Friday, March 6, 2015

"You talkin' to me?" A new/old MTA/PSA campaign begs that exact question

"If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they'd punch you in the face", observes Hugh MacLeod of, a cartoonist friend of mine who's work focuses on the more honest side of business conversations – and if he had written that in regard to the new MTA public service work, he wouldn't have been wrong at all.

The subject matter, tone and general treatment of their clients as cretins pits the MTA squarely against New York straphangers, who pay the bills, in what comes off more as a dysfunctional parent/teacher relationship than a business arrangement that should encourage both parties to play nice with each other.

And for the MTA, who's fare increases far outpace inflation and who's service could be improved more from internal stocktaking than through blaming their passengers for the vagaries of the world's largest metro system, there should be little or no room for calling anyone else discourteous or foolish. Or, God forbid, a statistic.

MTA Public Service Advertising 2015. Agency: MTA Corporate Communications/Korey Kay and Partners

Exhibit A: An old-school-marmish admonishment revisited, tells readers (the one pictured apparently drunk) not to get hit by trains, as if anyone really wanted that – but in reality, for the year 2011, just more than half those deaths were indeed intentional. Suicides as it were.

Knowing this, were the writers and the people who approved the ad really talking to the majority of their own potential fatalities, their clients, or just the inebriated suicidal ones who were probably not in a reading mood to begin with?

Again, blaming the victims makes no sense (or friends) and renders the message either patently insensitive to all or at least insulting to the few who might survive their brush with death off the rails.

Melbourne Metro, Australia. Agency: McCann
Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe down-under at the Melbourne Metro in Australia, the same subject is dealt with playfully and engagingly by not showing the literal problem but by illustrating what other mistakes could be fatal like "Taking your HELMET off in outer space" and ending with the suggestion that being safe around trains was a lifesaving and worthwhile idea as well. 

So fucking cool.

Smart and treating the audience with respect by inferring that nobody would be dumb enough to do any of the foolish things imagined, the campaign embraced social sharing with a charmingly disquieting video, song and eventually an online game that made, Dumb Ways to Die, the most awarded campaign ever at the Cannes Advertising Festival, 2013 – and more importantly, impressed hundreds of millions of people worldwide to be safe around trains by collecting online interactive safety pledges from them in exchange for fun customer-centric media.

Melbourne Metro, Australia. Agency: McCann
Meanwhile, just over a year ago the MTA announced the appointment of a new agency partnership, leaving their old communications partner of 22 years. Korey Kay and Partners, well known for their authorship of the "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign – which unfortunately, 13 years in, had begun to sound more like a post-Snowdenian invitation from big brother to be a snitch rather than an ernest partner in the war on terrorism. 

Oh, how we all are so tired of more than a decade of terrorist alert level purple. Or was it orange?
But it doesn't look like the Korey Kay agency in a swan song, nor the new agency paring of Pulsar Advertising and the Arcade Creative Group had anything to do with the latest cadre of consumer alienating work. That seems to have come out of the MTA's in-house corporate communications team. 

Hopefully their last.

With the MTA's decision on their new communications partners it was stated they felt their millions of riders who traveled by train and bus each day were "looking for information in new ways". "You talkin' to me?" And although a look at the work of either Pulsar or Arcade Creative won't yield anything as inspired or communally grounded as the Melbourne Metro "Dumb Ways to Die" initiative, we can only hope that seeing their public in  'new ways' means treating them as stakeholders, instead of terrorists. 

MTA Public Service Advertising 2015. Agency: MTA Corporate Communications