How to Get the Most Out of Your Underground Advertising

How brands can better target consumers travelling on the Tube, are underground ads effective, who's winning brand recall and what can make your ads better.

This week, we’re taking a look at ‘Brands Going Underground’, how London’s TFL customers feel about their travel experience, and how that can help inform a more targeted promotional strategy when advertising on the Tube network.

We’ve also got stats on who’s winning brand recall, whether Tube ads drive purchase behaviour, and how those ads could be made better.

How do people feel about the Tube?

The 10 most frequently used words were

Top 10 Words Associated with the Tube.jpg

With four in every ten people focused on the explicit positives, it’s nice to see the wonder of the Tube isn’t lost on everyone – though it’s no surprise that most can’t help but associate travelling on the Underground with busyness and crowds.

But how does this translate into a commuter’s emotional state?

Emotional context matters

Research shows that how a person is feeling when they see your advert will heavily affect how they respond to it. Facebook is certainly investing a ton of money into technology for better capturing the moods and emotions of its users (with better ad targeting the only commercial reason to do so).

Given the importance of emotional context to advertisers, we thought it would be useful to know how most Tube users feel on a day-to-day basis. Here are the results:

Top 8 Feelings When Travelling on the Tube.jpg

It goes to show that as an advertiser, you have to cut through frustration, tiredness and boredom to get your message across.

However these are also emotional states that allow you to show a better alternative than what they’re feeling then and there. Whether it’s great entertainment, dining out with friends, or taking that much needed vacation…your target audience are quite likely in the mood for seeing products and services they can look forward to.

Now while that’s useful to know, how can you better target your ads? Well depending on which line people get, their emotions are likely to be different, with our research showing some lines having significantly more frustrated and bored passengers compared to other lines.

Here we look at the major differences:


A massive 50% of passengers who make up the Central Line’s 261 million trips per year claim that they feel frustrated most often when on the Tube (versus an average of 35%).

This was topped only by Bakerloo passengers, which was the most frustrated line recording 52% of customers who primarily felt frustrated.

The least frustrated customers on the TFL network were Metropolitan users, with just 30% placing ‘frustrate’ at the top of their list of emotions felt while on the Tube.


Have you ever felt people yawned just a little more on the Northern line? Well you probably weren’t imagining it, with 49% of the Northern line’s passengers stating that tired was how they most often felt while on the Tube. At 252 million trips a year, that’s a lot of yawning!

However the Bakerloo line actually takes the crown in this category too, with a whopping 55% of its customers saying tired was how they felt when using it.

At the other end of the spectrum, just 30% of passengers feel tired while making their way to their destination on the Metropolitan Line. We’re not sure what the Met’s doing, but we imagine their customers would be happy for them to keep it up!


The Jubilee line is pretty boring, at least according to 47% of its passengers, but perhaps a lack of excitement isn’t too bad a thing across 214 million annual journeys.

The most boring line is the Metropolitan, with 50% of its customers saying they felt bored most when using the service – probably a small price to pay for being the least frustrated and tired.

The least boring line was the Victoria Line, with just 33% of commuters saying boredom was what they felt when travelling.


When it comes to helping consumers feel relaxed, the Metropolitan Line (we may start calling it the Superlative Line) leaves every other line standing, with an impressive 40% saying they felt relaxed (if a little bored) when travelling on it, versus an average of 20% and a low of 15% on the Bakerloo.


Is it possible to get excited when on the Tube? Well according to almost a quarter of all Bakerloo Line users, it’s how they feel most often!

That’s more than double the average (11%), and a low of 10% on the Jubilee Line.

Given the Jubilee Line is also seen as one one of the most boring lines, we wonder whether its colour – grey – is subliminally affecting its passengers?


If you’re looking to target that rare breed of happy Tube user, then you’ll want to focus on the Piccadilly Line, which boasts an impressive 15% of customers stating they mostly feel happy when travelling on it.

That’s 50% above the TFL average of 10%, and over twice the number of people using the Northern Line, which records a meagre 7% of happy users.


On the other hand, if you’re actively targeting people who feel a little sad (perhaps with the prospect of a nice holiday, or some upbeat entertainment), then we’d recommend the Bakerloo Line, where 15% of consumers say they feel sad while travelling on the Tube.

