Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hey I know what that is, it’s called a house ad

I work in the software industry which over the years has turned more and more into an advertising industry.  That transition has introduced me to a number of concepts, one of which is the “house ad”.  When an advertiser, tv, billboard, software or otherwise can’t sell out an ad spot they don’t just leave it blank.  Instead they display some filler content.  Often the ads just promote the company that owns the ad space.  Sometimes it beckons you to place an ad.IMG_3828

I’ve noticed over the past month that every bus I ride is plastered with house ads and very few paid ads.  In fact I recently rode on a bus with no paid ads at all.

I did some investigation, made a few calls and learned a couple things.  First the city only sells the ads on the drivers side of the bus.  So one entire side of every Seattle Metro bus is devoted to house ads.  These ads like the one shown above generally promote what you should do to be a good bus rider, like not touching the driver.  Doesn’t that urge always come over you when you board the bus?  You have to wonder how many drivers got touched before they printed that sign! They also include information on fares and other business like that.  So every bus automatically is at least 50% house ads.

You can buy an ad on the other side of the bus and it’s actually not that expensive.  They come in 2 sizes 11x17 and 11x34.  The smaller ad will cost you ~$14 and the larger ~$28 for 4 weeks of time on 1 bus.  If you want to hit every bus in downtown Seattle you need to buy 600, so it can get expensive.  But you can buy as few or as many buses as you want and you can pick the routes you want to be on so you can target your ads by location pretty easily.

However given the few paid ads I see on the 245 I’m guessing advertising inside the bus just isn’t something leveraged that much these days by advertisers.  Just like the phone book and newspaper ads are dying it would seem bus ads going the same direction?  Or maybe bus riders aren’t a demographic that is valuable to advertisers.  I tend to think it’s the later, which makes me a bit sad.  The one paid ad I seem to see on every bus is entirely in Spanish and appears to be aimed at helping pregnant women learn more about adoption.  I'm surprised there aren’t more ads targeted at professionals like me.  The crowing achievement of software ad industry is that it can target ads based on what is known about a person based on their email, search results or friends.  In the case of the bus you know exactly where I’m going, roughly where I live and work and you have my attention for at least 10 minutes.  Additionally almost everyone on the bus these days is carrying a internet capable device these days.  It seems like the ad quantity and quality should be way better than they are. But then again I guess I’m not the demographic so who am I to judge.


  1. Have you seen the poetry "house ads"? I love those.

    I also love how you are taking something that grabs your attention and digging to the bottom of it.

    I don't have answers to these, but here are a couple of ideas on what might deplete ad value... does Metro release statistics about its ridership (does it know?) demographics? Are buses guaranteed to be used on the same route at least x% of the time [I feel like they are not]? When a bus is in service, what % of minutes actually have riders on board viewing signs [a recent report suggested cutting dwell/rest time at end of runs]?

    I'm going to post some "house" ads to Flickr later today to share with you.

  2. Your post motivated me to write this about house ads. I just spent 35 minutes in line at a Post Office where the only ads I saw were house ads. Since the USPS is having such financial problems and wait time is ridiculously long at many of their stations, why doesn't the USPS start taking real ads? Seems to me folk are frequently in a P.O. much longer then 10 minutes and there really isn't much else to occupy their time. I've never seen anyone reading a book or on their lap top while standing in line at the P.O. Just a thought.

  3. Here's a couple of the photos of house ads from Tokyo. I'll trickle more over the next few days.

  4. 1) Thanks for commenting on my blog and making me aware of yours. Cool!

    2) I'm a technical communicator, and while that's not strongly associated with marketing, I often work in departments close to or associated with marketing, and I've never heard of the term "House Ads." So thanks for the education.

    3) I don't know how long you've been reading my blog, but I ride both the city bus and the university bus. I know there are house ads on each, but I've never really noticed, particularly on the city bus, if all one side is house ads or anything like that. So, I'll be keeping an eye out for that one the ride home today.

    Love what you're doing on your blog! Keep up the good work!

  5. re: My previous comment. Sorry about that. Someone else commented on my blog pointing me to yours. I thought it was you.

    I've been riding the bus to work for about a year and a half now. I've named people on the city bus and have an ongoing "buscapade" update in my blog.

    Do you ever name the people (at least in your head) on the bus? If so, perhaps a posting about it would be fun. I know I'd enjoy reading it. :-)