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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Bus Advertising

The appearance of a new external marketing agency promoting advertising on Blackpool's buses prompts me to press the recall button to 1956 when Blackpool's Transport Committee was forced to approve external advertising on the town's trams and buses. Like many municipal transport undertakings (Manchester springs to mind) there was a civic reluctance to allow commercialism to spoil the elegance of public service vehicles in local liveries and bearing a coat of arms.

Blackpool was one such town which dispensed with advertising on its trams after the Great War - such were the profits filling Corporation exchequer coffers from the ever increasing ridership. After taking over the Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad Company fleet of trams in 1919 - the extant advertising extolling sausages, remedies and other essentials of the period were allowed to complete their contracts before Corporation painters obliterated them forever in a rebranding of the company's forty one trams.

It was not until the mid 1950s when Blackpool's Transport finances were struggling with increased overhead and interest on the post-war purchases of both buses and trams - that the Council reluctantly agreed to invite tenders from advertising agencies. In fact only twenty seven trams out of 160 were suitable for this purpose. The 'balloon' cars providing impactive space mostly year round. The single deck fleet had no suitable panels on which besport this or that commercial product. The buses were the reverse with only a handful of single deck vehicles amid a similarly large fleet; although only the postwar delivery (201 - 300) and the subsequent rear platform arrivals 301 - 350 gave year round surety to commercial sponsors. Below : Handpainted signage on a hastily repainted Balloon car with its mid decks repainted cream to from dark green to permit new advertising contracts on these cars in the late 1950s. This is Lytham Road at Station Road stop for the curious. Image : John Woodman

A directive from the Council required all advertising to be tastefully painted as opposed to having posters plastered on the vehicle exteriors. This created a mini paintshop department devoted to diverse renderings - sometime of a very small scale on the rear of the new deliveries from 1957. Cowan Advertising was contracted to handle the advertising sales providing the Department with an annual percentage or commission presumably after costs of painters were deducted. The same company was responsible for Sheffield's similar advertising contract, as well as other systems including I believe Edinburgh and Dundee which were still running trams at the time.

Newly delivered 315 outside the Odeon cinema on the 15A Service to Victoria Hospital from Bispham complete with Duradio Enamel Paint advertising - handpainted on its mid deck panels. An Inspector and tram driver of the 'Brush' car just in view which is short turning on the crossover installed originally at this point to avoid the stub track terminus a few yards further south outside North Station (the original one)... Image John Woodman

Of course in time the niceties of painted displays morphed into more economic paper posters and eventually into the ungainly all-over advertising sponsorship which became a blight on the tram fleet in particular. An effort to gain revenue from the single deck trams involved adding large 'boxlike' structures on the saloon roofs with even worse impact on the overall image of the tramway in particular. It is reputed that the extra weight of these obtrusive add-ons further added stress to the OMO car bodies in particular with consequent results visible to the public and staff alike.

Below : Cigarette Advertising tops the trams - Embassy rules....

Today commercial vehicle advertising takes on many impactive variants including on railway rolling stock. The 'T' shaped advertising so beloved of commercial firms is now firmly rooted on double deck vehicles with external frames specifically easing the work of staff in adding and removing campaigns for this or that new film or video release. The advent of vinyls taking over from painters and paper totally reformatted the value of commercial advertising on Blackpool's trams - with inevitable intrusion on passenger 'comfort' by intrusion on vehicle windows. Not a good idea when encouraging visitors to ride the trams to 'see the Lights' each autumn.

Above : an OMO car with its disfiguring rooftop advertising boxes which did nothing to aid the bodywork structure - already extended at both ends. Note also the experimental single arm pantograph trialled on a number of trams before the standard diamond design was adopted. Image : John Woodman

Ever more ambitious sponsorship of course gave us the Post Office Tram, the Daily Mirror Tram, the Walls Ice Cream Servery tram, the Michelin Man tram - and even the Kit Kat tram among many familiar brands jostling for mobile exposure on Blackpool's famous tramway. The buses remained less popular until withdrawal of the 'Balloon' cars from regular service and the need for a replacing high visibility vehicle. So the town's main attractions turned their attention to all-over vinyl wraps on selected double deck buses from 2011 - a sort of what one loses on the swings, one gains on the roundabouts balance at Rigby Road. Today we are exorted to 'love our buses' in a non commercial initiative of the transport company, with similar encouraging displays on the rear of the 'Trident' double deck fleet. This has been tried before of course with large images applied to some (not all) of the Trident deliveries when new - featuring named members of the public 'I'm riding the bus' by way of encouraging more takers preumably. That ridership is up is not now in doubt; especially with the higher quality and accoutrements of the latest vehicles taking over principal services. We have yet to see an ADL Enviro400 vehicle encased in all over commercial advertising but no doubt this will emerge in time, just as the Flexity fleet now boasts similar sponsorship for Fleetwood Freeport much to the vexation of passengers.

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