Ad Breakdown: London Transport’s ‘Simple’

Lewis Folkard

Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

“’Making London Simple‘ won the pitch, and several D&AD Pencils. And ran for many years.” says Ewan Paterson, one of the copywriters from today’s ad. It’s also worth noting that it won a Silver Award for the most outstanding Consumer Transport Poster in the 1998 D&AD annual too. 

It’s a brilliant example of an exaggeration in the form of an oversimplification. Let’s take a closer look.

First, who’s responsible?

  • Art Director: Richard Flintham
  • Copywriters: Andy McLeod, Nick Gill, Ewan Paterson
  • Photographer: Giles Revell
  • Creative Director: Tony Cox
  • Advertising Agency: BMP DDB
  • Client: London Transport

Why simple is important

Simply, simplicity is persuasive. It makes a message easier to understand, remember, and believe. We see this here.

  • Easy to understand: The ad is simple, with only a few elements, making the takeaway clear and unconflicted.
  • Easy to remember: The takeaway is straightforward. Travelling across London on the Tube is smooth, simple and stress-free.
  • Easy to believe: The ‘smooth’ city changes the perspective and demonstrates the Tube’s USP.

To me, it feels like the simplicity is double layered: the surface level simple aesthetic and the deeper simplicity of actually using the Tube. Both of these layers crossover. And as a result, the ‘simple’ associations rub off and subconsciously make using the Tube seem more feasible.

An exaggerated show-not-tell

We all know London is busy. Noisy. And a shitter to get around. Everyone in London has felt that pain. Because the ad literally removes the noise – and smoothens out the city – it inadvertently draws attention to (the pain of) other modes of public transport. Remember, the Tube is the only one which isn’t disrupted by road traffic.

Changing perspective

Stating a benefit is easy. Showing it not so. This ad plays with the implicit by changing the perspective of how you view London – from a ‘non-Tube user’ (who has disruptions) to a ‘Tube user’ (who glides across the city). It works like the “assuming the sale” sales technique, which encourages you to make a small behaviour commitment in hope you’ll continue to do so. In our case, to use the Tube more often.

The ‘Cocktail Party Effect’

The River Thames is instantly recognisable to almost every Brit, especially Londoners. And because it’s so recognisable, it can utilise the ‘Cocktail Party Effect’. This is when, even in a noisy environment, you’re still able to hear your name from across the room. In other words, you filter out what’s irrelevant and pay attention to what is.

So for Londoners bombarded with lots of noisy adverts, seeing something about your home will get more attention because you deem it more relevant.

And because you’re so accustomed to seeing a busy city around the River Thames, this creates the opportunity for some clever art direction. The high-contrast ‘S’ shape sat on a smooth, dark London, not only makes the river stand out but breaks a pattern and opens a curiosity loop. The tagline and a little bit of thought closes it.


A great lesson in how to depict the USP of a service without using words. Its multi-layered simplicity across the art direction and message makes it persuasive and easy to remember. It assumes the sale by changing the perspective. And by removing the noise of London, the “pains” of other transport options, you draw more attention to the Tube’s benefits. 

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