I have my daily subway commute down to a science.  I know exactly which doors will get me to the nearest exit at several different stations, and transfer between the TTC’s Bloor and Yonge lines regularly.

The great thing about subway ads are the sheer diversity in services and events covered, not to mention the huge (sometimes laughable) quality spectrum. As a marketing student and advertising lover, I constantly read my surroundings and try to grasp the insight and goals of each ad I see. Subway car and station buy-outs in particular, are not cheap, and an estimated 400, 000 people role through Bloor-Yonge station every day – underwhelming ads just aren’t good enough.

For the last week or so, I’ve been both perplexed and fascinated by the Sonnet Insurance buy-out designed by OMD Canada at Yonge station. Aesthetically, these ads are clean and simple – the typesetting is good and the colour palette is fresh and relevant, especially in the context of an insurance company. I can immediately visualize the target, indie coffee cup in hand. Looks aside however, the copy (or lack there of on certain billboards), means that the viewer won’t see “the big picture” unless they walk half the length of the station, and even then, actual effort is required to put the pieces together.

This is the view from usual waiting spot:
unbranded Sonnet Insurance ads at Yonge Station

View to my far right (reads “Insurance from scratch”):

Approx. 20 ft to my left:
What’s the name of this company again? Is it a school…?

Even further left (fine print reads “home. auto. sonnet”):

And finally, three car lengths away from my waiting spot, at the front end of the platform:

The copy and images work (if you get a chance to see/read them all), but the overall message is still vague, and fails to communicate the actual benefit of the product. Did you know that Sonnet insurance is an entirely digital platform and it promises to be a quick and easy process? Likely not!

I eventually googled Sonnet in an attempt to make sense of what I had read, and only then did I actually learn something. Sure, they got a few site hits from me and I’m more informed because of it, but my actions were motivated by confusion and frustration (“What are you  trying to selling me?!”), not actual interest in their services.

Super user-friendly. Data-driven. Adaptable. Efficient. Sell me the amount of time/money I can save (or what I could be doing with my newfound coin), not tabula rasa romanticism. Sometimes you just need to cut the fat and be explicit – being forthright doesn’t mean being boring!

After a few days of critical thought, I understand that Sonnet wants to change peoples perception of insurance. It’s their brand’s core ethos and a bold, inspiring proposition (there are commercials too). However, the placement of these minimal subway advertisements muddies the message, making these ads more suitable for a big bank or insurer rebrand – something with instant name recognition – not a digital service’s debut.


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