On an average weekday in 2019, 1.6 million people take 2.76 million separate trips on the TTC. Those trips are divided equally between the subways, which sees 1.34 million people walk through the turnstile, and buses and streetcars, which see 1.34 million people paying the fare.
With more than 5.52 million eyeballs staring at the walls on those vehicles while waiting to get to and from work every day, it’s no wonder that out-of-home advertising is standing the test of time, while other forms of advertising, like those featured in newspapers and on television stations, are shrinking in overall market share. It’s also why advertising on the TTC still comes at a premium, more than 100 years after the transit system’s first birthday. It’s also what makes the TTC transit system one of the largest and most predominant advertising channels in the province of Ontario.
With reach like that, it only makes sense that one of the province’s most lucrative revenue streams and a preferred choice for advertisers small, medium and large, be managed by the most well-known out-of-home advertising company in Canada, PATTISON.
PATTISON is undoubtedly happy to do the work on behalf of the TTC. As a client, the TTC represents a large chunk of PATTISON’s revenue. Which begs the question, why does it cost so much to advertise on the TTC?
We’ve touched on the answer from a 5,000 foot view, but let’s take a look inside those numbers and gain an understanding of why advertisers come back to the TTC to place an ad on a regular basis.
PATTISON is certainly the most recognizable name in the Canadian out-of-home advertising game. Competitors include Lamar Advertising, IMA Outdoor and Stellar Outdoor. While each of those three companies owns a piece of the market, none of them compare to PATTISON.
PATTISON offers advertisers the option to buy ads in many different formats. They include, a classic poster ad, larger format billboards and street-level advertising that targets everyday residents walking around town. Overall, PATTISON owns 55% of the total outdoor advertising inventory available across the country. They are also the one and only provider of vertical posters in Western Canada, including all of the major cities like Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Most advertisers and the passersby that view their messaging around the city are already very familiar with the street-level ads and posters that fill major cities, but PATTISON provides ads in many more formats. An advertiser can choose to format a billboard ad in the traditional horizontal size, or display their message vertically. A vertical ad can mean just a straight up billboard or a mural that covers an entire wall. There’s also the option to go with a super board, which is basically a much larger billboard that’s more rectangle than square. They also offer similar scaled down versions of these ad types on buses, subways, streetcars, bus shelters and benches.
But it’s not just the ad formats that set PATTISON apart it’s the company’s reach. Their other clients include other GTA transit authorities, the PATH and Gardiner Boards. Those clients advertise on PATTISON billboards not just in Toronto, but all across Hamilton and Southwestern Ontario as well as Ottawa and its surrounding suburbs. Commuters literally can’t go anywhere in a major city throughout the province and for that matter the rest of the country without seeing an advertisement sitting behind PATTISON’s dark blue and white logo.
A smaller or ‘junior’ poster can cost an advertiser anywhere from $300-$800. The stand 11 feet wide and five feet high. A bigger poster/billboard usually starts at around $900 and reaches up to $5,000, which again depends on the size. Spending at the upper limit of that range will get an advertiser an ad that is 50 feet wide and 15 feet high. That’s plenty of room to display a powerful branding message destined to catch the eyes of anyone going by, whether they’re on the bus, in their car or walking down the street.
Of course, there are three other factors to consider when estimating the cost of these ads. You have heard the saying before. Location, location, location! Any advertising costs an advertiser accrues always has been and always will be a reflection of not only the size of the ad, but also the location of the ad. That makes logical sense. The more people that see an ad, the more likely they are to become customers of the brand, assuming the ad is properly targeted for the right audience.
What’s also important to consider above add size and location is whether the ad is printed or digital. Digital ads are more engaging and interactive so they cost a little bit more money. Also, because they are digital it means that messaging, Branding and imaging on the ad can be changed much faster and with much less overhead cost. No need to have a painter climb up on the billboard and plaster a new message on it.
This is great for PATTISON and other advertising companies and for the advertiser. For PATTISON it means more of a profit margin and for the advertiser it means more flexibility and most importantly, more engagement.
According to Lamar Advertising, a digital billboard can cost anywhere from $2500-$8000 for one ad. One of the cool things about digital ads for advertisers is that these billboard companies can change ads every 10 seconds, meaning that they can offer daily rates to advertisers looking for a quick boost in exposure without the cost of a long-term commitment.
As mentioned, PATTISON has the contract for all TTC advertising. They’ll be handling all TTC advertising until the end of 2023, when the company’s $324 million contract with the transit operator expires.
The sections above explain the TTC’s advertising options in a broader sense. Here’s a more detailed look at the different advertising options available:
A King Poster most commonly appears on the sides of the TTC bus, usually advertising a movie, a restaurant, a realtor or lawyer. The bigger version of the ad is the one that appears on the back of a bus. Below is the rate card for this kind of advertisement.
Notice that the most expensive rate is on the side of Toronto streetcars, with a four-week net rate costing $1,250.
