Bus design must consider advertising

Passenger Transport Jason Cotterrell

Bus advertising was born back in the 1860s when trolley buses crowded the streets of London and, so the story goes, ladies blushes were spared when advertising hoardings were placed around the top deck to avoid unwarranted gazes. Fast forward over 150 years and buses have certainly changed, with the New Routemaster fleet in London set to reach 800 and the introduction of the Alexander Dennis Enviro400H City double decker.

Also, more than ever, buses support the UK’s local economies and particularly our high streets. Exterion Media understands the role buses play in the modern high street and recently launched its Modern High Street study in conjunction with Business in the Community and our award-winning consumer panel, work.shop.play.. From this we know that the UK high street is far from over and people are actually returning to this important local community hub, many by bus.

Bus advertising has a strong role to play in those communities, with local events, retailers and schools regularly using buses alongside national brands, to advertise. In fact, 74% of those living outside of London agree that buses are an important part of the community (source: work.shop.play.), with nearly two thirds of people saying they like bus advertising because it makes their town or city more interesting.

Further insight from our work.shop.play. community found that when panellists were shown a bus, with and without advertising, 84% of people said they preferred buses with advertising (source: work.shop.play.). Because people are in a relaxed, persuasive mood on their high street, it’s a great place for brands to reach consumers. So there you have it, bus advertising works. It also adds character to an urban area and is welcomed by consumers.

But what if bus advertising became limited, or even removed?

At its core, bus advertising is a commercial imperative; it delivers much needed income for bus operators above and beyond the fare box. Also, the well documented pressure on public funding of bus services will make the relevance of advertising income more important in the coming years.

In particular, the T-Side is the most demanded format by advertisers. It provides the most impactful canvas to display advertising copy, combined with a drop down ‘hero’ shot; think of the bus ads with the latest fashion launch or film star. Naturally, the T-Side drives the greatest revenue of all bus advertising sites and the most income for bus operators.

Therefore, I feel that ADL’s new Enviro400H City Bus and Wright’s SRM buses have not had advertising fully taken into consideration whilst on its design journey - in particular the loss of the T-Side from these vehicles. These buses are currently unable to accommodate a T-Side format; rolled out in its current form and if this design were to replace existing buses on a large scale it would have a material effect on our ability to generate millions in bus advertising income for bus operators.

However, Exterion Media believes great bus design, integrating engaging advertising with other customer led design features to enhance the bus user experience can be complimentary and needn’t be a hindrance to the other. This requires bus operators, manufacturers and media partners to work together to deliver a great bus design, and one that increases the revenue opportunity. These opportunities are likely to also include illumination, digital screens, interior displays, on-board Wi-Fi and beacon technology to deliver an improved and truly connected consumer experience.

Let’s not hide behind “it’s what our customers want”, of course the needs and desires of the bus passenger have to come first. However, in the case of the current designs, it strikes me that this has been at the unnecessary expense of commercial common sense and integrated thinking. I know some bus manufacturers are already working with us and would urge the bus industry as a whole, commissioning authorities, bus builders and operators, to rethink the current generation before advertising revenue is lost to competing Out-of-Home opportunities and mobile advertising.

Written by Jason Cotterrell, first published in Passenger Transport