If you’re a New Yorker, one of the easiest ways to keep up-to-date on the latest consumer products — furniture, beauty products, mobile apps, you name it — is to hop on the subway.
Even before you board, you may find yourself walking through a station filled with colorful startup ads. And once you’re actually on the train, you’ll probably be surrounded by even more of those ads.
It felt very different when I first moved to New York in 2013, back when the only companies that seemed to buy subway ads were local colleges, law firms and sketchy-sounding surgeons. Over the next few years, I noticed that the companies I wrote about in TechCrunch were starting to show up on the subway walls.
These ads are managed by Outfront Media, which has an exclusive contract with the MTA and says it’s worked with more than 150 startups and direct-to-consumer brands since 2018.
“Startups and DTC brands, now more than ever before, are looking for ways to raise awareness and gain market share among a heavy competitor set,” said Outfront’s chief product experience officer Jason Kuperman via email. “For these brands, it is all about testing and learning, and leveraging out-of-home (OOH) [advertising] and advertising on the subway allows them to do just that.”
Kuperman added that when they launch their subway campaigns, many of these startups are unknown, so they “find value in a permanent place to advertise that people pass through every day.”
From out-of-home to in transit
John Laramie, CEO of out-of-home advertising agency Project X, agreed that there’s been a big shift over the past few years.
He and I first spoke in 2011 about startups buying billboard ads alongside Silicon Valley’s main highway, Route 101. More recently, he told me, “Fast forward to the last four years, and who cares about the 101? It’s all about the New York City subway.”