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Dec 7, 2017 | 4 min read

Marketing That Moves (With) You: 6 Subway Ad Campaigns that Even Jaded New York Commuters Love


Your morning commute has never been wittier.

Digital marketing seems to be all the rage these days — but what about those rare moments when consumers aren’t on their phones or computers?

“Out-of-home advertising” (OOH) has long been a staple of a healthy marketing diet. Even in a world overrun with devices, traditional roadside billboards still account for 66% of annual OOH advertising revenue in the US. But in a city like New York, transit advertising is arguably the most impactful format.

In fact, a perfect storm of witty copywriting and eye-catching graphics can catapult a brand from relative obscurity to the “next big thing” among city-dwelling movers and shakers. Learn from the best: these six brands have succeeded in capturing the attention of (and even eliciting the occasional chuckle from) the disgruntled NYC commuter.

1. Thinx


This campaign has made (crimson) waves since its rollout in 2015, for a simple reason: it has pushed the boundaries of what is viewed as acceptable marketing content, and in the process, stirred up debate over how those standards are determined (hint: there’s a not-so-subtle dose of sexism at play). The appropriateness of this “period-proof underwear” company’s ads, which employ grapefruits and egg yolks as winking symbols of female anatomy, was initially questioned — despite the fact that ads like this have been gracing the MTA’s subway cars for years.

2. Casper


Casper has maximized their OOH advertising impact in the “city that never sleeps” by suggesting that you don’t have to sleep on their mattresses — you can use them in all kinds of other ways! The ecommerce startup’s quirky ads capture the unique, frenetic energy of our beloved — and infested — city, acknowledging that the only true NYC locals are the urban critters with whom we begrudgingly share our crowded island (at least these guys appreciate a good New York slice!)

3. Seamless

In a city full of cramped spaces, substandard kitchenettes, and walk-ups that make the prospect of visiting the grocery store utterly daunting, Seamless is the savior that keeps us well-fed (and constantly on the brink of overdrawing our checking accounts). This particular ad hits on a universal truth of NYC living: after a long day spent jostling strangers for elbow room on the subway, there’s nothing we crave more than a little peace and quiet. Just leave our order at the door, thanks.


4. Zola


Zola’s subway ad campaign manages to bridge a tricky divide: the one that exists between our collective cynicism and our belief that we just might find the love we’re looking for in this cold, heartless city. This wedding registry startup’s ads set forth the playful assertion that love makes us do crazy things — and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that! You can have your Central Park engagement photos and your fancy dishware, too — Zola’s not judging.

5. SeatGeek


Oh, boy: there’s nothing we love more than the sight of a tattoo-laden, heavily-bearded man screaming along to what we can only assume is Justin Bieber’s latest chart-topper. All the better when we let our gaze wander from this clever ad to the dozens of sullen hipsters surrounding us on the crowded L train, headphones plugged into their Apple products, indubitably mouthing the words to “Sorry” under their breath. SeatGeek, for better or for worse: you get us.

6. StreetEasy


No list of NYC advertising triumphs would be complete without StreetEasy’s incisive, fanciful, and just plain fun subway ads. This company, which provides a platform for apartment seekers to find their new urban pad, has released a series of ads that truly capture the essence of New York living — the highs, the lows, and the hard-to-come-by amenities. Not to mention the elusive pleasure of an in-unit washer/dryer and a sliver of outdoor space — conveniences that make living with four roommates almost worth it.

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