Subway ads: the tragicomedy of urban life — addendum!

As the weather continues to improve, it becomes more and more obvious that “tragicomedy” is a winter genre. As spring is noticeably in the air, the “everything-is-hopeless-but-amusing” feeling gives way to the “zippadee-doo-da” feeling. “Waiting for Godot” is replaced by “Charlie’s Aunt.” Heavy, slow-cooked winter meals are gradually supplanted by lighter, summer fare.

Before I lose my wintertime appetite for melancholy *completely*, though, I thought I’d address another source of urban malaise: subway ads. The fact that subway ads are usually garish and idiotic comes as no surprise, really. Like laundry, it’s just a fact of life!

Repeat offenders of late include: “Lil’ Bit of Luck” for the NY lottery, “$1,000 Cada Hora!” for a popular Hispanic radio show called “El Vacimilon” and, of course, the hideous Dr. Zizmor ads.

They’ve been around for a while it seems–
[from “New York City subway ads, deconstructed” which appears to be a few years old]


“Ah, the nefarious Dr. Z, we meet again! Do you think I would entrust my skin care to a guy who doesn’t have a basic sense of design… or grammar? That client of his is hardly a recommendation, and the rainbow just scares me.”


“Would you let this man put acid on your face? WOULD YOU?!

My follow up question: What do Dr. Zizmor’s friends and family really think about him?

I was on the Franklin Avenue shuttle recently in a car sporting one side of all Bahamas vacation ads, the other side all multilingual Continental airlines ads. I guess it makes sense that denizens of Crown Heights might long for a Caribbean escape from the grind…
But the Contiental ad reads:

在 Beijing 做生意?
Fly Non-Stop with Continental!

So that’s “zai Beijing zou sheng yi?” = “Doing business in Beijing?”

Do you think that your average Hassidic Jew or West African store owner schedules face-to-face meetings with business associates in China? What the hell is going on here??

The most nausea-inducing subway ad that I can think of comes from the good people over at Icon Parking. It’s a pretty subtle design; matte black background with white lettering and the little orange Icon logo. Nothing offensive there. No, it’s the content that repulses. On the left is an ad for their theatre parking deal, accompanied by a picture of an elegant table setting with a place card indicating “theatre parking” in elaborate calligraphy. On the right is another ad (in Spanish) advertising hourly work parking cars IN MANHATTAN! along with a picture of a grinning multi-ethnic family with infant child. Some nerve!!


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5 Responses to “Subway ads: the tragicomedy of urban life — addendum!”

  1. lilsubway Says:

    LOL – Love it. Looking for a guest blogger. Let me know if you’re interested. Subway ads keep me entertained for like 57% of my 1.5 hour/day subway adventure.

  2. David Says:

    Today at work we were talking about subway ad campaigns that reference the quotidian details of riding the subway. I could not be more against them. Someone brought up the specific “little bit of luck” ad where he’s like, “finding a seat during rush hour takes a lot of luck,” and it’s like, fuck you man! I’m currently living this inconvenience, why are you rubbing it in?

    Brian was telling me some time back that all the Pepsi cans in NYC have “new york” written on the lip because market research has shown that sales rise dramatically among new yorkers when the city itself is referenced. I’m all for civic pride, but this is more like a button the advertisers are pressing.

  3. Steven Says:

    It’s an indicator of how little the MTA pays attention to the advertising content it delivers to its millions of commuters daily that G trains still sport ads for “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” the musical, which hasn’t ran since January 6!

    In “The Museum of Your Everyday Commute”, a friend of mine – Nick Calvero – dreams up a re-imagining of subway ad space, using billionaires’ dollars to buy up all the ad space and convert it to art exhibition. ( ). I highly encourage anyone harboring such resentments to write his/her own “blueprint”. Agitation! Social democracy! Agitation!

  4. lil Says:

    That is a great idea, Steven, but there already is some “art” on the subway that uses the ridiculous ads as a base palette. I will be exploring the best mods(graffiti..?) made to advertisements on a soon-to-come post.

    Also, that “if you see something say something” ad has not rolled over. “1,944 New Yorkers saw something and said something last year” – 2005, 2006, or 2007? Did anyone really say anything in 2007? lol

  5. La Nina Says:

    In the 80s, Dr. Zizmor ran ads on local TV as well. Maybe it’s because I was 6 when I watched them, but he came across as a pretty nice guy. What baffles me is that in his ads, it is proclaimed that “Every patient is seen by Dr Z!” After over 20 years of non-stop advertising, I have no idea how he could manage this. But the most fascinating thing, to me, about Dr. Z (can you tell that I am slightly obsessed?) is his wife, who appeared in one ad with him and looks exactly like him, except with a pretty hat. Supposedly she is an independent life form though:

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