On a journey to capture and captivate Tube users

As the battle for the London Underground contract hots up, Tim Bleakley of incumbent Viacom Outdoor looks at what is at stake.

If you're reading this at work then you're more than likely one of the 29 million people in the UK who regularly commute.

If you're in London then you are three times more likely to have made your journey in today using public transport.

We are increasingly a nation on the move – by rail, four wheels or two.

More people commute to work than ever before and the trend is set to continue. Traffic is forecast to increase by 84% over the next 20 years. Travel on public transport reached six billion journeys last year.

Regardless of the mode, we're going to be moving around more, and increasing numbers of advertisers are looking to engage with consumers on the move.

Viacom Outdoor has built its business around the unique role that transport plays in people's lives. We know how valuable these consumers are. We help advertisers engage with these groups by understanding the nature of the transport environment and consumers' relationship with it.

The London Underground represents an integral part of many people's journeys and therefore advertisers' campaigns. A recent Mad.co.uk survey showed the Tube's strength as an advertising vehicle. It was cited as the most identifiable brand in London – beating Harrods, The London Eye and the Evening Standard.

This brand strength, and the predicted growth in commuter numbers, are just two of the many reasons why the forthcoming London Underground bid is such an attractive prospect.

Tube, and transport advertising generally, has become recognised as a unique and extremely effective way to reach consumers.

Commuters are affluent, with high disposable incomes. Bus use, in particular, is changing, with a third of all new users last year being ABs. A recent Times headline read: "Buses are picking up passengers of a different stripe. A pinstripe." In fact 59% of all bus travellers are ABC1.

Not only are they wealthy, but they are valuable. Our most recent research highlights the effect that the last advertising message has on purchase.

A total of 54% of people tell us that they have bought things impulsively that they have seen advertised when out and about.

This makes mobility a key benefit for many advertisers. But it's not enough just to capture valuable commuters, you must captivate them and enhance the travel experience.

This is part of the unique responsibility of managing the London Underground contract.

Platform dwell time for Tube commuters is 3.2 minutes. This means that a compelling cross-track 48-sheet gets a much larger share of viewing than its roadside equivalent. The same advertiser benefit occurs across the country on the Metro in Newcastle; The Sheffield Supertram and Liverpool's Merseyrail network – in fact wherever commuters are.

Consequently, we are actively encouraging the industry to produce the best in long-copy advertising.

So just how receptive are commuters to the advertising messages we help brands get across? Recent research carried out by TNS found that 80% of commuters say they prefer the Tube with advertising and 70% say the same about bus.

Advertisers who understand this and work with us to enhance the commuting experience, find the consumer more actively engaged. Carling is one such company. Their sponsorship of LU's busking scheme has reaped nothing but praise. Highland Spring have also tapped into the journey experience, reaching thirsty consumers on the move with their free water giveaway on the hottest days last summer.

Good creative ideas are important, but there will be much more to engaging commuters in the future. The ability to harness digital technology to enhance the advertising experience for the enjoyment of the commuter, the benefit of the environment and effectiveness for the advertiser is key.

We have been working hand in hand with LU to make this a reality. We have pioneered the use of infrared technology enabling commuters to download information from posters to their mobiles. This month, the world's first digital escalator panels were unveiled at Tottenham Court Road station.

Over the coming months, a collection of the UK and Europe's biggest outdoor companies will be making their case for why they are best placed to run the Tube contract for the next 10 years. It will be a fierce contest ? Tim Bleakley is joint MD, sales and marketing, at Viacom Outdoor

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