Leverage Metra Commuter Rail Advertising to Impact Chicago Suburbanites

January 18, 2024

If you asked someone to imagine a Chicago-stye pizza, most would picture a deep dish from Pequod’s or Lou Malnati’s. But the real ones start thinking about tavern style.

Similarly, if you asked someone to imagine a train in Chicago, they’d probably conjure up the L, the city’s iconic elevated rapid transit system. But did you know that Chicago also has the busiest commuter rail in America outside of NYC?

We’d like you to meet Metra, OUTFRONT’s newest transit partner. Metra covers a massive 3,700 square miles across six counties (Cook, DuPage, Will, Lake, Kane, and McHenry), providing over 32.5 million rides to and from downtown Chicago each year. That’s over 280,000 every weekday (SOURCE: Metra)!

Geico Station Domination at Metra's Millennium Station
Nearly 3 out of 4 people in the DMA live in the suburbs, making Metra a vital part of the Chicago commute and making advertising on the Chicago commuter rail system’s trains, platforms, and stations a very effective way for businesses on either side of that commute – or national brands – to reach an expansive and affluent audience.

While that audience can generally be described as suburban professional, it’s the commute of choice for everyone from fresh-faced college grads to C-suite execs, partly because mass transit supports cities and sustainability, and partly because it’s easy to get work done on the train, but mostly because Chicagoans have one of the longest and costliest drive commutes in the nation (SOURCE: Chamber of Commerce, October 2023) and a return-to-office rate (55.9%) that outpaces the national average by 4.8% (SOURCE: Crain’s Chicago Business, Dec. 19, 2023). And while 94% of Metra’s ridership also travel in cars (SOURCE: Scarborough), many of them live in upscale areas like Glencoe or Kenilworth where billboards are few and far between, making Metra the primary way to reach them with out of home.

Chicago transit advertising opportunities on Metra fall into three categories: media at the stations, inside the trains, and on their exteriors. Let’s start with the stations.

Chicago Commuter Rail Advertising: Metra’s Stations

Metra is a hub-and-spoke system comprised of 242 stations along 11 rail lines that spread out from downtown Chicago. With passengers spending an average of 12 minutes waiting for their trains (SOURCE: Metra), brands gain quality time with these eyes on both ends of the trip.

For hyperlocal targeting, advertisers should focus on the spokes (i.e., the suburban stations), while mass awareness is best accomplished in the stations at the hub: the Ogilvie Transportation Center, serving passengers traveling north and west, Millennium Station, carrying commuters travel along the South Shore and into Indiana, and LaSalle Street Station, whose departures travel south and west to Joliet.

Advertising at commuter rail terminals is perfect for mass reach – and there’s no better way to achieve that than through a Station Domination, where a single brand takes over every media position in the location, fully surrounding and saturating commuters with a variety of static media such as one- and two-sheet posters, backlit dioramas, pole wraps, and floor graphics as well as digital out of home in landscape and portrait orientation. Dominations are also available at MetraMarket, the popular shopping and dining destination adjacent to the OTC and anchored by the iconic French Market.

Metra Dunkin' Station Domination at Ogilvie Transportation Center
Down the line, suburban stations allow brands to target a much more pinpointed audience – but local doesn’t have to mean small! Advertisers can go big here as well with Station Saturations, which are 100% ownership of all station media including static posters ranging from one-sheet to jumbo king. Saturations are a strong frequency play and they’re available at a majority of stations.

Chicago Commuter Rail Advertising: Train Interiors

The average length of a Metra commute is nearly 41 minutes – plenty of quality time with a captive audience (SOURCE: Metra). In-car advertising gives them something to look at along the way. Choose from vestibule cards to greet each passenger as they get on and off the train, or interior cards within the train cars.

Interior Cards are positioned overhead in seating areas, with a long horizontal format perfectly suited for brand storytelling and digital activation through QR code. And as part of the daily commute, they also deliver high frequency at a low cost.

Interior car card in a Metra train advertising McDonald's
For a more immersive transit advertising experience, there’s always the Brand Train, a full-car media takeover by a single advertiser.

Chicago Commuter Rail Advertising: Train Exteriors

Part of the challenge of advertising in the Chicago DMA is that many municipalities in the collar counties prohibit billboards. But what if the billboard was actually the side of a moving train?

We’ve saved the best for last: Train Exterior Wraps. Impactful and exciting, these oversized media reach not only commuters, but motorists stopped at crossings and pretty much everybody else the train passes.

Ultra Super King wrap from Target on a Metra commuter rail train
Wrap formats include the Ultra Super King (approximately the size of a standard poster-format billboard) as well as half-wraps, full-wraps, and even customs. They’re available on both the locomotives and passenger cars, and even better – they’re available systemwide. That means we can put your brand on every line, at every station, and everywhere in between.

So, there you have it! Metra, the tavern style of trains. If this sounds like a ride your brand wants to take, contact us. We just might even save you a slice.

Author: Jay Fenster, Marketing Manager @ OUTFRONT

Links to third-party content are not endorsed by OUTFRONT Media.