The TTC As An Arbiter of Morality and Good Taste

Much has been made in the press recently about a certain Internet dating service that encourages people to have affairs.  They managed to get lots of free publicity with a proposed total wrap of streetcars, but the TTC’s advertising review panel (a subset of the full Commission) turned them down claiming that encouraging adultery is just plain wrong.

Whether the TTC likes it or not, adultery is legal as is the provision of a “dating service” to hook up would-be partners.  This would not be the first such service to advertise on the TTC.  LavaLife ran ads in subway cars, and there are dating service posters in some subway stations.  Somehow, I doubt that everyone using these services tells their spouse/partner what they are doing.

Subway ads are running right now for the movie “It’s Complicated” whose plot involves a love triangle between a woman, her ex, and her new boyfriend.  The posters include a tasteful view of Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in bed.  I don’t know whether their characters are married at the point in the film where this scene occurs, but that’s hardly the point.  If the TTC is going to start censoring ads based on behaviour that is legal, they will have to be consistent.

Many people feel that lottos and booze simply involve addictive, anti-social behaviour and encourage people to spend money they don’t have.  Should these ads be banned?

On the good taste front, anyone who has visited Bloor Station recently will know that the station identity is almost completely masked in large places by a campaign for Amex.  It’s an odd coincidence that the TTC will be considering a report about the proposed renaming of Dupont Station as “Casa Loma” which contains the following observation:

TTC subway stations are, first and foremost, transportation facilities, not advertising vehicles. As people travel through our system, they need to know where they are geographically, in the context of the roads and neighbourhoods within Toronto. The names of subway stations are selected to give the clearest possible information to customers as they travel on the TTC.

Someone at the TTC should tell their ad agency that disguising a subway station to the point it is unrecognizable is unacceptable.  Count this post as the first of five complaints needed to launch a review of Amex’s adverising.  Four more shouldn’t be hard to find, and mine might not even be the first.

Footnote:  If you are going to comment, do not use the words starting with “g” that refer to games of chance.  Your session will be blacklisted by the spam filter.

29 thoughts on “The TTC As An Arbiter of Morality and Good Taste

  1. I seem to recall an ad that said that God does not exist.
    And another encouraging people to go to a place to “get to know” one another.
    Multiple dating advertisements.
    Ads with the “G” word
    Condom ads
    While we are at it…
    Ads for homosexual relations (some cavemen-types still think this is ‘wrong’)
    Ads to get your flu shot (some tinfoil hat type think that vaccines are evil or some BS)
    Ads about how slow the bus that is wrapped is
    Ads about a political candidate for office who wishes to “thank” me for riding the TTC
    Ads with the unclothed back of a woman selling skin lotion
    Ads with people looking “beat up” telling people about shelters

    And yet before now, the only other ad I recall being controversial, is one where a radio was about to leap to it’s death at Sheppard-Yonge station.

    We need to make up our minds what “values” we have, or, decide we have none and let all these ads through.

    Slippery slope, yadda yadda etc.

    Steve: A minor correction: The ad suggested that God may not exist, but left the decision up to the reader.


  2. I remember almost 30 years ago the big fuss over the Dolly Parton movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”. The poster was shown in subway stations, sans title. Toronto was so funny back then: g-string By Laws; Rosemary Brown and the Ontario censorship board; bathouse raids; and even no liquor after 10 pm on Sundays, IF you could find a bar or restaurant open after 10 pm on Sundays.

    Steve: Many things in that list were “funny”, but not the raids. That was the start of Gay Pride in Toronto and the long battle for the queer communities to be accepted as part of the city. The Chief of Police and Mayor did not march in the early parades.


  3. Let’s stop worrying about Metropass free riding and more about advertising free riding. Scotiabank is getting free advertising connected to Nuit Blanche on at least one subway car, for instance. How many generic non-dated ads end up being posted far longer than their paid period?


  4. I used to do work in the online dating industry. The business in question, as a matter of routine, chooses to go after free publicity by seeking advertising in media that they know will turn them down and will result in media stories.

    It’s too bad the City and its newspapers fell for it by deeming it worthy of consideration or reporting, but hey. That’s the news business.

    Well done, Darren!


