The Harold Lloyd Method of Mass Transit Advertising

I am currently in Singapore, which has one of the most modern mass transit systems (trains to us old folks) in the world. Passengers are even treated to a video entertainment system while onboard. What a great way to advertise to a captive audience! But just how do you advertise using video on a train?


It’s really tempting to reuse commercials designed for other mediums, like television. In fact the commercial embedded above is one of those being shown aboard the trains currently. Now watch again with the sound muted. The MRT’s video system uses no sound so the perfectly worded narration and enchanting music that worked so well on tv are completely lost. Clearly, when watched this way, the commercial has less impact and any advertising messages are muted. So, while you may believe that re-utilising commercials for other mediums can save money, in fact what you’re doing is missing a valuable opportunity.

Also, as anyone who has ever travelled on a peak-hour train will know, your audience is most likely uncomfortable, unhappy and distracted. Television viewers are a captive audience, who are generally at home, relaxed and focused – at least peripherally on the TV. It’s a very different situation and you need to rethink your advertising strategy.

So what do you do? Our world is filled with distractions. Attracting the interest of the consumer is becoming harder. Now, you could try to scream louder than your competitors but that invariably leads to an arms war, with each participant trying to out do the other. Consumers very quickly tune out and turn away from louder, faster bigger advertising. Another method is to use a strange attractor to catch the eye of passengers and hold it. Be entertaining. Offer the viewer a reason to watch. Don’t preach. A wise woman once said that you can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. And do it all visually, without sound.

If that all sounds too hard then it’s time that you refamiliarise yourself with the techniques used in the silent film era. While their world was of much slower pace and their audiences more captive the likes of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd have much to teach modern advertisers. Like them we are exploring new mediums and many of the same issues that they developed techniques to solve can be used today. Check out this example:

Now imagine using the same techniques to create a commercial for Lynx Deodorant and that in the ending he actually gets the girl. Cue brand logo. You’ve just provided train commuters with 3 minutes of entertainment and advertised your product in a memorable way to boot.

As new mediums and situations arise advertisers must adjust their techniques in order to reach out and make a connection with consumers. There is one approach, however, that will likely always work: create great stories featuring great characters. The greats like Lloyd, Chaplin and Keaton all utilised that method repeatedly, and that’s why we’re still watching them almost a century on.

Attribution: Slider image by AIM Neutron

About the Author: skribe

Based in Perth, Australia, Antonio Barimen (aka skribe) is a writer, digital media consultant and social media producer.


He is available to help you develop social marketing and digital media strategies, improving communication between staff, partners and suppliers or just increasing the number of fans on Facebook. He has developed successful digital and social media projects for clients including CBS, Evian, Procter & Gamble, Discovery Networks, Pernod Ricard and American Express.


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Post Under Advice, Marketing, Video November 16, 2009

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