consumerism media transport

London Underground’s new digital posters

Coming into work today I found an escalator not working in the underground station at Victoria. There was a big poster next to it that said “Escalator not working? London Underground cares about the environment, that’s why.”

Alongside the escalators that were working are London Underground’s new ‘digital escalator panels (DEPs)’ – over 50 TFT screens showing non-stop adverts to the gently ascending and descending passengers. TFT screens may consume less energy than other kinds of displays, but that’s beside the point when you have 50 of them, and when you consider that the posters they replaced didn’t use any energy at all.

Perhaps that’s why the escalator isn’t working, because they haven’t got enough power to run all three escalators and their 50 new TV screens at the same time. It certainly isn’t because London Underground cares about the environment.

Still, they are quite impressive, these new digital posters. They’re bright and flashy, while the rest of the tube is dingy and grubby. And that, I suppose, is the beginning and the end of my objection to them: the tube is over-crowded, hot, dirty and only semi-reliable, yet its advertising is cutting edge. It is decades behind the metro lines of many major world cities, but pioneering in new ways of selling us stuff we don’t need. All work on the tube is creakingly slow, yet investment in advertising technology is swiftly implemented. The priorities of the tube are all wrong.

My only other complaint is that commuting is stressful. I walk down from the train into Kings Cross Underground, queue for the barriers, shuffle for the escalators, battle onto the platform and dodge and weave down to the quiet end, ready to squeeze in alongside twenty hot and angry passengers. The escalator rides in between all the shuffling are the only relatively hassle-free moments. Now new advertising technologies want to intrude into those last little refuges of calm: “Empty moments don’t come along very often in the lives of Londoners” says CBS Outdoor’s website, “but Digital Escalator Panels (DEPs) capture these elusive moments.” Great.

My only consolation is that it can cost advertisers up to £93,000 (pdf) to place their ten second ad into the 90 second loop, and I can still roll by with my nose in a book.

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