The Tube Speaks to Me: Subway Posters of London

I am not a copywriter, but I am a student of language, particularly the stuff that conducts people through everyday life.* So it is one of my favorite things, when traveling in a country that mostly speaks the same language that I do**, to see how the culture talks to its people. And one of my favorite ways of gauging this is through the way that a country’s ads try to reach and manipulate people.

The London Underground commissioned a cartoonist with an achingly cute style to illustrate some common subway travails and how one might deal with them. (My friend who lives there, however, did not think very highly of being told in doggerel verse how to handle being a person of the most minimal self-responsibility.) I love the art, even if I do think it’s unfortunate that people were getting dehydrated on the tube often enough that a budget was created to be remind them that water is helpful.***

On a hot train, Alice felt so low / Faint and shaky from head to toe / She thought, "Next time I oughta / take along a bottle of water."

I also think that ‘stache here is being extremely brave. I’d like to think I’d be a super helpful person in this situation, but it’s not just a culture of familial ties that cause things like this to happen.

"If you spot someone ill or in pain / please try to help them off the train / we can offer aid much more quickly / on the platform if they 're sickly"

While we were there, there was also a series of posters entreating subway riders to investigate the exotic within the city’s boundaries.

If we hadn’t had such a short stay in London (marred by a wayward bag, courtesy of British Airways), I might’ve been swayed by this one.

Cartoon guy in red, hugging an alpaca for all it's worth

I’ve actually touched an alpaca, and I know it’s not quite like this, but I still want to believe it’s like nestling your eager little face into a nest of clouds.

And then there’s this one, which seems like it may be a trap. I’ve seen Torchwood. I know better than this.

London wants you to board a UFO. Tell London no thanks.

In researching this poster series, I found that you can buy these alongside the many, many other posters sold through the London Transport Museum. Meaning that, if I can free up a tiny bit of wall space, I very well may end up looking at this every day. By the way, if someone can tell me what an iconic Denver dinner would entail, I would be very interested to hear it.

The subways are lined with ads, of course. Posters for music festivals with headliners I’d never heard of, ads featuring celebrities I was only vaguely familiar with due to the lingering aftereffects of being a teenage anglophile, and brands that seem too well represented for them to have stayed so firmly on the other side of the Atlantic. I was content to let them blur into noise, taking them in as I could. I only took a picture of this one.

This freaky ad comparing a bleeding eye to gums that bleed when you brush your teeth. Augh!

And to that copywriter, I just say… point. I have no argument there.

Which is, I suppose, successful advertising wherever you are.


*One title for this: UX writer. Need one? Talk to me!

**And it’s a thing I lose out on when I travel in a country where English isn’t the first or second or third language used in official communications. I have a real love of handwritten signs on store doors and bus stop closure signs. However, it does force me to focus on other things, and I get a different picture of a place because of it.

***Particularly while on a continent that so thoroughly eschews the public water fountain. But that’s a tale for another day.