Top Four Subway Ads 2018

Here’s the fantasy…

Advertising and marketing are two of my favorite dark arts.  Every now and then, someone argues that it’s all a waste of time, because “ads don’t influence me” or “millennials don’t respond to ads”    The truth is, ads influence everyone.  Corporate advertising budgets are the proof.

…and here’s the reality.

An effective ad gets people’s emotions going.  It targets your sense of self and belonging, and makes your fantasies seem not only possible, but within your reach.  That’s why ads aimed at the heartland have cowboys with big hats driving pickups (that may be raising a dust cloud but are not themselves dusty), drinking ice-cold beer that’s just been pulled out of the back of the same hot pickup, and line dancing with beautiful models who aren’t the least bit meth-y.

Pizza rat won this time.

Same for New Yorkers.  We like ads that show us as clever, well-educated, cultured metrosexuals who are able to afford housing in the neighborhood of our choice, and do not have to step daily over comatose psychotics who have soiled themselves while arm wrestling Pizza Rat for a slice.

We also like ads that make us laugh, sometimes even at ourselves.  Here are the top four currently running in the subway cars everywhere.


Seamless is an app that replaces an age-old New York tradition:  getting your meals delivered.  Before apps were invented, we just used a telephone.  The restaurants and underpaid, undocumented bicycle delivery guys were the same back then as they are now with Seamless.

Seamless ads, however, are another thing entirely.  The first series pokes fun at generalized New Yorker misanthropy, disdain of the suburbs and/or tourists, and fear over the impending L train shutdown.  All New Yorkers relate to at least one of these tropes.

The second series displays our individual quirks for all to see, via actual “individual instructions”.  Individual instructions is where you, the buyer, can add some specific text, such as “make burger extra well done”.  New Yorkers being the creative/neurotic types that we are, the “special instructions” field has been co-opted for other purposes, such as shaming neighbors or roommates (“please write – Kevin this is NOT YOUR BURRITO on the outside”)

A footnote – some among us are not able to see the humor in these ads.  If you, too, are a pompous self-obsessive type who believes that the smallest thing that irritates you will lead to the downfall of civilization itself, please read this rant about Seamless ads.


You might have used Zillow, the real estate giant that lets you search for or list housing.  I have nothing against Zillow…but.  In New York City, bait and switch listings on Zillow are alive and well (I’m looking at you, rental agents).  Again, apps have not invented the process of bait and switch as practiced by real estate agencies, they’ve just made it easier. (“You’re calling about the 2 bedroom on the west side renting for $2000 a month?  Oh, sorry, it’s gone.  But we do have half a closet in Morningside Heights for 8 million dollars.”

Streeteasy is the Zillow alternative that is to apartment finding what earbuds are to commuters:  an awesome filtration device.  Streeteasy helps you filter on things New Yorkers really care about.  Whereas Zillow asks you to choose items like “lot size” or “acreage only” (I’m sure that applies somewhere — just not here),  StreetEasy gives us filters for doorman buildings, what school district you’d be in, and proximity to the 4 train.

Their ads tell that story, and succeed because they let New Yorkers know instantly that StreetEasy is for New York by New York.

Now, can someone please do a map app that is also for New York, by New York?  I’m beyond tired of Google telling me that “driving time to home is 20 minutes”.  There are so many things wrong with that statement, I don’t even know where to start.

By the way, StreetEasy ads are by the same agency that did Seamless, Nutmeg Creative.

Policy Genius

These are my favorite, because they leverage the desire of nerds like me to read the subway poetry that the MTA thoughtfully provides.  You get down to the last line, and the joke’s on you!  They are non-controversial and clever, and I love them.  Website is here.


The last of the crop is the brilliant campaign for some kind of Viagra knockoffs, aimed at men too embarrassed to own up, which I understand.  The ad writers do, too, with this sendup of deflecting an embarrassing subject onto a mythical friend.  We’ve all been there, and the fact they use humor probably helped them squeak by the MTA’s somewhat fluid guidelines on allowable ad content.

Speaking of which, an update on Thinx ads.


  1. I am totally pushing back on Seamless, whose ads are aimed at wannabe hipsters who moved to New York after graduation last year. Real New Yorkers are not misanthropic. Real New Yorkers love brunch. And real New Yorkers don’t live in Williamsburg (except the Hasidim and some Poles, who are unfortunately being priced out by the wannabe hipster graduates).

    But much more important, real New Yorkers know that Seamless charges astronomical fees to the restaurants who sign up (that’s why very few good ones do). That’s why real New Yorkers pick up the phone and order delivery the old-fashioned way, because they don’t want their favorite pizza joint to go out of business.

    Real New Yorkers also don’t use Uber. We use yellow cabs.

  2. I’m with you on hating astronomical fees and loving brunch. But yellow cabs? PALEEZ! Wasn’t so long ago they wouldn’t be caught dead in my neighborhood. If you hate Uber (and who doesn’t?), try Juno instead. They take a much smaller cut and they are tweaking the app to be more NY friendly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *