Your MTA Card Will Now Look Like a Mini-Billboard!


On January 25th, 1999, the first MetroCard vending machines were installed at subway stations across the five boroughs. Within a few months, the subway token was phased out of circulation as the simple swipe replaced the insert-coin-here system. We’ve had these shiny MetroCards ever since — whether they’re a single, weekly, monthly, or one you just always carry around for good luck, the gleaming yellow certificate with the blue MTA insignia handed you a swipe to see the city.

And, now, they’re going to look like cut-out coupons thanks to a new redesign, brought to you by the MTA (and the Gap . . . and Domino’s . . . and whatever other company can get a solid bid in for that pocket-ready ad space).
Yesterday, the first of the MTA’s new branded MetroCards made an appearance at a few stations in Manhattan, like Union Square and the 34th Street stations. As seen on the right, it is a blue card with a Gap slogan (“Be Bright NYC”) and includes the instruction to visit its new flagship store on 34th and Broadway.
So this is what modernity looks like.
This isn’t the first time the MTA has sold its card for advertising means; in the past, the back of your card occasionally (and strangely) had deals for affordable healthcare. Except this move to let companies plaster their ads all over the front of the MetroCard space was different. It was financial plea for a desperate agency; even with the highest ridership ever last year, the MTA is cash-strapped in the face of the city-wide deficit.
And, apparently, it’s working: After the front-side branding announcement came in July, companies are phoning in to the MTA like crazy, trying to get a space seen by millions of New Yorkers every morning, afternoon and night. So, in terms of advertising opportunity, the MetroCard is a gold mine. Just think about the visibility a company can get with it: It has the consumer punch of a subway advertisement except it stays with New Yorkers above ground as well.
For any company, why would you not want your product in the hands of these swipers? In businesstalk, it makes sense. And there has to be something in this piece about the move being symbolic of the Era of Bloomberg — tangibility tainted by commercialization or the whole idea of making everything in this metropolis into a packaged, sellable product.
Also, word on the street is that coupons and giveaways are to follow. You can take the Q downtown and get half off on organic peanut butter, all at the exact same time! Now, that’s retail innovation.
But what about the nostalgia? Some might argue that the MetroCard is a piece of New York history. And it totally is. It might not be as culturally significant as the Greek coffee cup, but it is definitely recognizable by almost everyone in this damn city. Even though it’s hard to actually measure that kind of thing, it’s even harder to say that the MetroCard is not an emblem of Gotham.
However, the selling of this space can also spark innovation. You can blame companies for making everything into a billboard, but, hey, sometimes that can lead to a little creativity. The drab yellow and blue MetroCard now can be spiced up a bit by, as Mitt Romney likes to say, “unleashing the American spirit of entrepreneurship.” Or something like that.
Just enjoy your new ticket to ride/buy.

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