  5. Apparently, the free publicity that the company in question got, had increased business for them. Didn’t have to spend the money on advertising. Just like product placement in movies, or in the background of news reports.


  6. Does anyone remember the ad by the Royal Ontario Museum for their snake display. The ad was a long snake that took up most of one side of a subway car, nicely back lit. I believe that it had to be pulled because of complaints people with a snake phobia. I am waiting for Trojan to decide that a new 28 m long LRV would make a great condom ad; I can see it now.

    Steve: The snake problem was specific to the mother of a former Chief General Manager who shall remain nameless.


  7. There’s nothing wrong with TTC making ethical judgements; I applaud their attempts to do so. I will never understand the slippery slope argument. Why should a bad thing be justified by another bad thing? Because past advertisements have been ethically questionable, the TTC should accept more ethically questionable advertisements? Two wrongs don’t make a right. It’s not okay to do something bad just because it’s been done before.

    Furthermore, Lava Life is very different from the affair-oriented service from which the controversy stems. Lave Life is directed at singles, while the other is for partnered people. Those are extremely different things, and that’s where the controversy lies.

    Steve: If you believe that Lava Life only deals with singles, you are living on the wrong planet. One of the options within their menu is for people who are attached but looking for a fling.

    In either case, the activity in question by both the company and the people answering the ads is legal. If the TTC is going to ban ads for legal activity, then they need a consistent yardstick. The problem with this one seems to be that one company wanted really big, in your face ads. If they had opted for a quiet, discrete ad in black and white, I don’t think the TTC would have said a word.


  8. So this ‘dating website’ just got a hell of a lot of free publicity for this aborted ad campaign. Everyone I’ve spoken to in the past few days had heard of it.

    And they did it without the TTC keeping a dime.

    I think the TTC should move to a complaints based model for advertising, if they feel the need to censor at all.

    Take The Money First!

    Then take it down. Keep said money as part of the agreement.

    The Ashley Madison people used you, Giambrone!


  9. Perhaps I’m just blind … I changed twice at Bloor-Yonge yesterday, and once about a week ago, and failed to notice the AMEx advertising campaign …

    And I’m mystified by what word starts with a G that would trigger a spam filter, as the one that jumps to mind is so generic that no competent person would ever use it as a trigger …

    What I have noticed of late, is the almost complete lack of subway maps in Bloor-Danforth trains. Perhaps TTC should more more concerned about that, than worrying about the free advertising they’ve been given to a company that is prositituting the TTC.

    Steve: Large parts of the wall of Bloor Station (as well as many columns) are covered with a black background and a very busy set of graphics that make finding the actual station name very difficult. It also completely changes the colour of the station for anyone who’s looking for something familiar. Similar treatments can be found at College and at King, but not quite as overwhelming. However, many of the station names (especially on the strapline at the top of the wall) and covered over.

    I too have noticed the absence of route maps.


  10. Steve said … “Whether the TTC likes it or not, adultery is legal …”

    It wasn’t in the olden days. TWIXT.

    Steve: Sigh. And I could have been expelled from High School for bringing in a copy of “Catcher in the Rye”. The point is that these are not the “olden days”.


  11. Scott Watkins said: “I think the TTC should move to a complaints based model for advertising, if they feel the need to censor at all.”

    That is just a recipe for the censoring of minority opinions and people by the majority (or more likely by an other minority who are louder and better organized.)


  12. I think the TTC has run several ad campaigns for the zoo in the past and having numerous partners is somewhat reflective of a wild kingdom…so if the zoo can advertise, than why not?


  13. One thing that I found interesting was that the Ashley Madison folks were trying to spin this as being much-needed revenue for the cash-strapped TTC.

    It has been demonstrated previously that total advertising revenue makes up a minute amount of the TTC’s annual revenue — equivalent to about 5 cents per ride. Some have used this figure to advocate a total elimination of advertising, made up by a nickel fare increase. I would certainly not go that far, but the figures certainly do show that Ashley Madison (or any other similar campaign) would be a drop in the bucket, even at a six-figure level.


  14. Pat Noonan said: “That is just a recipe for the censoring of minority opinions and people by the majority (or more likely by an other minority who are louder and better organized.)”

