Red Line getting new comical advertisements

By Mick Swasko MCT Newswire

Riders on the Chicago Transit Authority Red Line are one step closer to seeing advertisements that feature pictures of goats and facts about squirrels. 

The Chicago Transit Project—the brainchild of Chicago comedian Ben Larrison—received full funding on his Kickstarter campaign that began on Sept. 5 and closed at 6 p.m. Sept. 10. The project aims to place roughly 100 quirky advertisements on Red Line trains with such zaniness as they suggestion that there are squirrels derived up as people on the trains. 

“I just like making people smile, I like making people happy,” said Larrison, 27, of Lakeview. “I know how tough it can be to take the train every day. It’s nice to have little things that can make you smile once in a while.”

The intent is also to insert humor in what Larrison says is a commuter’s daily routine of being bombarded by branded advertising.

“We can’t stop this advertising onslaught, but we can take back just a tiny little bit of what we see and make it super ridiculous and dumb,” Larrison wrote in the Kickstarter’s description. “I want to buy ad space in 100 CTA train cars so that I can put ridiculous stuff up and make our commutes more fun.”

The campaign was a second try for Larrison. The first funding campaign fell short of its $4,100 goal, but with encouragement from friends and folks who supported the original project, he decided to give it a second shot. 

Setting the funding period at just two weeks, Larrison said he thinks he created the sense of “urgency” for people to donate. Along with being included in Kickstarter’s newsletter as a featured project, he met his new goal of $3,999 at around 1 p.m. on Sept. 5.

“It happened really quickly,” he said. “I was extremely excited and kind of overwhelmed. It was such a blur of how quickly it took off.” 

To lure potential donors, Larrison offered equally quirky perks. For example, a $40 donation got a backer a print of a hand-drawn picture of a squirrel riding the CTA— an idea that drew in 17 buyers. For $15, he promised to put a note about the backer in a random RedEye box, drawing in nine people. 

Larrison even saw one donor snag the highest donation—$1,000—which promises to put the donor’s name on the actual advertisement pieces. 

Being a little off-the-wall is nothing new for Larrison. This June, he crowdfunded a campaign to have a slam-dunk contest with the WNBA’s Sheryl Swoopes. He also founded Northwestern’s Happiness Club, which built pop-up sandboxes on the university’s campus and brought in dogs to comfort those studying for finals week.

He was a cast member for ComedySportz’s “Improvised Double Dare.” Larrison’s next step will be reaching out to more than 90 donors, asking them to vote on their favorite idea for the campaign. 

He said he will also take suggestions from the donors about what they want to see. Currently, he is building a website for the ads that will feature the name of every donor. He hopes to have the ads done, approved and placed in two to four months. 

As of now, none of the designs or ideas are locked down, but Larrison said he has already reached out to the CTA’s advertising agency, Titan, to get quotes and information.

He also said he is aware of the CTA’s policy on advertising and said he is confident none of the ads will violate any rules. 

Reached for comment, a CTA spokeswoman said the agency could not comment on ads they have not seen, but said they will be reviewed just like any other ad that is proposed for trains.

Ultimately, the CTA has final approval. In general, the CTA does have guidelines for advertising. They include prohibiting ads that are political in nature, legally obscene, sexually explicit, depict nudity or portray graphic violence. They cannot be disparaging, discriminatory or incite lawless or illegal action. 

Larrison said he has read the guidelines “up and down” and said he does not think an ad featuring squirrel facts will be an issue. 

“All of these things are basically just creating an atmosphere or moment of joy,” he said. “I can’t see it being an issue.”