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$5 million in RTA ads try to win over transit riders with humor

The Regional Transportation Authority Thursday unveiled a $5 million, two-and-a-half-year advertising campaign to promote Chicago-area mass transit while jabbing at Chicago-style gridlock.

The RTA’s “Ride On” campaign is “using humor — playing off of the realities of driving and parking in our region — to encourage first-time and non-regular riders to ‘Ride On,’” RTA executive director Leeanne Redden said in a news release.

Whether non-riders — and riders — will find the ads humorous, or get the message, remains to be seen.

One 15-second TV ad features bumper-to-bumper traffic accompanied by a laugh track — but no other sounds. It ends with the slogan “Ride On” and the logos of CTA, Metra and Pace plus, in very tiny letters, Another TV ad shows a passenger on a Pace bus looking at a distracted driver weaving dangerously in traffic as he tries to wriggle out of a piece of clothing.

An online ad shows a transit rider using a tablet computer with the caption, “Read something better than license plates.”

Only one sample of those provided clearly states the message: “Take public transportation. Visit” In that ad, those words are in small type, in the bottom left corner of a print ad featuring a woman holding a hotdog with the message: “Try the Chicago-style dogs. Skip the Chicago-style traffic.”

The campaign “highlights the benefits and convenience of riding public transit in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties — juxtaposed against the challenges drivers face in the more than 8-million resident region,” according to an RTA news release. “The campaign targets riders who could take transit during non-peak hours, such as visitors, tourists, older adults and reverse commuters.”

RTA spokeswoman Susan Massel said the agency signed off on the ads before they were released. Chicago-based Downtown Partners Communications Inc, which has run ads for the Illinois Lottery, was selected through a competitive process, Massel said.

The ads launched in early January and will continue through the summer of 2017, the RTA said. They are appearing on cable television, online and on digital billboards throughout the region.