The 1980s were a gloriously excessive period for commercializing Toronto, as new and old institutions sexed themselves up and marketed their vibrancy with big, lush broad neon strokes that proclaimed we were a world class city, and dammit we were proud of it. The TTC got in on the act with a variety of amusing TV commercials that spanned the decade and put to shame almost all of their marketing adventures since.
In early 1982 the TTC began running “The Better Way” campaign, which used minor celebrities like Vic Cummings (who at the time played a peripheral part on soapy juggernaut The Young & The Restless, hilariously tagged here as a “soap opera broadcaster”), piano wizard Hagood Hardy and consumer advocate Lynne Gordon to espouse the no-brainer advantages of using public transport in a busy city. These spots introduced sterling TTC slogan “The Better Way” into the public consciousness, where it has remained and today still serves as a glass jaw for those wishing to heap any kind of ridicule onto the TTC.
TTC student cards and fairness was the subject of this 1983 TV spot, featuring two actors (Michael Dwyer and Lydia Zajc) from TVOntario’s then contemporary Sci-Fi edutainment spook show Read All About It!, which many younger viewers were familiar with thanks to in-class curriculum screenings. Young heartbreaker Zajc’s appearance created a (false) hope amongst her adolescent fan base that one might actually bump into her while riding the TTC, natch. The voice over work here was done by none other than Toronto Rocks host and golden throated CHUM radio legend John Majhor.
“Toronto’s Entertainment Network” campaign appeared in the mid-80s encompassing print, radio and TV, tying transit service to Toronto’s many vaunted cultural hot spots (CN Tower, Chinatown, Science Centre, beef that’s rare, even). The memorable jingle still brings a smile (“we got friends to see, all on the TTC”), and for a while anyway the ultra-positive messaging resonated with the city.
The apex of gussy and glossy ’80s style can be viewed in the “Metro Moves on TTC” spots from 1987, which seem to have been produced, directed and performed by a friendly neighborhood avant-garde theatre troupe. Another boppy jingle, this time focusing on TTC drivers as well as passengers (“Time to go, got a job to do, we’re on a roll, Metro moves on TTC…”) and not a million miles away from the current ATU Local 113 campaign which ruffled so many feathers recently (although granted those don’t feature headbands or shoulder pads). These spots ended with what would become the TTC’s tagline for the remainder of the decade – “We’ve Got A Good Thing Going”, and with these commercials they undeniably did.
With a light touch and voice work from the ubiquitous Don Lake, the “We’ve Got A Good Thing Going” spots were reminiscent of “Toronto’s Entertainment Network”, once again equating the service with having a social life, and getting great deals on shoes. Trainspotters will note the subway car used here is an H5 with original seats, and marvel at the sound of the old-school whistle from a time before the three note chime alerted riders the doors were closing.
As the decade closed out, so did apparently the TTC’s investment in imagination when it came to marketing their crumbling service. “A Fare That Moves You” premiered in early 1990 and was a classy ode to foreign films which probably broke the bank and resulted in the dearth of TTC commercials in the years that followed (The ill-fated “Ride the Rocket” campaign debuted in the late 1990s). Still, gotta love that they went out on a romantic high note like this, even if it has all the grace of a pig adorned with lipstick.
With even more grumbling about fare increases, cancelled bus routes, delays, 501 Queen streetcars becoming as rare as Giant Pandas, rude and hygienically challenged passengers, even more delays and bold but schizophrenic plans which seemingly never come to pass, the TTC could sure benefit from some positive and fun messaging these days. These commercials highlight an era when the TTC brand was something Torontonians were proud of, and it was not out of the ordinary to see people wearing sweaters, shirts or baseball hats embossed with the TTC logo on them (Could you imagine wearing that now? You’d be in danger of a beat down at the hands of Def-Con 4 level furious denizens awaiting lost-in-the-ether 501 Queen streetcars).
The TTC store at Union closed down over 2 years ago, and there seems to have been no attempt at making merchandising hay from “The Better Way” in the lucrative style that London or New York does (New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority pulls in $60,000 annually marketing everything from dinner mats to cufflinks.
We can only hope that maybe one day when other wounds have healed, the TTC may wish to revisit some of the marketing magic that brought us so much merriment in the 1980s and bigged the rep of the better way – “Toronto’s Entertainment Network”.
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