With Virgin’s WiFi rollout, ads on the tube are about to get far smarter

While London commuters aren’t likely to start striking up conversations with each other on the tube any time soon, when Virgin Media launches free WiFi on the Underground network this summer, advertising there will become far more conversational.

Lara O'Reilly

Members of the Marketing Week team and I have often bemoaned advertising on tube trains and Underground platforms that have “interactive” features, such as QR codes – completely pointless when that interactivity requires the internet.

From this summer, this kind of advertising will actually be functional and a host of new marketing opportunities will be opened up to brands looking to target passengers on the estimated 1 billion journeys they collectively take on the tube each year.

The London Underground already offers a unique advertising opportunity in terms of engagement, without yet having connected capability.

Passengers wait for an average of three minutes at platform level and 87% say they welcome advertising on the tube as it provides a “welcome distraction” during their journey, according to CBS Outdoor research. Indeed, 79% of commuters say they have been somewhere, bought something or looked something up as a direct result of tube advertising, the research claims.

WiFi on the tube will offer advertisers far more enhanced and exciting ways to command commuters’ attention, says Jess Butcher the CMO of augmented reality company Blippar.

“Smart brands will start to think about how they can make the most of that captive audience waiting for their trains, perhaps through games that pass the time, or through video clips or text that gives people something extra to look at and read,” she adds.

The fact that tube passengers will now be far more likely to walk around with their phones out also offers the opportunity for data capture.
Campaigns similar to Kit Kat Chunky’s “Choose a Chunky Champion” could be decided by consumers connecting with an ad on the tube with their phones to vote for their favourite flavour.

Virgin Media is also thought to be looking at advertising opportunities that are station specific. Ideas being explored include pushing a film trailer to a consumer’s mobile phone to watch on their journey once they have passed through a station full of posters advertising said movie.

The landing page consumers will need to log on to in order to access the WiFi service will become another media signpost in itself, which brands can leverage with ads that could be responsive to a user’s location, the weather outside or even what’s in the headlines.

WiFi on the London Underground means advertising on the tube is about to get far, far smarter. Clever marketers would be wise to act now ahead of the roll out if they want to connect with the connected commuter.

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