Mind the Gap: NYC Rolls Out Doubled-Sided Branded MetroCards


New York City’s subways and buses have about 8.5 million riders every day. Transit cards are carried by everybody from construction workers to hedge-fund managers and tourists from across the globe, to nannies minding children and rap stars who own basketball teams and concert/sports venues. And now the MTA has finally debuted a way for marketers to reach that card-clutching audience by placing advertisements on both sides of the MetroCard.

In the launch campaign for the two-sided branding opportunity, New Yorkers may find themselves swiping cards with Gap ads across the front of them that not only spread the Gap name but offer 20 percent discounts for those that visit the retailer’s new flagship store — the first ad to appear on the front of a MetroCard, the fare payment medium on all New York City subways and buses, since the mid-1990s.[more]

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced earlier this year it would be relaunching its MetroCard advertising program to accept ads on both sides of transit cards, so New Yorkers should start getting used to swiping ads to go places. “Since we first announced that we would accept branded MetroCards, our phones have been ringing non-stop with inquires,” said Paul J. Fleuranges, the MTA’s Senior Director of Corporate and Internal Communications, stated in a press release.

Since 1995, the card has occasionally run ads on the back (see below), but that only brought about $165,000 in a year, DNAInfo notes. The two-sided advertising, paricularly when coupled with an offer or discount, should raise a lot more cash. Domino’s, for one, has already signed on to woo pizza lovers sometime in the fourth quarter.

As the New York Times reports, “the cards are available at 10 stations around the city, which were selected based on their proximity to the flagship store and their high ridership.” According to Capital New York, the new ads will cost between $25,500 and $450,000 with print runs between 50,000 to 5 million cards. Not too shabby for a transit system that has been hurting financially for years. But can it do enough to put a dent into the projected budget deficit of $487 million in 2013?

Every little bit helps, although as Fast Company points out, the analytics the MTA will be turning over to marketers involved in the test may raise privacy concerns: “Useful? Potentially. Creepy? Maybe. Though it’s nearly guaranteed the MTA would never be able to use your personal identification information, they could probably fairly easily amass a collection of information about you, and riders with habits similar to you, to determine how its advertising partners can best target you.”