First cities, now transit being glamorized in commercial media

Cities have long suffered from a perception problem, a problem that still exists in many cities today.  The perception has been of overcrowded, polluted, crime-ridden places with poor schools thus affirming the beliefs of those who fled the cities decades ago in search of greener pastures.  But as we enter the second decade of the 21st Century, are those perceptions finally changing for the better?

Many urbanists believe the change began in the 1990’s with hit television shows like Seinfeld, Sex and the City, and Friends that glamorized city living.  Today, even the casual television observer can not avoid the pro-city imagery portrayed in virtually every single product type commercial.  The effect is even more profound in television shows and movies where young people, families and elderly alike are often portrayed in city atmospheres.

In this 2009 commercial for Nissan Cube, the ad is trying to appeal to young professionals and does so with a catchy, urban spot.  The young people in this commercial not only are out partying in the city, but they pick up their grocery needs and head to a house party all with an urban focus.

But living and partying in the city is not necessarily the challenge American cities are facing today.  Instead cities are looking to incorporate transit options like streetcars, commuter rail, and high-speed rail to better connect the people living with urban areas with one another.  Until now, this has been topic left untouched by mainstream commercial media outside of the movie industry.

AT&T is currently running a television commercial that features a love story in reverse that was all made possible by an impromptu train ticket purchase on the man’s smart phone.

This is important because the brief love story is made up of all relatable acts – going to the movies, getting married, having a child and that child presumably achieving success – all dependent on the train ride where love first blossomed.

As trains become more prevalent across the United States, this imagery is certain to become more common.  If you have yet to notice this trend in commercial media, just look around.  Cars, telephones, food/drink, fashion, and even credit cards are all banking on the trend back towards the city, and by the looks of it, it appears that the pendulum may soon be swinging the same way for rail transit as well.

  • Nate

    I LOVE the second one. ooh, If I were that woman and that man got on the train for me… *blush*

  • AT&T is also airing another one with the song from Charlie & The Chocolate Factory with the guy in a suit sitting on a bench and all the cartoon’s running amok in the city. They portray the city positively in that as well with a cyclists running through a city street and the crayon train running right in traffic. It’s not 100% in the same spirit as the two you posted about here, but the someone who designed the commercial obviously “gets it” when it comes to cities.

  • Nate:

    I love that commercial too. It’s very well done and tells a story most can relate to…aside from the child becoming president thing. I think we have all been, or will be, in a situation where we encounter that love at first sight phenomenon, so it really hits home.


    That’s interesting, I have yet to see that commercial. I will try looking it up later to see what you are talking about, but it does seem certain that the companies going after the generations taking over from the Baby Boomers are starting to get it in this sense.

  • Great, thanks.

  • It’s interesting because it seems like most car commercials use one of two backdrops — dense, modern cities or wide-open rural highways. Notably absent are suburbs, “lifestyle centers” and strip malls, and crowded arterial streets.

  • Great post Randy. If you look at TV sitcoms in the 80’s and early 90’s, almost all were about families living in the suburbs, with a few notable exceptions (Cosby). Seinfeld really started to popularize the idea of living in the city on television, Friends made it mainstream, and Sex and the City glamorized it. Today most sitcoms are set in the city with a few notable exceptions (Modern Family). This is certainly a reflection of where our society is and where it’s headed.

  • Good points. A few couple other city-centric shows that I remember watching as reruns when I was a kid are All in the Family and Good Times. When I think back to the sitcoms I used to watch, to me, their settings were always really important, even though they really had nothing to do with the characters or situations. Mr. Belvedere was set in Pittsburgh, Family Ties was [I think] Columbus, etc. To me, these shows somehow serves as introductions to these cities, even though there was really nothing city-specific about them.

  • You’re right, there were lots of shows. Growing up I remember most being set in the city: Family Matters, Full House and The Cosby Show being some of the most notable.