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ABX measures ads across all media types in the U.S. and internationally reaching geographical areas representing 90% of global media spend. This post is a part of our systematic review of good and bad ads for 2022 by Media Type. Today’s post focuses specifically on OOH TRANSIT Ads including BUSES and SHELTERS, SUBWAY and METRO venues, which were among more than 2,000+ OOH executions measured by ABX In 2022. Contact us here if you are interested in testing or learning more about OHH creative testing.

Can TRANSIT be a hidden Advertising gem for your Brand?

Transit advertising includes ads in and on the various locations provided by public transportation and vehicles. It includes advertising on buses, inside buses and on bus shelters at each stop, as well as ads on the outsides and insides of subways cars, trams, and metro stations. It also includes wrapped cars, the tops of taxi cabs, and in planes and at airports.

Transit advertising targets the riders, passengers, and by-passers for brand advertising. Its communication advantages include the fact that you cannot turn it off or flip the channel. Therefore, you are guaranteed a broad-based regional audience without relying on an algorithm, and there is an endless variety of sizes, locations, and creative opportunities for any advertising budget.

A Statista online Global Consumer Survey (link) predicts that the number of public transportation users in 2023 will return to pre-pandemic levels worldwide, driven by a growth in public transportation users in China and the return of users in the US, UK, and Japan. Looking at trips versus users in New York City specifically, February 2023 bus trips are back up to 33.2M and weekday subway are at 69.1M. These statistics double the 2021 levels, and each are back to 65% of their February 2019 levels (MTA Study link).

While the growth in audience numbers marks a huge opportunity, advertising Creative is a challenge. Looking at the ABX Index for advertising effectiveness levels across all forms of transit advertising, it is below scores seen in other OOH venues like standard billboards, in-store, building side spectaculars and new digital OOH media.

The challenge lies in simplifying creative for an audience that is very accepting of ads on public transportation, but they are generally more focused on getting to their destination than taking in their environment. Advertising on trams and buses has the highest acceptance of all forms of advertising surveyed. 97% of the respondents in a in Zurich, Switzerland study report they either like advertising on means of transport or that it does not bother them (DemoSCOPE survey of passenger and pedestrians link).

Top US Transit OOH Ads of 2022 – Outside on the Streets

The ads featured below are among the top 15% of more than 2,000 OOH executions measured by ABX in 2022 and were selected for educational reasons as well as scores.

  • Outback Steakhouse Bus Shelter – ABX Index 121

Restaurants as a category, both Dine-In and Fast food (QSR), have historically dominated traditional billboards OOH. In 2022, the Restaurants category made its mark in Transit OOH creative, too. Part of this dominance is that OOH can be like in-store advertising for restaurants. Often a buyer will pass a purchase location at just the right time as they exit to their destination and can take immediate action.

Outback came in at #1 in 2022 transit ad scores with an overall ABX index of 121. The ad’s clear presentation of Brand (Outback Steakhouse) and Benefit (appetite appeal) served up delicious communication. The messaging outpaced the medium and the category with clear branding and delivery, clarity, and understandability of its message. Importantly, Outback was able to deliver a high Action score as the appetite appeal of the steak appears to reinforce the Brand’s excellent Reputation score at 154. Outback also has a very low Dislike score at 35. The ad did especially well among Men with a 125 score.

  • Clorox Subway Entrance – ABX Index 114

You may not instinctively expect our #2 Transit OOH to be in the household cleaning category but here is a Clorox brand ad at #2. Interestingly the ad has a very high Message score 121, outperforming both the outdoor medium and the category norms significantly. Looking into the data, that message score is driven by an outstanding Relevance score of 145. Clorox was able to recognize that while you do not necessarily use its cleaning products while on the go, post-pandemic public transportation users and non-users are highly attuned to germs these days. Killing germs is delivered clearly with strong brand association in this execution. Also, somewhat unexpectedly, the ad did much better among Men 127 than Females 102. Apparently connecting on “fighting germs” is more time/place appropriate Transit than whiter whites in one’s laundry.

  • Spanish Language Ads – US
    • McDonald’s Bus Shelter – ABX Index 128 among Hispanic Audiences and
    • McDonald’s Bus Wrap – ABX Index 118 among Hispanic Audiences

Back to the appropriateness of the QSR category to OOH, here are two McDonald’s transit examples in Spanish language at a bus shelter and on a bus too. Both executions are super simple presentations of Brand (McDonald’s Breakfast), Benefit (Appetite Appeal), and Value (2 for . . .). While the bus side ad scored considerably lower than the shelter, it’s easy to see how the McDonald’s logo was only on the top part of the ad and not at all on the bottom. Regardless, these ads are strong examples of message clarity in any language.

These ads in Spanish were evaluated among a Hispanic-only audience, which can inflate scores up to 20%. However, even discounting that, these are strong bus stop and bus side executions. When the messaging is right and the Brand delivery is clear, transit creative can go anywhere. The bus side has exposure to drivers and passers-by as well as bus-riders, and the easy-to-read static bus shelter sign is even more effective. The high ABX Index is driven by a superior Reputation score of 154 (or 54% above norm), and an Action score of 160. The ad also has an extremely low dislike score, at 43. Its message outpaced the medium and the category for delivery, clarity, and understandability.

