From modesty to connectivity

Dove wrapped bus

Anyone who knows me will understand that I love buses. What’s not to love about them? They take us from A to B, they’re an iconic feature on our high streets and, more importantly, they deliver big, bold and inspirational messages for brands.

All these factors combine to make bus advertising one of the most effective ways for brands to engage and communicate with their consumers. With buses carrying over 5.2 billion passengers each year in the UK, with 2.3 billion of those in London alone, bus advertising allows brands to connect and engage with audiences across the country.

Adverts on buses have come a long way since the first ‘modesty board’ was placed on the upper deck of a horse-drawn bus and began doubling as a bus side for adverts in 1861. A century later saw the emergence of the first all-over bus wrap by Silexine Paint and this evolution has continued ever since then.

What used to be a basic megaphone medium to the masses now provides innovative opportunities for brands to develop one-on-one relationships with their customers. This goes from the bus wrap and introduction of the T-Side, to the present day advertising methods, where consumers can enjoy Wi-Fi and targeted discounts and offers thanks to Bluetooth beacons on buses.

Today, more than ever, brands have to stand out and rise above the clutter and chaos of the high street. Bus advertising delivers this in abundance – 86% of people can spontaneously recall a specific bus ad¹. It is one of the most effective ways for brands to reach consumers. According to research company TGI, every week, 29 million people get to see adverts on the inside or outside of buses.

More importantly, audience research body Route tells us that bus adverts deliver the highest impact levels on the high street, at 95%, which is crucial when it comes to leaving a lasting impression with the public.


Over the years, we’ve innovated with and adapted bus formats to tap into new opportunities and give advertisers the best possible solutions. Let’s start by looking at innovation in ‘classic’ bus advertising, before moving on to the technological advancements that are poised to revolutionise the medium.

In 2013, we launched Mega T-Sides, giving brands more copy space and flexibility than on a standard T-Side. These have been used to great effect by brands including Sky, Topshop and Microsoft, with their sheer size and impact providing an impressive canvas for standing out to the masses.

The bus wrap also had a major upgrade last year when we wrapped our first New Routemaster with Adidas. Since then we have successfully wrapped over 200 buses with well-known brands such as UGG, Red Bull, Google and Coca-Cola. The channel has, in fact, proved so popular that we have a further 55 vinyl wrapped buses in the pipeline for this year. A trend that, I’m sure, will continue.

It’s because of these innovations that an increasing number of brands are turning to bus advertising. Historically, film brands have dominated buses, using this moving canvas to target the masses and quickly drive box office sales. What we’re seeing now is a surge in non-film brands recognising the benefits that bus advertising offers to creatively disrupt the high street and guarantee maximum impact. As a result, more and more brands are adding bus advertising to their communications plans.

As shopping on the high street evolves to become more social and smartphone penetration rapidly increases, bus advertising is going digital with free WiFi and Bluetooth beacon technology, so that consumers can engage with brands, even when their attention is turned to their mobiles or tablets. In London alone, there are over five million bus passenger journeys each month²,

This is the next level of interactivity, where brands can create a two-way dialogue with consumers to captive the audience, benefitting from the extended dwell time, which, according to our research panel, is between 17-19 minutes on a London bus.

Propercorn wrapped bus

Last year, in order to bring a whole new experience to bus passengers, we successfully tried & tested Bluetooth beacon technology in Norwich, presenting them with location-based messages from nearby retailers on their smart devices.

The trial tracked usage of beacons on 110 buses for six months. Twenty local retailers participated, communicating with potential consumers through the location and offer app Loka. The trial saw 2,000 app downloads and a 30% click through rate on notifications served.

Following our success in Norwich, we’ve up-scaled the trial, equipping 500 London buses with beacon technology to bring information and entertainment to more than 300,000 London bus passengers every day.

At Exterion Media, our ultimate aim is to deploy technology across our portfolio nationwide, with a long-term vision of providing full connectivity across buses in the UK. I’m excited to see the future unfold for bus advertising.

Blog by Jason Cotterrell, first published in 12 ahead

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