The typical ad in a subway station — or anywhere, really — has one message: Buy me! Buy me! Buy me!
But what if instead the message was: Aww, idn’t he cute?
That’s the sentiment James Turner and his comrades are hoping to evoke on London’s subway system, the Tube. They’ve formed the Citizens Advertising Takeover Service — C.A.T.S. — and are trying to raise $33,000 to replace every ad in a single London Tube station with large photos of cats.
“We spoke with the ad company who deals with the Tube,” James explained on the phone from London. “They said for that kind of money we could get the equivalent number of ads to take over one of the smaller stations, something like Wimbledon or Cockfosters. If we go beyond our target, we have every chance of getting into Oxford Circus, Bond Street or Marble Arch — one of the big ones.”
A question springs to mind: Why?
Also: Why cats?
“We did have a conversation, wondering if we’d reached peak cat and should choose a different animal,” James said. “Then we reminded ourselves: There’s an infinite appetite for cats on the Internet.”
As for why do it in the first place, James insists it isn’t to make a joke. It’s to strike a cute and furry blow against the depressing drumbeat of crass consumerism.
“We are constantly faced with a barrage of advertising which tells us that buying more stuff is the route to status and happiness,” James said. “Riding the Tube, or the Metro in Washington, can be a stressful experience. And I think adverts and the sort of pressure to consume, the pressure to adopt these products or lifestyles, isn’t helping.”
He added: “Wouldn’t it be great if public spaces were designed to make you feel good rather than slightly inadequate?”
And so: cats. Lots and lots of cats — even your cat, if you pledge enough money: $144 for a little square photo on a poster; $3,595 for an entire poster shot by a professional photographer.
The Citizens Advertising Takeover Service is the work of a collective called Glimpse, a voluntary network of creative professionals that practices what James calls “culture jamming.” (Another Glimpse idea: a social platform that focuses on what people like to do outside of work. It would be called LinkedOut.)
James said many people think there’s no alternative to what he calls “corporate control of public space.”
“We wanted to strike a small blow for sanity,” he said.
As of Wednesday, the crowdfunding campaign — details at catsnotads.com — had about $26,000 to go before the May 21 deadline.
James is 35 and works for an environmental outfit he would rather not name. He said he has visited Washington and ridden our Metro. He said he found it “clean and reliable” (ahem) but, “It was made more stressful by the sheer number of ads faced by commuters on their way to work.”
Of course, ads in Washington tend to be for weapons systems or against legislation.
Of Metro, James said: “The one redeeming factor was that the windows were heavily tinted, so it was harder to see the adverts and, inexplicably, the names of the stations.”
The smoke doesn’t help either, James. Hey, maybe we should launch a Kickstarter to fix Metro! Top donors could bring their cats aboard.
While we’re in London and thinking about the subway, train buff Garth Burleyson of Colesville, Md., pointed me to a curious little experiment underway at the Holborn Tube station. It’s the sort of thing that might infuriate Washingtonians: Riders are being encouraged to stand on the right and the left of the escalator.
Holborn is one the system’s busiest stations, with some of the longest escalators. Few passengers walk all the way up, and they were bunching up at the bottom, waiting for space to stand on the right. (Unlike on Metro, signs on the Tube instruct people to stand on the right.)
Researchers from the London School of Economics suggested that encouraging people to stand next to one another might help. A previous trial found that standing on both sides of the escalator reduced congestion by 30 percent.
Of the four escalators in Holborn, one will go down, one will go up and allow walking on the left, two will go up and be for standing on both sides.
“It may not seem right that you can go quicker by standing still, but our experiments at Holborn have proved that it can be true,” said the Tube’s Peter McNaught in a news release.
The current six-month experiment at Holborn is to test different ways of persuading passengers to overcome years of habit and stand on both sides, from new signs to a ghostly “talking projection” of a staff member.
I wondered whether passengers would feel uncomfortable standing next to a stranger on the slow ride up, but a spokeswoman for the Tube told me they haven’t had any issues with that.
Would it work here?
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.