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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ads on Wheels, a Moveable Marketing Feast

We interrupt this Moscow street scene for a message from Samsung.

With so many of Moscow's boulevards now overloaded with billboards, advertisers are taking their campaigns onto the city's trams, trolleybuses and buses. Once-dowdy modes of public transport have been transformed into a moveable marketing feast.

A short wait along a busy street reveals a colorful marketing parade: A slick blue tram emblazoned with a Samsung logo whooshes by; a few minutes later a trolleybus painted up in the blue, white and red shades of Aquafresh toothpaste sidles up, followed by a bubble-gum pink trolleybus advertising Mattel Barbie products.

Expenditures on rolling advertising makes up about 10 percent of the outdoor advertising total, according to industry sources. Placing ads on public transport is cheaper than billboard advertising, reaches a large and diverse audience, and, advertisers note, is a natural attention-grabber.

"Considering the cost, its effect was not just unsurpassed, it was stunning," said Gleb Davydov, a director of United Corporate Agency, which implemented a regional trolleybus campaign for Kodak. "Moreover, the effect is long-term."

The number of vehicles used as ad space in Moscow has grown three to four times since 1994, said Nikolai Kozlov, deputy director for the company Gorod XXI, one of numerous Moscow agencies that specializes in organizing ad spots on public transportation.

As of December 1996, about 600 of Moscow's 1,300 trolleybuses -- the electric buses that run along overhead wires -- had become rolling billboards, and 100 of the city's 633 tram cars carried company slogans. City buses were the least popular corporate standard-bearers: Out of 3,000 vehicles, only 40 were used for this purpose, Kozlov said.

Ads have come to adorn more than mass public transport: 300 cars from Moscow's fleet of yellow taxis have been topped with illuminated advertising signs and, since the end of last year, Aeroflot's logo has been featured on 140 of the buses that ferry passengers to the city's airports.

The "transpomercial" market already has its veterans. Italy's Merloni, which produces Ariston and Indesit home appliances, has been advertising on ground transportation vehicles for over 2 1/2 years, according to Eduard Romanov, the head of Merloni's sales support department. Today, Merloni's products are promoted on 50 luminous taxi signs, 10 of the capital's trolleybuses and several dozen more in the regions.

"The return on this sort of advertisement is very big," Romanov said. "Especially in the regions, where the concentration of advertisements isn't so high. If in Moscow people are so used to them that they don't really notice them anymore, in the regions commercials leave a big impression.

"In Krasnodar, for example, where we have several trams, the local residents themselves have given them a special name -- 'White Eagle,'" he said, noting the comparison the locals draw to the all-white trams that swoosh around town. "To get to such-and-such, they say, you've got to take the 'White Eagle.'"

This year, trolleybuses emblazoned with Kodak's logo are traversing the streets of Russia's 19 largest cities, 10 in each city. The company studied the effectiveness of this form of advertisement, and the results were impressive.

"Thanks to this [ad] campaign, brand awareness has increased by 40 percent," said Davydov.

Around 15 percent of visitors to Moscow's Mir chain of electronics stores were drawn there by advertisements on ground transportation, according Oleg Nechitailo, head of Mir's advertising department. Nechailo added that the company was especially satisfied by the value of this particular ad genre.

Renting the exterior of a bus or tram is a relatively inexpensive form of outdoor advertising, according to prices provided by advertising agencies.

Half a year's rent for a central Moscow billboard with about the same surface area as the side of a trolleybus exceeds $5,000, according to industry sources.

Half a year's rent for a rolling advertisement averages, depending on the vehicle's route, $2,000 to $4,000 for an entire non-stretch trolleybus, $2,300 to $3,100 for a single tram car and $2,500 and $3,000 for an Ikarus bus. Vehicles from the Fili bus park are pricier, starting at $4,300.

An added component in the price can be the fee for the ad agency, which prepares the bus or tram and applies the ad. A high-quality, properly executed advertisement will run from $500 to $4,000.

"We have to specially prepare vehicles for our advertisements," says Yaroslav Kapushchak, director of Inkla Werbe Zentrale, whose clients include Nestle, Polaroid and BASF.

"First, we strip all the paint down to the metal, then we prime and putty the surface, and only then we apply the [ad's] background color."

The extra effort may help, especially when the vehicle will spend much of the year splashed with mud and corroded by salt that workers spread generously over Moscow's icy winter streets.

Electronics maker AIWA is planning to stop placing its ads on trolleybuses because their unattractive appearance stirs more negative emotions in the consumer than positive ones, said Alyona Yershova, the company's financial-administrative manager.

Advertisers were generally positive, though, about the visibility of their moving advertisements.

"This form of advertising is more effective than billboards," said Kozlov of Gorod XXI. "If a person is used to traveling along one route, he won't see the billboards on another. With buses it's different: First they're here, then they're there. As a rule, one vehicle spends 12 hours on the road, and so you cover a far greater range."

The ads also reach a wide demographic.

"This kind of advertising targets the wealthy as well," said Yury Tarnovsky of the advertising agency Favorit. "Ads in the metro, for example, completely exclude the wealthy part of the population, those who don't ride the metro. Those people who make the decisions, after all, usually have cars. And they drive past and see the very same trolleybuses and buses that the average passenger does."

In order to fill the entire city with effective mobile advertising, experts say that 20 to 50 vehicles, moving along a designed network of routes, are needed. "Just sending five 'B' buses circling around the Garden Ring won't give you a thing," said Kozlov.

Advertisers tend to stick with the well-traveled routes: Space on trolleybuses Nos. 1, 12, and 20, which run along Tverskaya and Leningradsky Prospekt, is filled to capacity; 70 to 80 percent of space is taken up on popular Garden Ring, Kutuzovsky Prospekt and Leninsky Prospekt routes.

Ad business representatives said, however, that the popularity of central trolleybuses is probably based more on certain stereotypes in clients' minds than on economic imperative.

"Everybody says, 'Give me Tverskaya.' But there's already such an abundance of ads there that it's difficult to get a good look at any one thing," said Krylov.

"But in the mornings or the evenings when a person is standing at his stop, waiting for the bus back to his neighborhood, he's got nothing to fill his time with anyway," he said. "And crowds of people stand and look intently, wondering what's that coming. So I think buses offer a bigger advantage."

The revenues add to coffers of the city's transportation sector. Moscow's trolleybus park No. 4, which services many central routes, said it owes about 5 percent of its budget to this additional source. It may not seem like a lot, but it's more than the sale of tickets brings in, said the park's deputy director, Alexander Askerov.

"It's a profitable thing to do," he said. "If it was up to me, I'd put the whole park up for advertising."