    For the record, I’m against censorship in any form, no matter how asinine the content. But if the TTC, a public agency, feels the need to do it, they should do it on the basis of actual complaints, not their own opinions. Frankly, unless it’s prohibited speech (hate speech, for example) they should just let it ride, in my opinion.

    And they should take the money.


  15. Steve: Sigh. And I could have been expelled from High School for bringing in a copy of “Catcher in the Rye”. The point is that these are not the “olden days”.

    You are lucky. I had to read Catcher In the Rye and I know that I am about a year and half older than you. I must have gone to a more enlightened high school. Of all the books that I had to read in high school the only ones I have ever enjoyed again are plays by Shakespeare and Shaw, oh an Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic Wars but in English this time. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Nemo me impune lacessit. Humptus Dumptus in muro sedit.


  16. TTC should be more defiant about the matter, and point out that they are not obliged to accept ANY adverts on their property, so they should be free to pick and choose on any criteria they want, including “We just don’t like this advert”. No-one had lost out here by not being able to advertise on TTC property.

    On games of chacce: I do wish that adverts for such matters would not using the word starting with “game”, and instead use the word starting with “gam” (followed by “bl”). It feels like they are trying to equate risking your money with a game of chess.

    Alternative TTC strategy: have a policy whereby they accept everything vaguely legal, but if they get a certain number of complaints, then the adverts gets pulled AND the TTC keeps the money. That way, the risk over what will be deemed “acceptable” by the public would fall on the advertiser.

    Steve: The ads for OLGC suggest that people can live out their dreams by patronizing the lottos. Technically true, but the stock market is probably a more certain return.


  17. I particularly dislike advertising placed on stair risers. I think that BMO has a bunch of stairs at Queen. It’s visually distracting (kind of the point) and can cause people to misstep and trip.

    Some would-be-clever marketer obviously figures that stair risers are at eye level when ascending, so can’t be ignored. What they do ignore are the safety issues.


  18. With all this talk about fares being increased and budget shortfalls, who cares if it’s a fling site. Show me the cash and you have the streetcar. The cash is a drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop more then we had before. Ask the taxpayer if they have to pay a little more for their values, nine times out of ten they will say no. Besides that if someone is happy with who they are with they won’t cheat anyway, so who cares. They got their free advertising, who freaked out first? Global TV or the Sun?


  19. “As people travel through our system, they need to know where they are geographically, in the context of the roads and neighbourhoods within Toronto. The names of subway stations are selected to give the clearest possible information to customers as they travel on the TTC.”

    I guess this policy came into effect after building the University Subway line. St. Andrew and St. Patrick have no significance to me (though I suppose they are named after nearby churches). Osgoode Hall and Queen’s Park might have some use to me.. but for anyone visiting or unfamiliar with the city, I don’t think they’d be much help.

    Why weren’t they named “King West”, “Queen West”, etc? Also, when stations are on two different lines (like Dundas and Dundas West) Can they not both just be named Dundas, or would that be too confusing? As long as they’re on separate lines it doesn’t seem to be a big problem. NYC has five(!) 23rd Street stations on separate routes. Then again, NYC doesn’t have meandering streets like Dundas.

    Steve: St. Andrew and St. Patrick are old names of wards in the city (some of these live on in electoral riding names), and there is a St. Patrick Street (but it runs from Queen north to beyond Dundas through the old ward). I have no problem with names like “Queen’s Park” as this is a significant place, rather like “Times Square”; “Osgoode” is in a gray area, but in the late 50s when the name was chosen, the law courts were the only substantial building other than the Canada Life tower. (Also, the current Opera House was occupied by the Supreme Court of Ontario.) The Arnoury was further north, and if we had called the station at Dundas after it, people would be hunting high and low to find the long-gone building.

    Having two Dundas Stations would bring no end of problems. Imagine sending someone to Dundas Station (for whatever reason) and having them go to the wrong one. At best, we might have “Bloor-Dundas” and “Yonge-Dundas” as the station names. “Dundas West” could also have been “Roncesvalles” except that this street ends a few blocks south of Bloor.

