March 24th, 2008

Advertising Appears in Washington State Ferries and Terminal

The Seattle Times

The Washington state ferry system is easing into advertising to boost revenue, collecting nearly $165,000 from four companies since December.

Ads sold by Trans4media, hired by the state last summer to begin selling space for the commercial plugs, have been running at Colman Dock, the main terminal in downtown Seattle, and on one of the vessels on the Bainbridge Island run.

Until now, despite being a major tourist attraction and commuter mainstay with 24 million passengers a year, the cash-starved ferries had never turned to advertising for revenue.

“This is a good-news story about ferries,” said Jayne E. Davis, the system’s regional operations manager.

So far the state has received $84,150 from Lufthansa, the German airline, for ads currently running; $38,700 from JanSport for ads in December, $33,000 from Washington Mutual and $8,800 from Air New Zealand to promote new service between Aukland and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The decision to institute advertising arose while Michael G. Thorne was head of Washington State Ferries four years ago, Davis said. It took until last year to get a request for proposals and other details approved by the system’s lawyers, put a contract out to bid and select Trans4Media from among four finalists.

“They were picked because they were the most sensitive to ferries being icons,” said Davis. “(The company) gave us the most sense of comfort, and they spoke to us best about tailoring ads to ferries.”

Trans4media designs and sells the ads and keeps 45 percent of the revenue. The remaining 55 percent goes to the ferry system. Ferry officials won’t say how much they expect to earn from the ads, but Davis said the slow, low-key startup is deliberate.

“We don’t want to bombard people with them right away,” Davis said. “We’re taking baby steps. We want to do it right.”

In the future, posters could be supplemented by food giveaways, toy store sponsorship of children’s play areas on the boats, strolling performers to advertise a show, even onboard concierges who could help passengers book airline, restaurant or theater reservations.

“There has to be sensitivity in what we put on the boats,” said Larry Adams, director of sales for Trans4media. “We’re not putting up clutter. We want to make it stand out and be relevant to riders.”

Ads must be approved by the Coast Guard as well as the ferry system with materials that meet environmental standards, and installation must be done when no passengers are present.

Logical targets are mostly companies in the region with an obvious interest in the state and the ferry system, but naming rights are not on the table, said Skip Vose, head of Trans4media. So much for a ferry named Starbucks or a Microsoft waiting area.

Onboard advertising should be an easy sell because of the captive audience and favorable demographics, including an average rider household income of $95,000, Vose said.

“We think this will provide a significant amount of revenue over a time,” he said. “Nobody’s ever done what we’re doing. This is fresh, new territory.”

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