The Ad-less Future?

An article in transport trade magazine Passenger Transport has caught my eye. It is written by Jason Cotterrell, who is the Managing Director of Exterion Media UK – “a leading Out-of-home media owner that allows advertisers to engage with urban audiences via bus…

It’s all about the current crop of bus designs that appear to limit opportunities for advertisers to shove even more words and images in our face when we’re out and about.

The beef seems to be about how new designs like the New Routemaster, ADL’s E400 City and others, that have sleek glazed staircases, limit the space where advertisers like to put their message – this is the “T-side”, where the drop-down “hero shot” normally goes (who thinks of these names…?) There is also concern that some operators may be limiting or even dropping bus advertising altogether.

Good for these operators, I say.

I don’t know what sort of proportion of income advertising brings in for bus operators. Maybe it’s a substantial amount in some examples. But increasingly (and maybe this is what is concerning Mr Cotterell) some are doing away with it altogether. And I like it.

A bus with no external adverts (or only ones that promote its own offerings) is a statement of confidence. People don’t pimp their own cars with advertising. How naff would that look? So the best bus operators say “look at our product. It’s excellent. Believe in it. Use it.We don’t need adverts to make it look cheap”.

It’s so depressing to pull up behind a bus with an advert for a new car deal. Or some garish promotion for a film or DVD running down the side. Get on board and find adverts for loans with 2000% APR or incontinence pads or a dire warning to see your GP if you’ve had a cough for more than 3 weeks. It underlines the image of buses as poor quality modes of transport.

Now try a bus where they’ve seen the light. A stunning external livery. No adverts. Get on board and find messages for free wifi, local attractions and fare offers to encourage more bus use.

Mr Cotterell quotes research (via his company’s own study) that finds that “two-thirds of people say they like bus advertising because it makes their town or City more interesting”. Further insight reveals that, shown a bus with, and a bus without advertising, 84% preferred the bus with advertising. “It also adds character to an urban area and is welcomed by consumers”.


Maybe I’m an old curmudgeon who isn’t in the target audience of advertisers, but give me the brand image of Transdev’s recently-relaunched 36 route any day. Or The Buses of Somerset. Or Arriva’s Sapphire. Or Stagecoach’s Gold.

As is pointed out, bus advertising has always been with us, and some old pictures of buses carry adverts that, well, charm us all and offer a glimpse into the World now long disappeared (remember when buses used to proudly advertise cigarette companys?)


The Black Country Museum’s preserved Midland Red D9 5342 carries advertising for Dudley Zoo

But buses today need to portray a professional image like never before. Congestion continues to be one of the biggest turn-offs and the bus can provide a very serious alternative, given the right environment to operate in. People need to look at a bus and think it might be an alternative. So with bus priority, competitive fares, free wifi and so on, it makes the case. But, in my view, subtle presentation is also right up there. If it looks good, it might be a go-er. If it’s plastered with in-your-face adverts for cheap car deals, toilet detergent and snogging couples, how upmarket is that?

Stevensons Metrobus 1994 Dudley

advert for a certain brand of toilet cleaner – does this image encourage bus use?

WMT 3234 Scania_Alexander

“everything should be xx”. Amusing? Or downmarket? 

016 - Copy

No room for general advertising. This bus is confident in it’s “offer” to sell itself. 



  1. Dave H (@BCCletts) · March 4, 2016

    A lot depends on how you want to fund the services too. Manchester’s city centre buses used to have ticketing but have dumped the voucher/fare model in favour of a free to user service, using fewer vehicles and offering faster journey times. Many US cities see this delivered by the Transit operator during the working day – paid for by the savings in PVR costs.

    With on site parking space costing from £3000/year upwards there may also be a branding detail on a larger scale to have a large site (hospital or university) deal to fund and brand the bus services, base on the savings they make on car park provision.

  2. Ray Burston · March 4, 2016

    If it done right, then side advertising on double-deckers can add indeed add interest to the street scene. The current ‘crimson’-liveried NX West Midlands buses seem to have the balance about right. Besides which, even with the best will in the world route-branded buses will always end up being found on routes othrr than the ones they are branded for.

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