The truth about station-domination advertising in the TTC

After I made my first presentation on signage to the TTC, the Commissioners ordered an internal report about signage. One of its claims dealt with station-domination advertising:

Station-domination advertising consisting of traditional print posters and the application of vinyl on non-traditional media forms such as columns, wall scapes [sic], floor areas, etc., was tested in the Summer 2000 for a three-month trial. It was evaluated on the basis of customer surveys, maintenance and operational assessments, and sales information. At the meeting of November 22, 2000, the Commission approved the rollout of the program. Vinyl is applied in locations to avoid conflict with wayfinding signage. The advertising contract contributes significant revenue to the TTC and is used to offset operating costs.

The report says that station domination was evaluated, but doesn’t tell us what the evaluations were. I have the evaluations and I’m going to tell you. It isn’t at all a rosy picture.

First test

Two station-domination campaigns were tested at Union Station in August and September 2000. Eglinton was used as a control. 1,251 people were surveyed. The results were published in the report “Station-Domination Advertising Tests: Results of Customer Surveys,” October 2000. Some findings:

Yet the report found there was “[l]ittle opposition to principle of advertising in subway stations” even though more people objected than approved. It also stated there was “[s]ignificant resistance to expanding ‘station-domination’ concept. This resistance is broadly based.... on æsthetics, principle.”

In other words, a significant number of TTC riders thought station domination was ugly and wrong in the first place. TTC proposed placing advertising in exactly the locations that people thought it should never go.

Still, the report’s conclusion defied the assessed facts and stated “[l]imited expansion of station-domination concept is supported.”

Second survey

In 2002, the TTC carried out a test of advertising on turnstiles. One station also had a domination campaign underway, another didn’t. The report by Michael Anders, dated 2002.05.08, is entitled “Turnstile Advertising Survey” and reported on 659 test subjects canvassed in April 2002.

Re-reporting of previous data

This survey re-reported the data from 2000, and claimed that, for station-domination campaigns, 8% strongly or somewhat opposed them, 27%–35% were indifferent, and 58%–66% were in favour.

Presumably only one of these sets of numbers is correct, but this report from 2002 made station domination seem more popular than first reported.


Station domination was never as popular with riders as TTC claimed. To be accurate, TTC never actually claimed it was popular; TTC intentionally withheld survey results, now published here. One report essentially contradicted another report, but in a way that makes station domination and other forms of intrusive advertising seem less unacceptable to riders.

Adam Giambrone was questioned about advertising in an interview.

Is advertising a potential way to help solve the problem with the TTC’s money?

No.... [C]ould you make a little more money on a yearly basis by totally selling out on advertising? Maybe – you maybe get another five, ten million a year. But in the context of the TTC budget, that’s nothing, and there’s a huge debate around whether people are comfortable with that.

I think we have an acceptable level of advertising. Could it be less? Absolutely. At this point any reduction would be a budget reduction, and I’ll tell you I’m not really prepared to reduce the budget of the TTC to reduce the advertising. At the same time, I think we certainly have enough advertising. Many people would say too much, and even if we went all-out, the money is just not the solution to our city’s budget woes.

(In fact, removing nearly every restriction on advertising would bring in only $7 million more in revenue.)

Even when station-domination campaigns were introduced, they were significantly unpopular. TTC staff later tried to rewrite the numbers to make them seem less unpopular. In the intervening years, more and more opposition to advertising in public space has developed. If similar surveys were run once again, and the results honestly reported, probably more people would report they were opposed to intrusive advertising.

Giambrone states that there is a limit to how much advertising that people will accept. TTC’s own data shows that, depending on how you ask the question, for about one-third of surveyed riders station-domination advertising already is too much and has been since its introduction.

Impact on signage and wayfinding

Even at the outset, up to 13% of respondents stated that station-domination advertising made it harder to find and read signs in the system. The report ordered by the Commission stated that domination campaigns have no impact on signage. TTC’s own figures show that station domination interferes with signage.