Back in the day, slanting national outdoor advertising campaigns to all but the largest markets was usually too costly. And when someone did pay to print a few hundred subway posters for a system the size of the Metro, they’d usually scrimp on content, reasoning that we local yokels would be so flattered by the shoutout that large quantities of money and gratitude would flow back in return.
Now, thanks to big Inkjets, the cost barriers have vanished, unleashing a flood of city-specific messages in towns beyond New York or L.A. What hasn’t changed: The low quality of those ads destined for the provinces—and the minimal knowledge upon which they are based. With customization as cheap and easy as it’s become, it shouldn’t be enough to just tip your hat to the local market. You should be willing to, you know, sell to it.
Here’s what passes for insight on D.C. Metro platforms and streets:
Green Mountain Coffee
Slogan: “I REALIZED the only fuel I need on the Metro is a great cup of coffee.”
Art: landscape illustration with paper cup.
Estimated time spent on local research: 0:00. “I like drinking coffee on the subway, and people in Washington are probably like me, kind of.”
Creative score (1-5): 0. The inducement to delinquency—beverages are a local subway no-no—makes this one of the most tone deaf recent local ads. Oh, and Metro should be capitalized.
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Slogan: “My story takes place everywhere. Except J Street.”
Art: Stock image of a man in a suit dribbling a basketball (presumably not on J Street).
Estimated time spent on local research: 0:33. “Hey, did you notice there’s no J Street on this map?”
Creative score (1-5): 3. Though the copy exploits a well-known idiosyncrasy of D.C.’s street system, the photo has a hip urban vibe. It looks like it could have been taken in town!
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T. Rowe Price
Slogan: “Do Something Different with this year’s IRA (Visit our Investors Centers: Farragut Square or in Tysons Corner.)”
Art: Varies. There are rows of iconic swimmers or runners, one of which is facing a different direction than the others.
Estimated time spent on local research: 0:04. “The spec. sheet for this says the offices are in these places called Tysons Corner and Farragut.”
Creative score (1-5): 1. The athlete icons, from some dingbat font or another, have been extruded and beveled in Photoshop, creating a “lifelike” 3D effect. The copy is the bigger problem—what makes “different” the same as “desirable?”
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Slogan: “Whether you’re on the Right or the Left, we’ll pick you up.”
Art: Stock photo, man in back of Limousine.
Estimated time spent on local research: 0:02. “D.C….D.C….that town is often mentioned in political stories, isn’t it?”
Creative score (1-5): 1. The model is better groomed and dressed than typical D.C. politico types. The photo says European businessman, not Washington stuffshirt.
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FC2 female condom
Slogan: “DC’s Doin’ It!” (badge appended to ad)
Art: Stock image of amorous couple
Estimated time spent on local research: 0:09. “As nauseating as it is to contemplate, I would speculate that people outside of New York have sex.”
Creative score (1-5): 0. “Doin’ it?” Really? This may be D.C., but even here it’s no longer 1976.
Photos by Jandos Rothstein