The TTC’s Latest PR Blunder: Trash Talking Ads

A TTC Rider's Perspective
The TTC: A Rider’s Perspective
NATIONAL POST STAFF PHOTO: Nathan Denette (Source)



The Toronto Transit Commission has had more than its share of public relations disasters.

As PR expert Scott Reid pointed out in a Marketing Magazine article about the TTC’s troubles last year, the TTC has a lot to learn about managing its image:

You gotta love the TTC. It is to PR fumbles what Lindsay Lohan is to parole violations: High profile and constant.

One of the great PR lessons that smart organizations are quick to learn is the importance of thinking not from your own point of view but from that of the public. This is not a concept that the TTC has yet mastered.

It’s over a year later and, despite efforts to increase transparency, the TTC is still struggling to get its messaging right.

Take the latest ad campaign that’s currently running inside the the TTC’s subway system:

TTC Garbage Ad

The ad shows pieces of garbage laying on the subway tracks. Speech bubbles coming from the trash say, “We get blown onto the tracks and catch fire,” and “We belong in the garbage.” Text below says that 260 reports of smoke in subway tunnels caused transit delays last year, and that passengers should not litter or smoke on TTC property.

Yet again, the TTC’s habit of blaming its already disgruntled riders for its non-stop problems is hurting their image instead of winning them support.

Most importantly: Nobody, I mean NOBODY, likes to be scolded by pieces of trash. This is not a great way to make people feel good, or valued as customers. 

This isn’t the first time the TTC has had inanimate objects lay down lectures on responsible ridership. Previous anti-littering campaigns have featured discarded coffee cups and banana peels curtly reminding passengers that they belong in the garbage, not left on seats. This approach hardly feels like a friendly reminder from a warm, caring transit operator.

Based on ads like these, it seems like the TTC has more respect for the dirty refuse left behind by passengers than it does for the passengers themselves.

The other ad in the current TTC campaign is slightly less offensive, but still points the finger squarely at passengers as the ones to blame for subway slowness:

TTC Emergency Alarm

If the TTC has any hope of winning over the hearts and minds of passengers, it will have to work much harder to see things from the passenger’s perspective.

Even if you can’t manage to speak with humility, at least try not to smack your customers with barely contained contempt. And if you want help from the public (to “keep the TTC moving”), you first need to convey that you’re doing everything you can on your end to make things right.

On a more positive note, this is the first TTC campaign I’ve seen that includes the word “Please” or “Thank You,” so in one way this is an improvement from  previous, less politely worded ads.

What do you think of this ad campaign?

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