A mural or door decal ad is larger than the King Poster but the orientation of it as far as where it’s located on a transit vehicle is the same. Since these ads are much larger and they take much more work to create and produce, advertisers have to commit to a much longer term in order to get the ad up to the public. Placing such an advertisement on the TTC subway costs a minimum of $10,000 over a four week span. Posting the same ad on an above ground bus or streetcar starts at $18,000 for a 12- week commitment and runs all the way up to $58,500 for a year-long advertisement. Vinyl is plastered onto doors to get the most possible exposure as commuters enter the bus/streetcar.
Anybody who’s been in the greater Toronto area and had to get around knows about the PATH. It’s an underground network of shops that connect office buildings, shopping malls, major transit hubs, and other points of interest altogether underground. The PATH is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest underground shopping mall on the planet. The retail space in the underground network stretches over 4,000,000 square feet. Advertising on the PATH catches commuters’ attention while they travel between hubs with large wall mounted advertising. These kinds of ads run around $7,000 depending on the length of commitment the advertiser makes.
Similar ads also exit within various TTC concourses, particularly within Toronto’s Union Station.
Interior ads are ads that commuters see above their heads while they’re travelling inside of a street car or bus. PATTISON sells these ads in a regular 35 in size and a supersized 70 inch format. The ads frequently appear back to back. On average, a person needs to see an ad seven times in order to respond to it. Given that most commuters are in for a long ride getting through traffic, these ads can be highly effective.
These ads can cost anywhere between $5,600 and $34,000 depending on the number of ads and how many vehicles will feature them.
Downtown digital ads usually refer to a combination of television ads located right next to the subway and the underground ads already discussed. The price really depends on what combination the advertiser decides to pick, but most commuters are aware of the TV ads. It’s a convenient way for them to get their daily news while they wait for the next train to show up and the advertiser gets their precious attention for a few seconds at a time.
Super Train and Super Bus ads. With names like that, it makes sense that these two ads are the granddaddy of them all. These ads cover the entire bus or train, including the top of it. There’s no mistaking who the advertiser is when the commuter looks at these.
A robust campaign with this level of advertising usually includes the other forms as throw-ins. Obviously with the amount of work involved in creating these ads and putting them on locomotives, it only makes sense that businesses need to commit to 52 weeks in order to get the best value and the most ads possible at the best price. That’s why a year-long commitment with advertising all over Toronto and all over streetcars buses and trains will cost an advertiser up to $290,000.
Needless to say, a $290,000 price tag on an advertising campaign aimed at getting every set of eyeballs in Toronto possible is probably well worth the money for a big name brand company with a large marketing budget, but it may not work too well for small and medium-sized businesses. That’s why many of these companies looking to make the jump from small-time to big-time need to spend their marketing dollars more wisely. For many of these companies, it means moving to the next major city that still targets a densely populated area but doesn’t cost as much to reach. In Ontario, that means advertising everywhere west of Oakville. PATTISON may have most of the market share across the Greater Toronto Area, but OUTFRONT MEDIA is king in Hamilton, Burlington, Ancastor and Stoney Creek.
Not only are the ads more affordable, but that area of Ontario is only one hour away from Toronto. It’s entirely conceivable that a commuter working downtown will start their journey in Hamilton. So by purchasing advertising in Hamilton, an advertiser is targeting a lot of the same people but not at the same premium price.
It’s hard to tell what the exact price of advertising with OUTFRONT MEDIA in Hamilton is because the company usually decides that through booking one-on-one meetings with potential advertisers. Of course, the end price will always be a reflection of how much advertising is being purchased, how long it’s being purchased for, the type of advertisement being used, and the size of that advertisement.
Generally speaking, advertisers can buy the same types of ads in Hamilton as they can in Toronto, with super ads, transit shelters, bus ads and posters being the most frequently used mediums.
It’s estimated that billboards placed in the right spots in major cities across Ontario (they don’t necessarily need to be in place simultaneously) can generate more than 9.5 million impressions. For companies looking to build brand loyalty or even launch their first big campaign with the goal of creating brand awareness and penetrating a new market, getting people’s attention over 9.5 million times is absolute advertising gold.
These impressions are especially important to major brands and companies that focus on local foot traffic. The major brands want mass exposure wherever they can get it. They have the marketing dollars to spend and they can benefit from spending those dollars and balk to get the best value for their dollar possible.
A medium-sized business that isn’t quite ready to spend with the big guns in their respective industries still use these kinds of advertising because they hope to target people based on local areas. That’s why a well-known local realtor or restaurant chain is often featured on the side of a bus or a smaller billboard. It’s worth the money. As long as that’s true, traditional outdoor advertising is here to stay, even if every commuter in the country is walking around with a smartphone in their hands and headphones over their ears.
*Feature image courtesy of Andre Furtado. All other photos in this post courtesy of PATTISON Outdoor.
Jack has been in the internet marketing space for 10 years. He enjoys writing and watching the Toronto Raptors.