Updated November 17, 2021
MTA advertising policy
Our advertising policy establishes uniform, reasonable, and viewpoint-neutral standards for how print and digital ads are displayed throughout the MTA system.
In November 2021, the MTA Board revised its policy for ads that are displayed in and on MTA facilities. It adopted revised standards for what ads are permitted and what ads are prohibited. As in previous versions, the MTA Advertising Policy now permits only commercial ads, governmental notices or messages, or certain public service announcements.
The revised policy includes certain provisions that were part of past policies (with some amendments), and adds new restrictions based on changed circumstances. For example, the revised Advertising Policy explicitly bars advertising for cannabis products, following the decriminalization of recreational use of such products in New York State.
The MTA is committed to ensuring that its Advertising Policy is enforced in a viewpoint-neutral fashion. If any advertiser or member of the public believes that the policy is being enforced in a viewpoint discriminatory manner by the MTA or its advertising licensee, please contact:
Director, MTA Advertising
To buy advertising
Frequently asked questions
What ads will the MTA run under its Advertising Policy?
There is a two-part test. First, a proposed ad needs to fall into one of the categories of “Permitted Advertising” defined in Section IV(A) of the policy. Second, the proposed ad cannot fall into one of the categories of “Prohibited Advertising” defined in Section IV (B) of the policy. In other words, proposed ads must satisfy both of these criteria.
For example, even though ads promoting a commercial product and certain public service announcements qualify as “Permitted Advertising,” the MTA will not run them if they prominently or predominantly support, oppose or comment on any international dispute or warfare among nations or religious, ethnic, or other similar groups.
What qualifies as “Permitted Advertising”?
Only commercial ads, governmental notices or messages, or certain public service announcements.
What is a commercial ad?
Commercial ads include ads that promote a commercial transaction for the advertiser’s commercial or proprietary benefit, or promote the brand of an advertiser who engages in commercial transactions. They also include ads that promote services or events for the advertiser’s commercial or proprietary interest, or more generally promote an entity that engages in such activities.
What is a governmental notice or message?
A notice or message from the MTA, or one paid for by the federal government, New York State, Connecticut, New York City, or of any of the other county governments within the Metropolitan Transportation Commuter District.
What is a permissible public service announcement?
An announcement paid for by a government or by a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit corporation that relates directly to one of these topics and is not otherwise prohibited under the policy:
- Prevention or treatment of illnesses;
- Promotion of safety or personal health;
- Education or training programs (e.g., colleges, graduate school programs, or vocational training programs);
- Art or culture programs;
- Provision of children and family services;
- Provision of services and programs that provide support to low-income citizens, senior citizens, or people with disabilities; or
- Public education that solely informs the public of the existence of current New York City, New York State or national laws or constitutional provisions and that contains only a quotation from and citation to such provision and/or explanatory graphics accurately reflecting the law, and the identity of the advertiser.
Who reviews proposed ads?
These FAQs refer to the MTA, but the MTA relies on independent advertising licensees to handle its advertising and for the most part relies on them to apply the Advertising Policy. The MTA reviews proposed ads only when an independent advertising licensee has determined that an ad does not, or may not, comply with the Advertising Policy and has referred it to the MTA. The MTA works with its independent advertising licensees to try to ensure that the Advertising Policy is being followed, but must rely on its independent advertising licensees in the first instance to identify problematic ads.
Does an ad have to identify who is paying for it?
Yes. To avoid the appearance that MTA is endorsing ads, every ad should clearly communicate who is paying for it or its sponsor, whether directly or through its context. If it does not, the MTA may ask an advertiser to include an explicit statement.
Does an ad have to clearly identify what is being advertised?
Yes. Every commercial ad should clearly communicate the commercial subject of the advertisement. Every public service announcement must clearly communicate that it directly relates to one or more of the permissible topics for public service announcements. Advertisers will submit to the advertising licensee along with their proposed ad a form that identifies the goods, products, services, events, or other commercial transaction or entity that the ad is intended to promote, or, for a public service announcement, the permissible topic to which it directly relates. The MTA may ask an advertiser to include an explicit statement in the ad if the MTA believes that it does not clearly communicate what is being advertised.
Do the requirements that an ad identify who is paying for it and what is being advertised preclude teaser ad campaigns?
Not necessarily. A teaser ad campaign — one that begins with ads that do not clearly communicate who is paying for the ad or what good, product, service, event, or other commercial transaction is being advertised — may be permitted but only if that information will be clearly communicated in follow-up ads posted within a reasonable amount of time, and only with the MTA’s approval after consultation with the advertising licensee.
If there are multiple ads in an advertising campaign, does each ad have to identify who is paying for it and what is being advertised?
Yes. Each individual ad that is part of an advertising campaign must communicate who is paying for it or its sponsor, whether directly or through its context, and what is being advertised even if the ads will be displayed in close proximity to one another or as part of an interconnected campaign.
Will the MTA look at a website listed in an ad or at an advertiser’s public statements to determine whether the ad is permitted under the Advertising Policy?
In reviewing an advertisement for compliance with the Advertising Standards, the MTA may consult the advertiser’s website, marketing and promotional materials, government filings, materials regarding the nature or content of advertised products or services, or any other material that would inform its judgment. The MTA also may request additional facts or materials from the advertiser to determine whether the advertisement complies with Advertising Standards.
Can an ad that promotes a commercial transaction or that qualifies as a public service announcement be prohibited if it falls into one of the prohibited categories?
Yes. An ad that qualifies as a commercial ad or a public service announcement still may fall within one or more of the prohibited categories. For example, an ad that prominently or predominately advocates or expresses a message on pending legislation will not be accepted for display even if it also mentions or promotes a commercial product such as a bumper sticker, a T-shirt, or event, or a TV show, a news program, a DVD, a book, a movie, or some other media product.
Are companies that sell Sexually Oriented Products or Services (as defined in the Policy) permitted to advertise in the subway?
Under the Policy, the MTA will not accept an ad that promotes an escort service, strip club, or a Sexually Oriented Product or Service, as that term is defined in the Policy. However, an advertisement that generally promotes the brand of a company that sells a Sexually Oriented Product or Service may be accepted, so long as the advertisement itself does not violate any other provision of the Policy. Thus, for example, a brand promotion ad for such a company would not be acceptable if it depicts or refers to the Sexually Oriented Product or Service itself, or depicts, references, or contains symbols or images reasonably understood to represent or evoke Sexual Activity, as that term is defined in the Policy.
Can a proposed ad be preliminarily reviewed early in the creative process to determine if it will comply with the MTA Advertising Policy?
Yes. