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When solicitation becomes intrusion

Robin shares this bizarre story and begs the question - huh?

We've all heard it, over the loudspeakers: "Solicitation on CTA trains is prohibited; violators will be arrested." Sure, panhandling can be troublesome, but it's not sinister, like what I saw this morning. Solicitation? Maybe. Completely insulting? Without doubt.

I ride the brown line from Western to Chicago during rush hour. At Fullerton, an eye-catching gent gets on the train, cell phone pressed to his ear. He wears gray pants, a blue zippered hoodie, and a black backpack. There is a large white logo on the left breast of the hoodie, and a smaller one on his backpack. Aaaand...his face is painted blue. From hairline to jawline. Blue Man Group blue. Bears fan blue. I don't recall any major sporting events today, but maybe I've missed something. So, like a good little city mouse, I ignore him and his blue face. He enters at the opposite end of the car from me, but at Armitage, he moves to the doors nearest me. He's yapping away on his cell phone, which is annoying enough, but as he contrives to turn completely around in the unoccupied doorway, I can finally read his logos: "Talk Until You're Blue in the Face, with U.S. Cellular."

This makes things more interesting and more distressing. Not only is he a complete dink, he's being paid to be a complete dink. Not only is his yapping intruding on my aural landscape, but his yapping constitutes an ad.

His conversation (is it one-sided? is he talking to himself? is he a marginally-employed actor??!) sounds mundane enough: "No, man, I didn't even know she was his sister. Not like she was his girl or something. Well, she's awfully cute." Then, at a no-doubt pre-scripted spot--once casual eavesdroppers are sure to be hooked by the mini-drama between two friends, a third friend, and that friend's sister--he says "Naw, don't worry about it, brah, I've got free incoming calls with this thing. Yeah, and they gave me a sweet phone, too. Yeah, we could walkie-talkie. Even takes pictures." The ad portion of his broadcast concludes with "No, I took no naked pictures of his sister with it." He gets off at Sedgwick, just as I am resolved to shoving him off the train when the doors open.

Okay, so, on the one hand, this is brilliant guerrilla marketing, the likes of which I usually associate with underground theatre. On the other, it's absolute co-opting of that kind of whisper-campaign, word-of-mouth advertising that can really make a product move. Do they think they're clever? Do they think we don't get it? Aren't they concerned with the (assumed) fact that this isn't allowed on the CTA, and their man might get ejected or arrested, as the announcements promise?

Then, distressingly, I wonder if this is NOT the "solicitation" the CTA deems illegal, but if the transit authority, strapped for cash as it publicly is, accepted money from U.S. Cellular to allow the company's shill on the train to pose as a satisfied customer who, out of the joy he gets from his phone, pitches a phone service to his buddy on the line and everyone in earshot.

I don't mind if they sell the sides of trains, the turnstiles, or the walls. Like all millennial gen-Xers, I'm so used to constant visual intrusion that signage is wasted on me. But can the CTA really offer up its atmosphere--the soundwaves in its cars--to the highest bidder?

Clearly, I'm going to never ever spend any money with U.S. Cellular--and encourage my friends to boycott as well--because of the intrusion and stupidity of having an actor in blue-face pimp their phone during my commute, but I want more action. I want to know if the CTA is complicit in this crappy ad campaign. If they aren't, I want them to come out against this kind of activity on their buses and trains. If they are, however, I want the riders to rise up and demand that the soundscape of the CTA remain unsold.


My thoughts exactly, Robin. On Wednesday morning, I was on the platform at Sedgwick, when four of these characters were performing/advertising. I got on the Purple line, and one of them stood right next to me, yapping in my ear. Granted I didn't have a long way to go, but no one ever likes "that guy" -- the one who's yap yap yapping on his cell for everyone to hear. And, that morning, US Cellular was "that guy." I hope the CTA doesn't condone this. What's next, commercials playing over the speakers between station announcements?

hahaha, I saw one of these guys waiting for the train at the chicago blue line stop the other day. I thought he was on his way to work wearing a sandwichboard or something.

HE WAS THERE AGAIN THIS MORNING! and, JD, you're right: commercials on the loudspeakers _is_ an outcome that follows straight from shenanigans like this. that's why we've got to stop it now.

I saw the back of somebody today outside the Thompson Center with some white tag on his back that said "....blue....". He was wearing a business suit and didn't think anything of it until I saw the blue on his face. Now I know he's one of these stupid characters. Thanks for giving me another company to boycott!

i saw one on the brown line yesterday get on around diversey. i was curious, but now i'm glad she didn't get in my car

I saw these US Cellular guys all around my work yesterday on North Michigan/Grand. And one was on my Red line train this morning, standing in the doorway, face painted blue, talking on his phone. The funniest thing is, when the train descended underground after Fullerton, he still kept yapping away -- and as far as I know, cell phones don't receive any service in the tunnels. So I guess he was just faking it and nobody bothered to call him out about it.

As CTA riders, we need to boycott US Cellular, and anything that they are associated with - like the White Sox.

there were TWO guys at Grand on the way home that day, pretending to talk on their phones. the CTA has to know this was going on

I can't imagine what moron in the marketing department at U.S. Cellular thought that this was a good idea! They obviously do not take public transportation.

"Hey, let's think of the best way to annoy as many of our potential customers as possible!"

I am also joining the boycott of U.S. Cellular until they issue an apology to the riders of the CTA. And if the CTA knew about this, they should also apologize.

I think a good way for them to demonstrate regret is to underwrite a "free ride" day on the CTA to make up for their horrendous, insulting behavior.

Does this mean the CTA will change those "Don't be like Jack" signs about yapping on cellphones to include "...unless you pay us"?

While waiting at northbound Wellington at 8 a.m. this morning, I saw one of the "blue" guys across the way on the southbound platform -- he boarded the Brown Line.

If I see one of these guys on my train, I'm not putting up with it. I really am in a foul mood and don't need this crap today. Anyway, what's with taking up commuter space DURING RUSH HOUR? I don't care if they hang outside the station, but on the train is insulting and should be (and is?) illegal.

Normally I wouldn't advocate confrontation, but in this case, I'll make an exception.

Get in the (blue) faces of these people and let them know you consider them to be annoying jerks. Make their time in your car miserable. Don't cross the line and assult them, but clearly let them know how you feel. Tell them that they're low-life scum in as many creative ways you can think of.

If they leave the car, don't follow them. Let them go. And hope that where ever they go, someone else makes their feelings known.

When they go back to whoever is dispatching them, they should be telling them that not only are they being noticed, the feedback they're getting is downright hostile.

The point of the advertising campaign is to create a buzz. In that regard, they may be thinking that it doesn't matter if you're annoyed, as long as you're talking about them. The campaign would only be a failure if no one noticed (too late for that), or if the public outcry was loud and clear. Creating a hostile environment for the perps (without actually assulting them) will help get the message out.

And if nothing else, it could get some of the blue-faced idiots to quit. And chances are they won't be able to replace them before the end of the campaign.

Why not tell the operator there are people soliciting on the train and ask him/her to call the police? A few blue faces in the clink ought to make US Cellular rethink.

Within three stops on the Blue Line the other day, I saw at least five of these blue-faced goons. Thing is, there's no way any of them were getting a signal in the tunnel - clearly fakes, and doing a lot to make U.S. Cellular look like it's core business is peddling pure bullshit and gimmickry. And it is, of course, a violation of CTA solicitation rules.

Hmm. Just thought I'd give another viewpoint. Not really a counterpoint, just someone in the middle. I'm one of the many local actors and improvisors who are currently helping to pay the bills by painting their face blue and pretending to talk on a cell phone. This campaign mostly focuses on wide-open public spaces so as not to be a nuisance. We don't approach people, we don't hand anything out (unless asked). The L portion is a small part of the day (and frankly, my least favorite). Obviously being trapped in a moving box with a promotional actor is different from passing one on the street.

This is just a job for me, and I'm not all that invested in defending US Cellular, but I will say that we were told to be more reigned in on the L, to talk at a listenable but not intrusive level and we genereally were only in a car for a couple of stops and then got off, and watited for the next train. I took that to heart and tried to avoid overstuffed cars, and to be mildly amusing if listened to, but besides my blue face, easily ignored. I'm guessing most of the blue faced folks did the same, although there were probalby some overzealous ones.

Anyway, the idea of being "sold to" at all points of the day is a valid concern, but the idea of chasing someone down and trying to shame them or get them arrested is ridiculous. Frankly, I'm glad that we apparently won't be on the L anymore. But also, some of you could probably lighten up a bit. Then again, it is the morning commute, and I'm grumpy too.

Anyway, interesting site. I'm sure I'll check it out again. Let's not forget that it was started to celebrate the weird encounters that public transit can lead to, instead of just being cranky. Sure, those weird encounters become a bit distasteful when there's a commercial agenda behind them, but even then, whether it's under the surface or somewhere to the side, there's probably something interestingly human going on.

yeah, as someone who improvises, i find this interesting. and...it definitely got them what they wanted...a buzz. any press is good press... even if it's just the name US cellular being repeated over and over and over.

and again, i'm one of those people who talks on my phone....i know that it's an unpopular opinion here, but i just feel like i need to give full disclosure on that. i'm obsessed with the cta and love it, but i love to talk on that there phone. sorry. i read sometimes, i listen to my cd player (yeah, yeah, i don't have an iPod yet), i write sometimes, but sometimes, i do talk on the phone. oh well. there's lots of annoying things people do on the train. cest la vie.

interesting ad campaign.

Hey, I'll also put in my two cents that I know (and interned) the company that created this advertising campaign idea (the guys there are pretty neat and wacky) over the summer, and honestly, during our discussions, we only envisioned the actors going around on the streets, not on the L, so that could possibly have been one of the reasons it's causing more of a bug. A bit of common sense is that when you're in a close proximity with guerilla advertising, you're more likely to notice it. The guys at this company definitely did not make the campaign to irritate people, rather to make them aware of U.S. Cellular's features. There were a ton of ideas for guerilla for this, and some were obviously received a bit more warmly by the U.S. Cellular folks than others.

Regardless, even though I worked quite a bit on concepting ideas for this project, I can understand where everyone's coming from on this. The point of obtrusiveness of advertising is a valid concern, but sadly, that's what guerilla is. It forces you to break from your routine, notice something, and remember it, either in a positive or (hopefully not) negative light.

These guys that have been coming up with the ideas are good, though. They're the ones who are also responsible for the White Sox and the Grinder Rules campaign that's been going on. Sometimes, advertising doesn't turn out the way you want it to, other times it does. There's a lot of risk out there, and you do your best not to step on anybody's shoes.

Guerilla marketing is the new spam. Use of guerilla marketing techniques tells me that the company in question ranks right up there with all the Internet pharmacies that think my penis needs enlarging. Apparently that's the kind of company that US Cellular is becoming.

And ad agencies that propose guerilla marketing campaigns are staffed by people who were unable to get jobs with reputable firms. Guerilla marketers are sociopaths of the same ilk as those who invade my e-mail boxes every day.

At least with guerilla marketing vs. spam, there is someone right there to express displeasure to: The actor who apparently couldn't get that covetted telemarketing job.

Should guerilla marketing go to the extent that spam goes to, yes, perhaps you might have a point. But it also follows a traditional part of advertising; creatively obtaining the audience's interest. Were there ideas that we came up with that I would have preferred over the blue-face one? Yeah. But in the end, it comes down to what the suit at US Cellular wants, not what is necessarily best, design and concept-wise. Reminds me of an "ad" that the founder of the agency had done and posted of a series of hurdles labelled different parts of the design process, with the guy tripping over the last hurdle at the very end named "Client's Wife Doesn't Get It". There were plenty of moments like those.

Suggesting guerilla campaigns doesn't mean an ad agency is talentless. The guys I was working with have been involved with numerous other big name groups like Bridgestone, Coke, and Wrangler, and frequently also assist with local community events by producing gratis works for charities. They are also more personable and easier to get to know than the larger firms. Small firms are those led by the entrepeneurs of the world, and therefore are more willing to stress the difference, to spend as much time as they possibly can to win a client over the larger, more "reputable" firms.

Personally, I would love to work again at the ad agency I was with.

I'll add my two cents as well. I think it's a bad idea to attack the marketing firm that suggested the blue faced dudes, or the blue faced actors for this terrible experience. I aim my frustration at us cellular. the marketing firm was just doing what it was paid to do: come up with ideas. like brian said, they not only had a more tolerable plan for the blue faces, but they came up with a ton of other ideas. It was us cellular who took the blue faces and ran with them. as for the actors, they were just doing their job. They were average joes who needed some extra cash, so they took a job advertising for us cellular. I'm sure there are many people who have on their resume a job that in retrospect even they dont know why they stuck with it. I, for one, took a job canvassing for an environmentalist group over the summer. if standing downtown in the middle of a sidewalk with high traffic, waving at people and yelling "HI! HELP STOP MERCURY POISONING!!" once every second until someone finally stops isnt annoying to EVERYONE involved (pedestrians, clerks at the store i'm standing in front of, me), i dont know what is. but i stuck with it because i needed cash at the time, and i would have prefered to stand on a street all day and be passed by than sit on a phone and get hung up on at a telemarketing job. so i see where the blue-faced actors are comin from; just like i didnt pick where i canvassed, they didnt choose to go on the el, us cellular did.

it's almost as if you had two friends, and one told the other that a good way to get a girl's attention is to do something shocking or grotesque in front of her, so the guy jumps in front of the girl, pulls out a sharp pencil, and jams it into the back of his hand. sure, you can blame the guy who got the idea started, and you can even have a kick at his shins for knowing the other guy would be stupid enough to do it. but in the end, the real idiot is the guy running around in circles with a bleeding hand.

rexblade, your analogy was awesome.

There is plenty of blame to go around. The guy who was stupid enough to do it AND the guy who told him he should do it BOTH are at fault.

And how far do we take this "they needed the money" arguement? Can this justify prostitution? Muggings? Carjackings? At what point is it okay to do something despicable, debasing, annoying, or otherwise distasteful? Is it really okay to take a job with a primary responsibility to annoy other people just because you need some money?

EVERYONE involved in these activities has to take responsiblities for their choices. The advertising agency that suggested it in the first place (even if they had other suggestions, too), US Cellular for going with the idea, the people who hired the actors, the actors -- even the make-up people. They all chose to participate.

Telemarketers, door-to-door salesmen, and actors in guerilla marketing campaigns all share one thing: They all chose to take jobs that annoy people. They can't be absolved from blame because "they needed the money" any more than US Cellular can be absolved from blame because they needed the money.

Everyone involved in commercial activities designed to get attention by annoying people share the blame. They all need to take responsibility for their choice to annoy people. They ALL did it for the money.

What's with the corporate damage control?

Is it "guerrilla" damage control? Is it also being paid for by U.S. Cellular? Does in-your-face advertising illegally done on private property by a company that knew better and who damn well had the means to pay for it in the first place need to be defended? Where does this end?

Anyway, I can't believe how quickly the CTA responded -- that's so great. Thanks to CTA Tattler!!! :-)

oh, but let me remind you -- that there are plenty of people who will be the first to cry -- THERE ARE PLENTY OF JOBS!! people just need to be willing to work!!

i hate that shit. i don't ever want to be a telemarketer, but i also hope never to be on welfare, either. people can't eat their cake and have it, too. people sometimes have to do whatever it takes to make sure they have the rent paid and food on the table.

it takes a lot to sit and judge and point fingers unless you're going to feed and clothe and house everyone.

Jocelyn, I hear what you are saying about sometimes folks having to take job "less desirable" jobs to feed that family, etc. (Though many actors may love this particular job.)

Just remember folks -- at issue here is the fact that solicitation on CTA property is illegal. Plain and simple.

I've commented before that soliciting of this type on public property is fine -- at least in my opinion.

If "I took the job because 'I needed the money'" is a valid excuse for doing something unethical/immoral/illegal/annoying, then why take a low paying job? Become a prostitute, drug dealer or used car salesman if you need money so badly that you're willing to do something unethical/immoral/illegal/annoying. The "I needed the money" excuse doesn't fly if the job in question is low-paying. There are other low paying jobs that help society function. One doesn't have to paint their face blue, and see how many people they can annoy each day because they "need the money".

As for the issue being that solicitation on CTA property is illegal -- why is it illegal? Is it just because the CTA wants their cut, or is it because the CTA wishes to protect their customers, and provide a better envirornment?

If it's that the CTA just wants their cut, then they would have asked US Cellular for a cut. If it's because the CTA knows that their customers don't like being annoyed by blue-faced cellphone-talkers, then the behavior of those blue-faced people is on-topic.

The problem wasn't that people with blue faces and US Cellular logos were riding the train. The problem was they were acting annoying. No one would have complained if they weren't annoying customers.

The problem wasn't the advertising. The problem was the behavior.

Annoyance on the CTA aside, I am still asking myself what the point of this campaign is. I thought that advertising generally positioned goods and services as something desirable.

What was the expected psychology? That a potential customer would see someone in ridiculous facepaint belaboring a cliche to moronic literalness, and then thinking "YES! That's a company I want to do business with!"

And what was the intended action step? Was a person supposed to engage the talkative loon in conversation and say "Tell me more, blue boy?"

Seeing that the slogan was "Talk until you're blue in the face", I'm wondering why no one pointed out that they should stop talking because they already reached that point.

Corporate damage control? Are you talking about my (and blue's) responses to this article? I'm sorry if I was just an intern at that ad agency and in the process of checking on new Tattler stories, happened to want to post another side of the story.

Solicitation on the CTA is illegal, yes. Should they have been talking on the CTA? No. Would I have been just as irritated if I had encountered this on the El? Probably, if not a definite yes. It's for this reason that I restrict my cell phone use, even in locations where it's permissable to do so. In my opinion, some things can just wait.

As for the action step, I had to go back to school before this project was in the finalizing stages, so there are details I am unawares about. As I said, I remember it as one of the ideas mentioned, but it was still just another idea on the board when I left to head back to school.

umm?? since when is telemarketing 'unethical/immoral/illegal?' are you kidding me? annoying, yep. tell them to take your name off the list. do the 'do not call list.' but, it's not unethical, immoral, or illegal. c'mon, now.

it's not anything akin to drug dealing OR prostitution, (WHICH by the way, are in fact, to some people what are called consensual crimes, meaning that consenting adults participate in them. if we legalized them, we could really change a lot of things. but that is off the point.) for real.

also. you ask when it's okay to do something that is "despicable, debasing, annoying, or otherwise distasteful?" you always manage to slip annoying in there. yes, these people might have been annoying. but, other than having an ear for alliteration, you are just being bombastic. who says the people taking the jobs were being debased in anyway? or that it was despicable? what makes it distasteful? are the guys at the blue man group suffering the same fate? they don't even talk! their being muted is definitely debasing! :) again, this is an actual paying job, versus prostitution, which often is something that is debasing to the people involved.

you go on to say, that the problem wasn't the advertising. The problem was the behavior. in this case, they were one and the same. the behavior *was* the advertising and vice versa.

and this..."The "I needed the money" excuse doesn't fly if the job in question is low-paying." again. who are you to judge? are you serious? 7 dollars an hour to someone making NO dollars an hour is something. now you are going to dictate what jobs people should take? what standards they meet? i'm sorry, sir. you can't take that data entry job for that market research firm, because it's just going to fuel junk mail. and that's against my personal morals. starve.

and how do we know that this job was low-paying, by the way?

and again, i'm not sure that the CTA -is- in fact, "private property."

i'm sorry that i have to play devil's advocate here. i wish that i could have seen these people. i'm not a big fan of big corporations, but i am interested in interesting marketing and what different things they will use to get our attention. even if it annoys the shit out of me! and i AM really interested when it seems to have the paradoxical effect of making people want to run the other way. because again, it seems to be the bottom line in advertising that if you get people talking about the product in ANY way, you did a good job.

Whether or not the CTA is private property could be questionable depending upon opinions brought into play, but it does hold true that solicitation is not allowed, you're requested not to talk on the cell phone, and that advertising on CTA premises is required to go through the proper channels (GEICO bars).

Unfortunately, US Cell broke these three (or two, if you want to debate they were just talking to themselves) rules, so I think that is the main form of debate where the understandable objection is coming from.

To those arguing that the CTA isn't private property, I ask you this: Why do you have to pay to ride the train? (Hint: not because the trains and stations are "public".)

just because:

you don't have to pay anything to into marshall field's. yet it's private property.

you had to pay to see tori amos and to go to lollapalooza, yet millenium park/grant park is *not* private property, it's public space.

paying or not paying to do something does not necessarily dictate the status of "public" ness.

CTA property is public space only in the same sense as a police station or post office. As such, they can dictate rules for accessing facilities. If you think you can walk into a restricted area of a post office because 'it's a public space', I'm sure some nice homeland security officers will be happy to set you straight...

CTA property is public space only in the same sense as a police station or post office. As such, they can dictate rules for accessing facilities.

If you think you can walk into a restricted area of a post office because 'it's a public space', I'm sure some nice homeland security officers will be happy to set you straight...

It's true that the First Ammendment entitles us to freedom of speech in public places. It's also true that private property owners can restrict speech on/in their property.

But it's also true that the courts have held that the First Ammendment does not apply to commercial speech even in public. Commercial speech is not protected by any part of the constitution even if the commercial speech is attempted in public.

Courts have also upheld the right of public agencies to regulate health and safety issues in public places because the mandate to do so overrides the First Ammendment rights of the individual when there is a conflict.

Thus CTA can eject anyone for commercial speech. They can even make reasonable restrictions to prevent the return of those ejected. They can also eject anyone for non-commercial (even political) speech if they are creating a safety hazard.

These concepts are also the basis of signage regulations, and numerous other laws and regulations. "Freedom of speech" is not the absolute that some people mistakenly believe it is.

Hmm ... here's an idea...

Let's play the "paint the blue guy orange" game.

It's real simple. Just get some orange washable hair color spray. Wait for the blue guy. Turn him orange. Walk away. He can't go to the police or to CTA people, because he was breaking the law in the first place. Have fun.

Jedediah Walls

yeah, i think he could. i think that's called battery. i also think that falls under two wrongs don't make a right.

as in... you punch me at a bar (breaking the law), i don't get to punch you back (breaking the law). we both get to go to jail.

again. this stuff was annoying. and sounds like it was very out of bounds on the CTA. but, the anger it's causing here is interestingly high, given all the bullshit we put up with from the actual CTA itself.

dirty cars, inattentive/rude/lazy customer assistants, threats and made good threats of higher fares/cut service, mismanaged funds, ridiculous salaries of suits who don't even have a grip on how the system really works.

media/advertising is really something that fascinates me. and i also think that we should be truly "outraged" by the buzz generated that some "plus sized" (size 10?? 12??) models were used for a dove ad. now there's some real bullshit.

I saw a nasty accident in the early morning on blue line kostner a tractor trailer crashed lost all its axels ended up in the blue rail path area. he knocked out 4 light posts. I hope the driver survived

I had one of these guy on a red line train yesterday and new about it already from a friend. He was being quite loud and obnoxious, and people were obviously annoyed.

I got on my phone right next to him and called my friend and talked not too loud about how much advertising is flawed and that companies are going the wrong direction. He exited at the next stop, and a few people said thanks.

Intrusive is not the answer.

CTA is still a disgrace, It's a sad day when a vet has to take his grievance against the CTA all the way to the Department of Justice, the people responsible for this un- american act should be really proud of themselves.

My 0.02 file a complaint to the CTA. let the CTA fine them. Boycotting the phone company will be futile.

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