Want a Mattress? Cologne? Marketers Say Take a Ride

Soon, New York City's subway and bus riders will be able to get a $25 discount on a mattress, find out where they can buy Calvin Klein cologne and learn about this summer's Goodwill Games just by looking in their pockets.

InStep Marketing, New York, has signed a three-year exclusive contract with the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to manage major direct marketing ad campaigns that will turn the MetroCard subway/bus pass into a mini-billboard carried by 75 percent of New York's 5 million transit riders.

An ad placed on the back of MetroCards ensures a large viewing audience, said Tim Kunhardt, marketing director for InStep, a marketing communications company that specializes in card-based solutions.

“[It's] a new and highly effective way of communicating with New Yorkers,” Kunhardt said. “It's in their wallets, which is an intimate setting as well as a noncompetitive atmosphere. The ad is not whizzing by on a bus or on the radio. It also has monetary value. They have to use it every day, and there is guaranteed interaction between the card and a customer.”

In April, ads offering a $25 discount for Dial-a-Mattress, Long Island City, NY, will appear on 100,000 MetroCards. Consumers will be asked for the card's reference number when placing an order and will be asked to hand in the card upon delivery of the mattress. The campaign is called “Turn This Card Into a Mattress.”

“This represents a new initiative and a new advertising medium, and we like to see ourselves as innovative advertisers,” said Amir Gefen, advertising manager for Dial-a-Mattress. “The nature of the MetroCard is a device that helps people move from place to place, and that is similar to the nature of our business. Basically, we are looking to try something new, and it is in a place where customers will least expect to see an ad, so it has that element of surprise.”

The MetroCard will act as a tracking response system that allows the company to gauge the campaign's success.

“We are looking to make the card something similar to a coupon,” Gefen said. “This will let us know if we should continue to take part in the program.”

Gefen would not disclose the financial terms of the agreement but said he is hoping the company will see “10 in sales for every dollar spent on the program.”

InStep representatives said clients are charged from 20 cents to 29 cents per unit, depending on the number of cards purchased.

The first of the ad campaigns kicked off Feb. 9, when 1 million MetroCards advertising Calvin Klein's CK One cologne went into circulation.

Although MetroCards can be renewed for up to a year, the average use is three weeks, according to the MTA. To track the effectiveness of the Calvin Klein campaign, InStep will ask the MTA whether commuters are holding onto the new cards longer and renewing them more often than ones without ads.

InStep also will conduct qualitative research in the subways by stopping commuters and asking them such questions as: “How often you look at the back of the card?” and “Do you think about the cologne when you see the ad?”

“It will help us find out how many impressions we are getting from the cards,” Kunhardt said. “We also have the ability to cherry-pick stations for distribution. If there is a particular segment [a client] would like to hit, we can identify those areas.”

MTA press secretary Tom Kelly said the authority had been interested in putting ads on the back of MetroCards for quite a while, but it was “never one of the main reasons for creating the cards.”

According to the MTA, MetroCard advertising will bring in $500,000 in revenues this year.

InStep has plans for other MetroCard campaigns. Ads for Fox News recently went into circulation on 100,000 cards. At the end of March, Virgin Records will begin a campaign, and, starting in mid-May, Time Warner will promote the Summer of Goodwill and New York's Goodwill Games on the back of 4 million MetroCards.

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