    The BD line has two amusing stations: Bay (Yorkville) and Main Street. The original name for Bay Station was “Yorkville”, but by the time the line was close to opening, this area had become hippy central and the area of much bad publicity. Suburban visitors drove through on weekends with their windows rolled up for fear of contamination. Now it’s full of condos, and the “Yorkville” subheading remains in the station. “Main Street” was originally in the Village of East Toronto, and to avoid confusing tourists who could mistake it for the main drag of our great city, the word “Street” was added, although how exactly this makes a difference, I don’t know. Also, “Christie” station’s original name was to be “Willowvale”, a slightly tonier name for the park nearby than “Christie Pits”.

    On the Yonge northern extension, the station at York Mills was originally to be called “Hogg’s Hollow”, and would even have been a terminal for a time. In the tug of war between Wilson and York Mills, the latter won out in anticipation, I believe, of a Wilson Station on the Spadina subway.

    There will always be oddities in station naming, but we don’t need to create new ones to soothe the troubled egos of the folks at our castle on the hill.


  20. Censorship always entails the bias of the censor. This means that one day they are turning down ad advert for a dating site, on moral grounds the next they are turning down an advert for a church group lest someone be offended by it’s moral stance. Look at the number of councillors at city hall that got offended by the nativity scene at Old City Hall for example, because the sponsor a Roman Catholic church based pro-life group dared to identify themselves.

    Does seeing an advert for the dating site make you want to go out and cheat on your spouse? If it does then I suggest there are bigger problems in the relationship then an advert on a streetcar.

    A bigger issue for the TTC advertising is something that seems to be ignored in some of the station adverts and that is safety. The function and identification of a station is a primary function of it’s use, and when they have adverts that make it hard to identify or use a station, then it becomes a safety issue. I’ve seen floor ads that were almost as slippery to cross when wet as ice, and that makes the station less useful.

    Steve: It is also immensely confusing for those with limited vision.


  21. As clumsy as the “Sheppard-Yonge” naming style is, it’s clear. I once heard British tourists debating whether they should go to Dundas West station for the AGO since it was on Dundas Street West. Can’t blame them for thinking that way, since most of London’s major streets change their names every couple of km; if you get off the tube or subway at the wrong end of Oxford Street, it’s only a short walk from where you were trying to go. Not so much with Dundas.

    Super nit-picky comment: if the current Opera House was occupied by the Supreme Court of Ontario in the 50s, they deserve full credit for very forward-looking architecture!

    Steve: The space was occupied by the courthouse, and then by a parking lot for quite some time. The Opera House is, of course, brand new.


  22. I would like to state for the record that I would make a complain if I saw Ashley Madison. I find it offensive. Any of you might find it “ok” about what Ashley Madison do, fine it is your right. I don’t find it “ok”.

    Steve’s right to freedom of expression (we don’t have freedom of speech in Canada) end where mine (or anyone else’s) begins.

    I found that ad questioning G to be offensive, I am more religious than others but I respect the fact that other people are not as religious as me, or even other religion.

    There is an ad where some clinic can help older gentlemen get their groove back on … I also find that to have bad taste … I don’t want my younger siblings/nieces/nephews to see that ad.

    On the other side, I have been de-sensitzed due to watching too much Jerry Springer. I don’t know if you Steve (or anyone else reading this) has noticed that you can say all swear/bad words on tv with the exception of the F word.

    We have to strike a balance of all sides. The personal views of the “censor” team at the TTC does affect their decisions.

    Would I want to see one side of those top ads on a subway train to be a condom? (the whole side) … I wouldn’t care but I am sure someone would be offended. Would you want your kid sister/brother to read an ad about condoms at the age of 7 or 8?


  23. In a society where almost anything goes, cheating on one’s spouse is one of the things that most people still agree is wrong. Maybe it’s that they don’t want to be the victim of a betrayal.

    Not everything that is legal is right or socially inoffensive.


  24. I just wanted to say the “Hogg’s Hollow” would have been a much better name than “York Mills” (and saved me constantly getting it mixed up with Yorkdale).


  25. Heard on the subway from a young voice – “Mummy, what’s a prostitute?”

    (Needless to say all conversation on the car stopped immediately to hear what the answer would be)

    The cue? A Covenant House ad.

    Some things are offensive, some things are just awkward or embarrassing or unsettling. The latter must not be confused for the former by public agencies.

