Window ads on trains: Music to riders’ ears or simply off the rails?

Thu, 07/18/2013 - 11:22am
Chris Warner

I keep finding new reasons to use earplugs. I started using them at stock car races, particularly at tracks that are a mile or smaller and surrounded by grandstands where the sound waves created by the roar of the engines had nowhere to go except directly into my eardrum. Dover, Delaware is a good example. When I visited my parents, I never had trouble sleeping through the night. Lately, however, their central air conditioner jars me awake as it cycles on and off, causing me to pack my earplugs. The same can be said for hotel air conditioning units. I even brought them to my office following Superstorm Sandy, as the gridlock of car traffic caused by the only functioning gas station for miles brought a cacophony of horn blowing right outside my office window as I somehow tried to concentrate.

And if a new advertising model being rolled out in Germany takes hold, I’ll likely bring them aboard busses and trains. Streaming service Sky Go, along with the agency BBDO, are behind the talking window ads. Using bone conduction technology, transmitters mounted to the window of a train window emit high frequencies whose vibrations are suited to penetrate the cranial bones of a passenger who rests his head against the window to deliver the advertising message – a far cry from mounting a poster at the front of the car!

I ride commuter trains often enough to wonder just how captive the captive audience these companies plan to reach really is. Soon after boarding, I routinely watch passengers pull out their smart phones, tablets, iPods, the occasional newspaper, and if their commute is long enough, some will even watch a movie. Heck, I usually carry a handheld scanner to learn why we’re stopped in some meadowland and just how long it will be before we get going again. It seems that those who eschew all these devices to press their head against the window are quite intent on disconnecting either for sleep, meditation or actually watching the scenery – all of which are increasingly rare in our “snooze-you-lose” world of 2013, so whatever audience is left for bone conduction advertising may not even justify the investment.

But if I’m wrong, I may soon add earplugs to the gear I take to press briefings or meetings in “the city” – not for the presentations themselves, of course, but rather to ensure I can decompress on the train should I choose. Still, I wonder if this is simply a publicity campaign about the capabilities of the streaming service and the agency that was intended to go viral rather than the way of the future for transit advertising. Or, perhaps they’re in cahoots with the transit agencies themselves to get more passengers to choose the middle seat!



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