Omnipresent online brands want to create a sense of place

“Lower East Side: the wildest neighborhood on a Tuesday based on the number of orders after 3am.”

“Tribeca vs. places where you can still say you live in Tribeca.”

“Industry City: the Everything Bagel of attractions.”

These are three different subway posters I came across on my daily MTA commute and they all sound like a Big Bus tour guide, full of quips about New York City. The companies behind the ad campaigns each have something to say about NYC neighborhoods, yet none of them are actually based in one. They were all born on the internet. Seamless is for online food ordering; StreetEasy is a listings website for real estate; Lyft is an on-demand car service.

In fact, today’s best subway interiors are dominated by ads from tech and service startups like Spotify, Capsule, Roomi, Fiverr and Oscar. On the way out are community college testimonials, plastic surgery before-and-after’s and “see something, say something” warnings.

Seamless’ neighborhood-themed subway ads are the latest rollout in its “How New York Eats” campaign. It awarded Highbridge, Bronx “the least ideal neighborhood for making out based on the number of garlic bread orders” and Rockaway, Queens “the most extra neighborhood based on the number of extra sides ordered”. The brand is known for translating its big data into relatable local insights, having previously featured New Yorkers’ ridiculous meal personalization requests.

In the second leg of its “Find Your Place” campaign, StreetEasy illustrated maps of the city’s neighborhoods, highlighting areas that New Yorkers typically search for when scoping out apartments in the city. Whether a place that is “incredibly close to the subway, yet far enough where the walls don’t shake”, or one that is both “spouse approved and board approved,” StreetEasy understands the trials and tribulations of a New York home search and helps you find that sweet spot.

Lyft also appealed to New Yorkers’ sensibilities in its new “All of NYC, Only a Ride Away” campaign. The brand turned “Greetings From” postcards into billboard invitations to visit destinations across the five boroughs still accessible by car. Now you can hail a Lyft to Fort Tryon to “finally find out what a cloister is” and Rockaway Beach for “a beach vacation without airport security.”

It makes sense for Seamless, StreetEasy and Lyft to celebrate neighborhoods and communities where they serve, sell homes and offer rides. Granted, the companies’ origin stories may not be as endearing as that of an actual restaurant owner or cabbie, but they can make up for their lack of personality by getting to know their audiences. Access to our online purchasing patterns, travelling routes and internet browsing habits will help humanize their communications.

Outdoor is now the advertising channel of choice for tech companies, and online competitors would benefit from rethinking its value. Apple might be the world’s first trillion-dollar company, but our relationship with digital devices remains contentious and continues to evolve. After all, David Sax did predict the revenge of analog, and internet-born businesses seem to be taking note. While they can’t wheat paste posters on the web, they can be the friendly neighbor who occasionally steps “out-of-home” and greets straphangers on their daily commute.

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