Branding the Metro

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As a Los Angeles native who loves the city she was born in, I cringe every time I hear someone state the unfortunately oft-uttered statement: “I hate LA.”

I can understand some of the grievances. The traffic can be unbearable and we are the case study for urban sprawl. I am still taken aback every time I descend into LAX and the city just stretches… and stretches… and stretches…

But in fact, it’s LA’s sprawl and pockets of unique culture that makes it great. I can immerse myself in the funky, if not slightly pretentious, world of Abbot Kinney. I can head downtown for a slightly more urban and cultured flavor. Or, I can jaunt over to the more down-to-earth Los Feliz—anyone up for a Griffith Park hike?

In my opinion, the problem isn’t the city itself—we have tons to offer. The problem is that, as a community, we do not project a unified Los Angeles. Take our public transportation system. Operational inefficiencies aside, it communicates a very disconnected city.

There are operational reasons for this. While LA Metro provides partial funding for city municipality bus systems (like those of Santa Monica and Culver City), each are managed separately. But there’s no reason Metro couldn’t look to the toolkit of branding to help convey a more unified Los Angeles.

1. Brand architecture and naming system

There seems to be no organizing principle guiding the relationships between each municipal line. The Big Blue Bus and Culver City Bus, for example, have no stated connection to Metro, or even to Los Angeles. In addition, the nomenclature has little to no through line. Culver City Bus references the city name while Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus employs a more evocative name. Implementing a masterbranded brand architecture with a unified naming system would promote the notion of a more unified Los Angeles community.

2. Visual identity

The visual identities of each bus have very little in common—different color palettes, fonts and graphic motifs on each livery and within communications. Utilizing a more cohesive visual system across municipalities would help reinforce a connected transportation system and could also be flexible enough to allow for individuality between lines.

3. Brand experience

The travel experiences of each municipality feel distinct, because they are. If you want to transfer between bus lines you have to fork over more dough, effectively limiting peoples’ ease of movement around the city and further hindering Metro’s ability to project a unified Los Angeles. And, while the TAP (Transit Access Pass) card serves as a through line between travel experiences, its branding does not reference the city of Los Angeles—again a missed opportunity.

I know public transportation in this city has a long way to go, but by consistently using elements of brand, Metro can promote a cohesive and unified Los Angeles. This would hopefully enable visitors to more easily experience everything my beloved city has to offer. I’m also happy to serve as local tour guide for anyone who’d like.

Katie Conway is a strategist for Siegel+Gale’s Los Angeles office.

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