Friday, September 28, 2012

10 Of The Greatest, Strangest Subway Ads Of All Time

Posted By on Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 12:23 PM


This week was not a good one for MTA advertising, with bigoted new ads describing Muslims as "savages" going up in 10 stations, sparking worries over retaliation, immediate vandalism, and a quick, contentious MTA meeting in which the organization changed its standards for acceptable advertising.

These are not the inexplicable-but-mostly-innocuous kind of subway ads we know and love. When it's not being used for pointless, destructive hate-mongering, the subway, with its surprisingly cheap ad rates (reportedly it only cost $6,000 to run the 10 new ads), is home to some of the best, weirdest regional advertising out there.

In lieu of giving more attention to a terrible, publicity-grabbing campaign, what better time to take a (biased and unscientific) look at some of the most bizarre and most beloved ads that have plastered our trains over the years:

  • Huffington Post

Miss Subways

The Miss Subways competition, which ran photos of its winners on the train from 1941-1976, featured the kind of ball-busting career ladies this city has come to be known for. As you can see.


Keith Haring's Subway Drawings

While these weren't technically ads, Keith Haring's drawings on blank, unused ad spaces in the early 1980s were indisputably classic and great. "I saw it going down in the entrance near my apartment at the time (the F train at 6 ave and 41st street), I saw this empty black panel, and immediately I knew that I had to draw on top of this panel. It was a waiting perfect surface," Haring once explained in an interview. Think about that next time you feel clever for drawing a dick by someone's face on a movie poster.


John Roland

When former WNYW/Channel 5 anchor John Roland agreed in 2008 to act as the spokesman for the Wilens & Baker law firm, he told the Daily News, "You may be seeing more of me."

That was a fucking understatement. He's stared down at us, unblinking, in ads for everything from 1-800-DIVORCE to 1-800-ACCIDENT and 1-800-WORKERSCOMP ever since.

  • AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler

Poetry in Motion

In an unusually tasteful move, the MTA launched its "Poetry in Motion" posters in 1992, and ran them until 2008. They were so beloved that the program came back by popular demand earlier this year, and is reportedly going to be made permanent. See? We really are a cultured city.


Andy Pettite Plugs God, Book

Continuing our nation-wide tradition of taking our religious cues from pro athletes, Yankees pitcher Andy Pettite appeared in a 1999 series of ads declaring his devotion to God and promoting a book called Power for Living. No one was especially impressed, but it also doesn't seem to have done his career any harm. Can we safely assume Tim Tebow will be next?

  • Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

May 2011 Doomsday

When Harold Camping declared to the world that the apocalypse was definitely, without a doubt, coming on May 21, 2011, 60-year-old retired MTA worker Robert Fitzpatrick spent $140,000 of his life savings to plaster the MTA with warnings. When it didn't happen, Fitzpatrick told reporters, "I'm tired. I was working hard trying to get the word out. I'm very surprised."

  • Rachel Pincus / Gothamist

Anti-Smoking Bunnies

In summer 2011, retiree Alfred Brotter coughed up $40,000 of his own money to place 1,000 of these adorable, deeply unsettling anti-smoking spots throughout the subway system. Weird, yes, but definitely better than the pictures of rotting body parts the city has put up.

  • Patheos

Manhattan Mini Storage

With their intensely, delightfully political ads, Manhattan Mini Storage officials say they pride themselves on "identifying what matters to New Yorkers." They're the largest and best-ranked personal storage company in New York, so it seems to be working.


Pouring on the Pounds

In 2009, 3 years before banning giant sodas outright, the city took this extremely graphic approach to remind us all that sugar, and thus soda, make you fat. Point taken.

  • Flickr / Paul Lowry

Dr. Zizmor

What can we say about Dr. Z that hasn't already been said? His ads have been up for over a decade, and we don't know what we'd do without them. We also don't know anyone who has ever, ever visited his offices. It's probably for the best.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

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About The Author

Virginia K. Smith

Virginia K. Smith

Virginia K. Smith is the Assistant Editor at The L Magazine and a Bushwick resident. Her profile picture was taken at Summerscreen, because she is a real team player.

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