Brilliant CTA Ad Campaign Promotes Smart Riding, Shames Rude Customers

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Image: CTA

If you’ve ever visited a country where people always walk on the left and stand to the right on train station escalators, you’ve probably come home to clogged ‘L’ station escalators and thought, “Why don’t Chicagoans use common sense when using transit?”

Fortunately, the CTA is rolling out a hilarious new courtesy campaign with helpful reminders to avoid common behavior that is inefficient, rude, and even potentially dangerous. The ads cover everything from escalator etiquette to excessively loud music to holding the doors open.

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Image: CTA

Most of this stuff, such as waiting to let other passengers off before boarding the train, should already be ironclad rules for seasoned riders, but it’s a great idea to spread to word about proper riding practices to rapid transit newbies. I also fully support the CTA shaming customers who don’t keep up their end of the social contract when it comes to yelling into cell phones, littering, and hogging an extra seat with a bag.

Featuring clever – and occasionally outrageous – ad copy plus excellent photography, this initiative is light years ahead of the agency’s previous courtesy promotion, the 2002 “Don’t Be Jack” campaign. That one was a takeoff on the then-popular “See Dick drink, see Dick drive, see Dick die, don’t be a Dick” t-shirts, which were effective peer-to-peer messaging against drunk driving. However, the CTA’s bowdlerized version, with lame graphics and painfully unfunny text, probably didn’t have much impact on customer behavior.

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Image: CTA

For example, an ad from the old campaign showed a bunch of stick figures with their hands over their ears and the inane couplet “When using your cell, be sure not to yell.” The new version features a great photograph of real people grimacing as a woman screeches into her iPhone and the scathing put-down, “No one is interested in your conversation – trust us.” Which do you think would be more likely to get people to keep their voices down?

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Image: CTA

Arguably, some of the new ads are a tad too in-your-face, such as the stomach-churning image of ‘L’ riders sitting chest-deep in garbage with the caption, “Your maid doesn’t work here. Please don’t leave your crap behind.” But, hey, that just makes the message more memorable.

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Image: CTA

Best of all, the new campaign cost the agency exactly zero dollars in additional spending, according to spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski, since all of the ads were brainstormed and produced in-house, rather than by an outside ad agency. Almost all of the people in the images are CTA employees, plus a few unpaid actors. The PSAs don’t result in any loss of ad revenue for the agency, because they only occupy unsold spaces on buses and trains. The messages are also being promoted via social media.

The ads are based on the CTA’s most common etiquette issues, judging from calls to customer service, comments on social media, and observations by staffers out in the field, according to Hosinski. “We really want this campaign to be part of a constructive and helpful dialogue, and a courteous one at that,” she said. “If we can make the riding environment just a little better, the campaign will be a success.”

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Image: MTA

Conspicuous by its absence is the issue of “manspreading,” the boorish practice of sitting with your knees apart, so that they encroach on other riders. New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority addressed that hot topic in a recent courtesy campaign. However, Honsinski said the CTA has only received two complaints about manspreading, and the term wasn’t even coined by the New York Times until last December.

One minor criticism of the CTA ads is that almost all of the models in the 13 images (see the whole array here) appear to be young professionals. In the future, it would be great to side a wider range of ages and occupations portrayed — reflecting the city’s demographics – so that more CTA riders could better relate to the message.

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Image: CTA

I’m also a little puzzled by the ad asking customers stand up for expectant mothers. If anyone knows a tactful way to offer your seat to a person who appears to be pregnant, without running the risk of causing major offense if that’s not the case, please let me know in the comments section.

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An existing ad and info panel in the Orange Line's Midway station. Photo: CTA

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