Long URLs and Recruiting Gamblers on the SkyTrain

I spotted this ad on the SkyTrain today. I’m not trying to pick on BC Mental Health & Addiction Services–they do good work. However, I thought there was a simple marketing lesson here:

SkyTrain ad

That’s a pretty long web address. Experience teaches us that anything–poor layout, a difficult-to-read font or a forgettable URL–can present a barrier to ‘customers’ taking action. This is probably more true for people who might be reluctant to admit that they might need treatment for a gambling problem. If you’re such a person, then you may not want to stand under the ad, jotting down the URL, surrounded by other SkyTrain riders. When I snapped the above photo, my travel companion joked “great, now everybody thinks you’re a gambling addict”.

The lesson: if you’ve gone to the trouble of organizing the program, creating the page, writing the ad copy, designing the ad and buying the space on public transit, then it’s worth spending the extra $100 (the cost of a new domain plus an hour of some IT guy’s time to redirect the URL) to register a short, memorable URL. DoYouGamble.ca, for example, is available.

This sort of oversight is very common, particularly inside large organizations. It stems, I suspect, from viewing the ad as a problem to solve instead of a communications opportunity. Instead of asking “how can I produce an ad?”, the creator should have asked “how can I most effectively recruit people for this program?”

On an unrelated note: surely TransLink must offer government agencies, charities and non-profits a deep discount for advertising on public transit, because their ads seem disproportionally prevalent there.


  1. This is somewhat awful, but also aimed squarely at the demographic they are going for: they should have just had a bitly link with the copy:

    “Browse to http://bit.ly/axgrtf for a chance to get more information on gambling”

    I’m fairly positive that would have at least doubled their response rate.

  2. Yeah, no one is going to remember that ad, but I don’t see many people responding to that ad just because it has a useless title.

    “Do You Gamble?”, yes I do so what? It is not clear what the ad is about. I know it says research in the url but not everyone will pick that up they way it is laid out . FAIL!

  3. They also forgot the space after the area code. Not a big deal in itself, but further evidence that, whatever the motivations and work behind the project, not enough care went into the ad.

  4. It’s so sad to think of all the effort on their campaign being passed over by their market for lack of a $100-solution they didn’t think of.

  5. I’m confident you’re wrong on the reduced rates for those organizations. Transit users are continually beseiged by ads aimed at those on the low end of the socio-economic scale because (apparently) transit users tend to be from that demographic. It’s why GM can run an ad for their new vehicles in major papers and mock and belittle transit users as “Freaks & Weirdos”. It’s also why transit users – who aren’t say, driving age – are forced to suck up a ridiculous $8/hr minimum wage while being gouged on fare hikes every year. Transit users are treated like garbage.
    On a brighter note – while I enjoy surveying the ads on transit (though not being treated like garbage) , my all time favourite ad was a runner (like the one in your photo) that featured a large photo of a baby. The caption was “Who’s My Daddy?” and it was – you guessed it – for a paternity test.

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