Art on the Tube is bad news for small businesses

There are no longer any adverts as you go down the escalator at Bethnal Green tube station. What there is instead is this.


Now, I know there's a recession on and that advertising is therefore harder to come by than it has been. However, I'm deeply unimpressed by this and not just because it is described by TfL as "Art on the Tube". It's somebody's oeuvre. I'm not going to be rude about it.

Before this artwork appeared there were a series of A3-ish sized adverts in frames up and down the escalators. When I rang TfL to ask what had happened, this is the response I got: "The posters were a non-standard size for the advertising industry. Due to the constraints at the station the standard sized panels could not be installed."

I attempted to unpack this with Sylvia from the press office, since it was a little, shall we say, opaque. But it was apparent that she was reading an answer she'd received from someone else and wasn't able to explain what she meant. A request to speak to someone about Art on the Tube has, so far, gone, unanswered.

Last year I attempted to buy some advertising space on the Tube for 24hourlondon. I didn't want very much, just a few panels to put my product - which I think is pretty useful - before its putative market. I hoped that word of mouth might do the rest.

But I was unable to do so because I was told by CBS Outdoor, who are contracted to do all the advertising on the Tube - that they didn't sell it in blocks worth less than £10,000. I don't have this kind of money to spend on advertising as I might need it to, you know, eat.

My point is this. The panels that were ranged up and down the escalators at Bethnal Green were ideal for local businesses because they were seen by people who were actually in a position to take advantage of the products and services they advertised. Surely at a time of recession, when many people are struggling to stay afloat, it would be a service worthy of a business-orientated Mayor of London to allow local businesses to use these spaces to advertise, rather than simply handing it over to space-maker Art on the Tube. In these economically straightened times, this is an appalling and thoughtless waste of prime advertising space.

Giving up completely - which is what this hoarding represents - is deeply unhelpful, although it may well be part of CBS Outdoors' wider strategy, which evidently involves spending vast amounts of money on digital advertising underground for multinationals.

But what about London's small businesses? The ones that are starting out, or the ones that aim to provide useful products and services for local people. The ones that are, you know, keeping people in work and off the dole but to whom an advert on the tube might be the difference between laying someone off and not laying them off? Don't they deserve a chance to put their products before their market?

I'd like to be able to buy a handful of panels at different stations across London without having to spend £10,000. CBS Outdoor and Boris Johnson could do a service for small businesses by loosening up their policy and focusing it on the businesses that represent London's future.

What are they thinking?

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