    I think the TTC was right to refuse on this occasion, because in its subsequent “offer” of 25c off the fare on streetcars running the ad the company concerned was plainly looking to keep a bout of free advertising going. That’s probably not a principled view on my part but the company did not have the public interest at heart in its dealings, so too bad for them.

    Steve: I will agree that the whole “fare freeze” tactic was pure BS, and at that point the TTC had every right to tell would-be advertiser to get lost. However, I still disagree with the original decision on the grounds that the TTC is (a) inconsistent and (b) treading on dangerous ethical grounds.


  26. It seems that the deciding factor is the blatancy of the “dating” site’s single purpose – adultery. “Dating” sites with multiple purposes that keep adultery relatively discreet are a different species, it seems the TTC believes.

    And who can forget the “controversial” ads for the Steamworks?


  27. Freedom of speech goes both ways. Ashley Madison, or any company, has the right to produce a controversial ad campaign. Likewise, the TTC has the right not to carry it if it so wishes. I also don’t see this as censorship, as there are still many other print options AM can advertise with.

    On a personal note, I do wish the TTC would hold up higher standards for the ads it displays. I’m not for censorship, but some of the ads displayed would only be shown on late night cable programing. Not only are families with young children being exposed to these ads, but some of us want to get to our destination without being bombarded with ads that try to offend and push the envelope any way that they can.

    Steve: As a public agency, the TTC has a duty both to respect the sensitivities of its riders but also a duty to exercise whatever policies it might concoct in a uniform, sensible manner. My concern is with the inconsistency of saying “an ad for adultery sends a bad message” when the TTC carries other ads for legal pursuits, even if they are not necessarily savoury to all.


  28. Sorry, Steve, but I do disagree with you on this one, although it is a mild disagreement.

    I do feel there is a difference between this ad and all the others that were mentioned.

    First of all, this ad promotes an act that is likely to directly threaten marriage. My best guess is that a large majority of Canadians consider marriage to be of great importance; a majority including most of the adherents of every major religion, as well as a large number of people who are not religious.

    Secondly, even if you do not believe in the ‘sanctity of marriage’, the marriage vows usually contain a promise to be faithful (at least implicitly). With this ad, they are telling people to break their oath, an act that is fairly universally considered to be wrong.

    Also, note that this is the only ad that promotes an activity that is generally considered to be wrong. Most people to not consider drinking or g-word to be in and of themselves immoral, only dangerous; and only immoral if taken to extremes.

    LavaLife may permit and even facilitate affairs, but that is not the primary purpose and, perhaps more important from the TTC’s point of view, the AD did not promote this type of activity, any more than alcohol ads promote becoming an alcoholic.

    As a final note, I think it is possible that the size of the ad may have played a part in the decision. They may well have felt that turning one of their vehicles into a travelling advertisement creates a link or even an impression of approval that merely slipping a poster into a slot does not.

    I do feel that the rejection of this ad has a validity that, for example, the rejection of the ‘God is Probably Dead’ or the various other ads mentioned would not have had .

    P.S. This was composed on the 14th, but I have been unable to access your site since then (‘taking to long to reapond’ timeout errors).


  29. I take your point Steve, about the TTC’s inconsistency in ads they accept. That being said, I find the idea of a wrap-around Ashley Madison ad to be really distasteful. Adultery may not be illegal, but Ashley Madison is in the business of promoting an activity that most people would agree is detrimental to the fabric of society, and I think that is where the difference lies. Other ads the TTC accepts can be offensive to some segments of the public, but most people find Ashley Madison to be offensive on a much different level.

    Steve: I agree that there is a question of degree, as it affects “generally accepted standards”, but within my lifetime, lotteries were illegal, and you couldn’t drink booze anywhere people could actually see you doing it. We have had the issue of whether the TTC would accept an ad posing the possibility of the lack of existence of a diety, and I’m still amazed that some of the gay-themed ads (one for a bathhouse) get through.

    There have been debates at City Council where some members argue that the City should not fund safer sex education and prevention as a matter of public health. There is always the question of whose “standards” one accepts, and what I see what some folks in this town are capable of, I don’t want any opportunity for them to tell me what I can or cannot do, read, hear or see.


Comments are closed.