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Ads change stations

In a cluttered media landscape, companies go big to stand out, blanketing transit centers with larger-than-life campaigns

Mohegan Sun’s array of ads in South Station is an example of how single companies have blanketed transit stations with banners and signs. Mohegan Sun’s array of ads in South Station is an example of how single companies have blanketed transit stations with banners and signs. (Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe)
By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / June 15, 2011

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It’s hard to miss Mohegan Sun’s message at South Station.

The casino resort has literally taken over the advertising space at the commuter rail facility, adorning it with 80 banners, window panels, backlit posters, and signs. The ads, placed to launch the casino’s new “Time To Shine’’ campaign, will stay up for three months.

Mohegan Sun is the latest advertiser to blanket South Station in what’s called a “station domination’’ marketing strategy, transforming the facility into a giant indoor billboard.

The idea is to give one advertiser exclusive access to a high-volume stream of commuters. The strategy is a familiar one in other markets across the country, but recently, more and more Boston-area brands and their ad agencies are using it to reach beyond traditional advertising. Titan, a Boston media agency that sells advertising space for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said requests for station dominations in Greater Boston have jumped about 15 percent since last year, with dozens of advertisers requesting space for such campaigns.

Before Mohegan Sun arrived, JetBlue Airways filled South Station with banners promoting the airline’s nonstop destinations from Logan International Airport. And Boston sneaker maker New Balance recently stepped into the Park Street subway stop, splashing it wall-to-wall with signs featuring the company’s new tagline, “Let’s make excellent happen.’’

Advertising analysts say that companies are becoming bolder and using more in-your-face initiatives to reach mass audiences in today’s era of increasingly fractured media. As commuter ridership increases and advertisers spend more, the stations are becoming attractive promotional platforms for brands seeking to command consumer attention.

“Increased media clutter forces advertisers to be innovative, and find a way to stand out in a crowd,’’ said Geoff Klapisch, an advertising professor at Boston University. With station domination cam paigns, he added, “Wherever the consumer turns, the marketer’s message is there.’’

Officials at Connecticut-based Mohegan said they wanted to reach a cross section of travelers in and out of Boston during the busy summer months. “Boston is a critical market for us, and we wanted to introduce the new campaign in Boston with this dominant fashion,’’ said Jeff Hartmann, chief financial officer at the casino, which worked with New York ad agency People Ideas & Culture on the ad campaign.

The casino used “every piece of real estate that the station was willing to lease to us,’’ Hartmann said. Indeed, commuters working their way through the station are bombarded by the ads from all sides, including staircases and the flooring on the way to the Red Line subway platform. “It’s everywhere,’’ he said.

Commuters had a mixed reaction to all the signage. Marge Klein of Lowell, in Boston for a doctor’s appointment, definitely noticed the rectangular signs high above, and recalled Mohegan Sun’s message. But, she said, “you don’t want to have your eyes zapped by all kinds of advertising. It really doesn’t add anything to the station.’’

Jessica Valenti, another commuter, was too distracted by her smartphone to look at the banners hanging above her. “I’m a New Yorker. I keep my eyes to the ground,’’ she said. “A well-placed and smarter ad would be more effective.’’

Hartmann declined to comment on how much his company is investing at South Station. On average, it could cost at least $100,000 a month, including production costs, for an advertiser to rent all the space at a Boston station, according to local ad executives. Inventory has become limited, so companies are required to reserve a station at least six months in advance.

“We sell out quickly,’’ said Scott Christensen, general manager at Titan in Boston. He said that South Station, which hosts a daily ridership of 110,000 commuters, is booked through part of October. Other recent station domination campaigns have promoted Chipotle at Kenmore Square; Amstel Light at North Station; the New England Aquarium at Park Street; and Apple Inc.’s iPad tablet computer at South Station. For two months this spring, JetBlue showered South Station with signage. “We thought we could really use it as a canvas . . . and really use it to tell a bigger story,’’ said Marissa Curcuru, a media supervisor at the Boston ad shop Mullen, which designed the campaign.

For the past two years, New Balance has dominated the Park Street subway stop as part of its spring campaigns.

“Our efforts in Boston are a little bit heavier because it’s in our hometown,’’ said Joe Preston,’’ New Balance executive vice president. He said the company might saturate Park Street station again next year.

Station domination campaigns run for a limited time, partly because the single theme can recede into the background for commuters walking through a facility daily. The ads will “wear out pretty quickly because of the volume of traffic,’’ said Andrew Graff, chairman of the Ad Club of Boston and chief executive of Watertown ad agency Allen & Gerritsen. “At some point, it’s not noticeable.’’

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.