Public transport

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Marketing the Rainbow

Case study: public transport

Branche: Travel


Public transport is just that: it transports public, and it is often semi-governmental and non-profit (or making subsidized losses). Also, direct competition is limited - unless you count Uber as such. So why would a public transport company target any group, let alone the rainbow demographic?


Research on more than one occasion has found that LGBT people fear for their safety on public transport - be it in Europe or the USA. In London, 40% of LGBT people who participated in a survey avoided using public transport because of fear of or actual assault. In a 2012 European Union survey 50% of LGBT said they avoid certain places or locations, and among the places they listed as most unsafe to be open about their sexual orientations was "public transport".


In 2015, the Diversity Council of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) decided to create a task force to develop criteria, based on the HRC Equality Index, for members to use as a guide to "better highlight LGBT inclusion, contributions, and needs, to create best practices and to develop research on the LGBT community and it’s interactions with public transportation". Starting with their own staff.


One could say that Marketing the Rainbow in public transport serves two purposes: ensure LGBT travellers of a safe environment, and support the community. Let's look at a few examples.



US railroad company Amtrak launched an all-inclusive advertising campaign in 2012, drawing praise in LGBT blogosphere. The "Ride With Pride" campaign depicts two same-sex couples with children, while directing users to a unique, gay-friendly site featuring vacation packages for Martha's Vineyard and Lake Placid, N.Y., among other popular destinations.


Towleroad, Instinct magazine and MetroWeekly were just three of the numerous media outlets to feature the ads. "At Amtrak, diversity is not just a corporate buzzword, it's a priority," the company notes on the site. "We understand that valuing diversity is not only a good thing to do, but a business necessity beyond compliance that plays a vital role in customer service delivery and ultimately the success of our operations."


The campaign got praise from LGBT groups, but objections from conservatives, "seeing as the company is tax-payer funded". There was even a debate on the subject on CNN. The special Ride With Pride website in the meantime redirects to a more general


In July 2016, Amtrak had a competition where you could win a trip on their “Starlight Honeymoon Train”, which was aimed at the LGBT community. Their website stated: “Amtrak continues its support of the LGBTQ community by celebrating marriage equality and pride all year ’round. We’ve teamed up with the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) to bring you the Honeymoon Train on the Coast Starlight. It features roomette service for two and will travel from Seattle to the San Francisco Bay Area. Don’t miss out on this prize package, which includes a complimentary one-night stay at the Seattle Sheraton.”

BART San Francisco

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) has showed support for the community for over a decade, not just by starting early and closing later, by increasing the amount and length of trains to accomodate the masses attending San Francisco Pride, and partnering with the organisation, but even by participating in the parade. "BART wishes everyone attending a safe and happy weekend, and celebrates our region’s diversity alongside riders."



In Europe, Thalys launched a campaign in March 2013, showing two (obvious gay) men as one of a series of billboards. Paradoxically, the campaign had only launched for a couple of days when a little scandal arose. Two women kissing each other goodbye on a platform in Paris were told by an employee of Thalys that they should not do so - in fact he said that it’s OK for straight couples to kiss on the platform, but not two women. When this was reported to the company, they failed to respond. An online campaign by All Out quickly garnered 60,000 signatures, after which Thalys’ CEO committed to improve how it trains its staff. They said they would even use the unfortunate event of homophobia in future equality trainings.


Thalys had previously proven to be on the gay track by participating in Amsterdam Pride, and even being main sponsor.


Deutsche Bahn

In June 2016, Germany’s Deutsch Bahn (DB) used a gay couple in an ad celebrating 25 years of ICE-service, with the tagline “Connects more than A and B”. And not just gay: one of them proves to be a football player - just in time for the Euro 2016 championship. Only subtle hints on the relationship are dropped at first, but as the ad progresses it becomes clear that they are lovers. With this storyline, DB tackled two hot topics in one go: also about gay soccer stars coming out. At a certain point in the commercial, the fan appears to be “rooting for the wrong team”, another subtle joke. In the final scene there is a firm hug (no kiss - but LGBT Germany called it "a hug that may just melt your heart"), after which the two walk away hand in hand in the station. German tabloid BILD described the advert as “taboo-breaking”.


DB wrote: "For the ICE’s 25th birthday,we want to show how it connects more than train stations and cities. Those we welcome on board our trains as customers reflect our society. Whether black or white, young or old, scientists, bankers, crane operators, or unemployed, footballers and musician , gay, lesbian or heterosexual.” Reactions were mixed, critics pointing out that DB has not been known for either innovation, nor reliability, but certainly not for "progressive messages". Most reactions called the clip "heartwarming" though.


Germany is still one of the last vestiges in Europe where same-sex marriage is not possible, although it was the first to have a professional footbal player coming out.



"Copenhagen is the most LGBT-friendly place on Earth", claims the website of the Danish tourist office. Ever since it hosted EuroPride in 1996, the city has organized an annual Pride festival. "When the Copenhagen Pride Parade runs through the capital, the whole city celebrates sexual diversity." Town Hall Square becomes the Pride Square, and around 25,000 people partcipate in the parade. They have to be transported, so a Rainbow Train is driving between Malmoe, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark in July and August.



London’s transport authority introduced a number of high-profile rainbow stunts - in 2014 rolling out a rainbow crossing for Pride in London - later expanding their efforts by making over a London bus and a traditional black taxi- and eventually painting up a Docklands Light Railway train in rainbow colours, with sponsorship from Barclays.


As with most Pride campaigns, these were less marketing efforts than goodwill signs of support.

Berlin’s BVG

The public transport system of Berlin, BVG, ran a campaign in 2015 and 2016, which combined wordplay and diversity under the banner “Because we love you” (#weilwirdichlieben). They showed a number of funny images, promising to bring you where you wanted, even on ‘difficult times’, like 04.30am, at the same time warning for unwanted situations (like not buying a ticket).


The picture on the left says “if you ride without a ticket, you should have balls”, the one on the right “brings you to the other side (of the river)”.


These are just two pictures from the series, which was not aimed at gays (or drag queens) per se, but underlined the fact that BVG does not care who you are – or what you dress like. This was supported by a video by rapper Kazim Akboga (of Germany Got Talent fame), performing “Is mir egal” (“whatever”). The clip included most of the images from the print campaign, and garnered almost 7 million views. The corresponding Facebook page has over 80,000 likes.


The German LGBT movement praised the campaign, saying it was more than a marketing gig: “BVG has been a member of the Berlin Association against Homophobia since 2011, and it has become tradition now that CEO Sigrid Evelyn Nikutta flies a rainbow flag on the Nolledorfplatz station at the start of Pride season. The cupola of the station is illuminated in rainbow colors at night.”


Rail Europe

Paneuropean organization Rail Europe used the slogan "See Europe with one friend or a few", while trying to lure American tourist to come to Europe. The image used suggested 'best buddies' to say the least.


Amsterdam's rainbow station

Although in a city like Amsterdam support for the LGBT community is omnipresent, the rainbow projected onto the Central Station late 2015 (for a year) was for a different reason. The work comes courtesy of artist Daan Roosegaarde in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the station's opening and the start of the UNESCO International Year of Light 2015.


Photos: Studio Roosegaarde