Top US Transit OOH Ads of 2022 – Inside the Stations

  • Starbuck’s Transit Floor – ABX Index 115

As we move from the buses and signage outside to the messaging inside the subway/metro/train stations, we find a strong Starbucks’ ad literally on the floor. It got noticed. Perhaps due to its high Brand Awareness (95% of the respondents were certain or sure they knew the brand) or its clear messaging help or its placement (which perhaps made the ad a welcome relief from the mind-numbing experience of walking through subway stations). This Starbucks ad generates a strong Reputation score and a 132 Action score. This Action score is particularly impressive as viewers would have to remember to add this product to their grocery lists for their next shopping trip.

  • Bauducco Subway Wall – ABX Index 114 (International: Brazil)

In Brazil, we find a seasonal ad reminding us to “embark on the best station of the year,” in “this Christmas of gifts” with Bauducco’s panettone cakes. The ad has an outstanding placement on the wall by the escalator and significantly outperforms both the Media and Category norms for Relevance (a score of 125) and Likability (at 129) with almost no Dislikes (a score of only 19). Anywhere you are in the world, what is not to like about chocolate cakes? Ninety-nine percent of respondents were certain or sure they knew the brand, driving a strong Reputation (119 score) and Action score (at 115).

Bauducco Transit Ad

Bottom US Transit OOH Ads of 2022 – Outside on the Streets

The ads featured below are among the bottom 2% of the OOH executions for 2022, and were selected for educational reasons as well as scores. 

  • Michelob Ultra “History” – ABX Index of 62

In 2022 Anheuser-Busch InBev brand Michelob Ultra launched a multi-channel effort to link the brand to the story of Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, to show its support for women and non-binary athletes. The campaign included a :60 TV ad for a charity called Run Fund (link) and involvement in the New York City Marathon. There were three Transit ads and unfortunately each communicated only a part of the story. Riders and passers-by would need to already know the connection and have seen the TV spot, for any of their transit executions to connect and sell. We will focus on the ad entitled “History,” which is the start of the Kathrine Switzer OOH story.

As indicated, this ad relies on familiarity with other aspects of the campaign to make sense. The biggest weakness was poor message delivery/understanding with a dismal Message score of 48. The ad features a QR Scan, and while the “History” headline signals that Katherine Switzer did something noteworthy, there is no incentive given to inspire scan action. Bot surprisingly, the ad drives a low Action score of 66 (which was the highest of the three OOH executions). Despite the Brand’s egalitarian intention, the ad scored particularly poorly among women, a 53 score.

Michelob Ultra Transit Ad
Michelob Ulta Transit Ad ABX Score

Also, since the ad features people, the ABX Gender Equality Index™ (GEI™) (link) is also reported. The analysis often presents a richer picture of the ad’s performance. Unfortunately for Michelob Ultra, respondents did not believe that Kathrine Switzer was Presented Well (ABX 77 score), Respectfully (ABX 73 score), or as Role Models (ABX 78 score). Given that the campaign centerpiece is a female role model’s story, this is a major communication miss. It contributed to the ad being devoid of a benefit delivery and made a well-known Brand name mostly invisible, with only 69% of respondents who could recall the Brand.

On a related side note, the :60 TV commercial was also tested by ABX. It scored closer to the TV medium norm than “History” was to the OOH medium norm. However, like the OOH, the TV execution was below Alcoholic Beverage norm with an ABX Index of 98. Among the 22 Michelob Ultra TV spots that ABX evaluated in 2022, this was the fourth lowest scoring TV ad for the Brand.

Bottom US Transit OOH Ads of 2022 – Inside the Stations

  •  Nike Air Force 1 in the United Kingdom – ABX Index of 53

In this example from the UK, we are reminded that spending and presence cannot make up for ineffective creative. Nike Air Force 1 is among the most popular trainers in the UK. This is the transit campaign for the launch of their 2022 shoe releases.

A series of ads meant to dominate advertising in a metro station showed the Nike Air Force 1 shoe with a group of men representing the target audience. Nike was trying to communicate a hip style using the people, but the pictures don’t show the models wearing the shoes. There is no explicit Benefit or Value offered, just the assorted styles and a nearby retail location. This leads to an exceptionally low Message score of 42, well below both Media and Category norms. The ads have a low Likability score (65) and an especially high Dislike score (163).

Looking at the ABX Gender Equality Index™ (GEI), respondents did not see the models as well- or respectfully-presented. Respectful scores were 49 among women and 64 among men. The models are all men of color with no racial or gender diversity. This is an especially poor creative choice as the series of eight executions gave plenty of opportunity to depict a wide range of target audiences.

Nike Air Force 1 Transit Ad ABX Score

Be on the lookout for more breakout OOH comparisons in upcoming ABX blog posts.

Written by:  Angela Jeffrey, VP Brand Management, ABX with contributions from Marc Rappin, former CMO of the Advertising Research Foundation.

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