This contrasts with the Jubilee line, where they may be bored, but they’re not sad, having the least number of sad passengers across the TFL network (just 6%).


Anyone who reads the Metro has to know (and love) the ‘Rush Hour Crush’ section with its hilarious, often odd, and occasionally touching messages to fellow commuters.

Well it turns out that by far the most lustful line is the Metropolitan (10%), while the least amorous are those taking the Circle, Hammersmith & City and District lines (3%).

If you’re promoting a dating app or website, it’s worth taking note of that.

What type of products or services do you most like to see ads/offers for?

We also asked what kinds of things Tube takers actually want to see advertised, and the results are unambiguous:

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The majority of Underground passengers are keen for two kinds of products:

#1: Entertainment in all it’s glorious forms

#2: Food and drink

They are least interested in financial and insurance services.

If you’re targeting females, then you’ll see their preferences change a little, with more interest than average in:

  • Food and Drink
  • Fashion, Beauty, Health and Luxury

And less interest than average in:

  • Apps/Technology
  • Sports/Sportswear/Equipment/Gyms

For those brands targeting males, then the results show that they have a higher interest than average in (you guessed it):

  • Apps/Technology
  • Sports/Sportswear/Equipment/Gyms

And less interest than average in

  • Fashion, Beauty, Health and Luxury
  • Food and Drink

It pays to go Underground

Next we asked ‘Have you ever bought or tried a product/service after seeing it on the Tube?’ and the answer will probably be comforting to anyone who’s committed budget to advertising on the Underground (not to mention their commercial team): 59% said ‘yes.’

Have You Bought Due to a Tube Ad?.jpg

I recall

Product purchases may be the holy grail, but we know that many brands measure the success of their Above the Line (ATL) advertising – such as Underground posters and billboards – by how much it can increase brand recall.

So we ask ‘Can you name a product/brand/service you’ve seen on the Tube this week?’

Here are all the responses we got mentioning a specific brand:


And here are the Top 10 broken out:

Top 10 Underground Brands by Recall.jpg

We imagine Gentleman Jack will be beaming all the way away in Lynchburg, Tennessee.

How ads can get better

Finally we capped off our consumer insight survey on London Underground users by asking how could adverts be made better? While there were a diverse range of ideas and opinions, and few consistently stood out:

#1: More interactive and engaging

By far the most requested improvement was some variation on the theme of making ads more interactive and engaging, with several referencing the dynamic moving ads on escalators as the way forward.

Here’s one of those suggestions:

“If some were touch screen so you can find where you can buy them [products] from with a map where the closest shop is.”

#2: Video

While it may be considered a subset of the above, there were enough distinct calls for widespread video ads that we thought it deserved its own call out.

The most apt quote to pull out was simply: “More video ads,” which was reiterated many times.

#3: More colour, less text

While a couple of consumers held the opposite opinion (more text, as they have more time to read it), most felt that ads were too text-heavy and not eye-catching enough to earn their attention in the first place.

This also means that the key information is lost amongst all the excess copy.

Here are just a few of the suggestions we picked out.

“More bright colours with words that pop out and stand out so people will look at them.”

“Less writing and more illustrative.”

“Use more bright/neon colours to gain the Tube user’s attention & also put an interesting headline in the advert the engage them in the advert. Maybe also discuss a controversial issue in the advert relating to your product.”

“More colourful, interesting to read, short so you can catch info in time if needed.”

#4: Offers and discounts

People love getting something for free (or cheap), and Tube customers are no different in this respect, with several calls for adverts to provide more value in the form of offers and discounts.

It doesn’t get more simple than this: “Use discount codes to tempt me to buy the product.”

In conclusion

Next time you’re planning your Underground advertising, think about how commuters are feeling, and how those emotions change across lines, for a more targeted campaign and greater impact.

However the bottom line is that people taking the Tube actually do engage with your ads.

They want to know more, and they want to be tempted to try (or buy) your products, with almost 60% of them doing so, and those brands that invest in widespread advertising enjoying good recall.

Want to dig even deeper into how consumers in your target market view tube advertising, and how you can make the most impact? Create a custom consumer insight survey today.


Content Team 

Our in-house marketing team is always scouring the market for the next big thing. This piece has been lovingly crafted by one of our team members. Attest's platform makes gathering consumer data as simple and actionable as possible.

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