Live Green Toronto's Bright Idea
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Live Green Toronto’s Bright Idea

Last week, Live Green Toronto, the City of Toronto’s website for eco-friendly living, launched a new transit shelter advertising campaign with a unique twist: passersby can flip a giant switch that turns the ad on or off. The ad’s text encourages readers to “switch this poster off,” and to switch on Live Green’s website for information about saving energy and living green. The ad was designed by Agency59, a Toronto-based advertising agency, and installed by Astral Media, the company behind Toronto’s street furniture. While it’s undeniably clever, the execution is a little flawed.

For starters, the ad isn’t all that effective. Although the switch is neat, even when it’s on, the ad’s dark green tones don’t stand out at night, and during the day the text is almost invisible. On Thursday night, Torontoist staked out the sole installation at Empress Avenue and Yonge Street for more than an hour, and we found that most people didn’t take notice (with the notable exception of one poor kid who couldn’t reach the switch, above).
The ad also violates two rules that govern Astral Media’s street furniture contract with the City of Toronto. According to Vibrant Streets: Toronto’s Coordinated Street Furniture Program [PDF], “To maintain visibility at night, it is critical that sufficient lighting be incorporated into the interior of transit shelters.” In most shelters, the backlighting in the ad cassion (the case the ad sits in) provides the necessary light source. If a shelter doesn’t have a lit ad cassion, then fluorescent lighting fixtures have to be installed. The shelter where Live Green’s ad is installed only has one light source: the ad cassion, and when it’s off, the shelter goes dark. Although this may not seem like a big deal, it puts those who can’t reach the switch, like children or people in wheelchairs, at a disadvantage. The ad’s protruding switch is also a no-no, as the guidelines stipulate that “All advertising must be contained within the amenity; three dimensional advertisements or those that project beyond the structure of the amenity are not permitted.”

During the day, the ad is almost unreadable.

We asked Brian Howlett, Agency59’s chief creative officer, about the ad’s shortcomings and he told us that in the daytime “It works well enough to be read…That was the first thing we thought of when we came up with it, but lots of great ideas can be killed easily and we’d rather persevere because the reaction we’ve been getting from most people has been really encouraging.” He also told us that “I can’t profess to know the intricate details of Astral’s agreement with the City of Toronto. I would only assume if they agreed to put it up then it met with their guidelines…I can only tell you that I stood inside the shelter and it remains very well lit, as Yonge Street is extremely illuminated. We wouldn’t plan on putting the ad up in a shelter that is on a smaller, darker street.”
Later this month, Live Green plans to install another ad at King Street West and John Street, and another at Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue West. “There tends to be a preaching to the converted when talking to all the folks that live downtown,” Nancy Ruscica, Live Green’s manager of partnerships and innovations, told Torontoist. “So we’re really pushing—through our community animators program and through our marketing—to reach everybody who lives in Toronto. Branching out to Yonge and Eglinton—sort of midtown—and then further north, helps widen our reach.” In conjunction with the shelter ads, Live Green is also launching an online campaign featuring banner ads with interactive trees. When a unique visitor moves their cursor over a tree, a leaf is added. Live Green is tracking all its online trees, and every time a tree gains a thousand leaves, the city will plant a real tree.
In other words, it’s a smart campaign, and a creative way to spread environmental awareness. But the light switch ads may need to be retooled, and find a home other than transit shelters.
A hat tip to copyranter for letting us know about the ad, and thanks to former Torontoist contributing editor Jonathan Goldsbie for his encyclopedic knowledge of Astral Media’s outdoor furniture contract with the City of Toronto.
All photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.