?

A photo of my sister riding a bicycle in Chicago alongside the text, “I want to get in shape, waste less time, and save money.” Similar to Mikael’s “The bike, think about it.”

No one asked me to design the poster above. Mikael Colville-Anderson of Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic (who I met in January 2011) is constantly reimagining car advertisements and plastering cheeky messages on photos. I created this to expand my creativity, use computer software I rarely try out, as well as promote one of the answers to a lot of problems, be they personal, environmental, or social.

I don’t think there’re enough positive messages about bicycling being spread in media or in our media-filled physical environment – we see the opposite. If you watched the Super Bowl commercials on Sunday (or online today), you’d have seen Audi’s “Green Police” arresting people for not recycling or for driving something other than their “clean diesel” car. Audi advertised the same “clean diesel” car in a different commercial that suggested bicycling was difficult and degrading, and probably only done while it’s raining.

To promote bicycling as the cure to what ails us, Mikael designed this poster of a patch kit and the text, “The bicycle. Fixing broken cities. You’re welcome.”

Mikael and I posing for a shot next to hand and foot rail for cyclists after riding our bikes around Copenhagen after sipping some beer and eating expensive, but tasty, hamburgers.

Promoting bicycling doesn’t always need a narrative message, though. This poster for the great people of San Francisco identifies each neighborhood by a kind of bicycle. The funniest one is the exercise (stationary) bike for Castro. Think about the neighborhoods in your city – which one would a fixie represent and which one would get the cargo bike?

One of my favorite messages is apparently quite old: Put some fun between your legs.

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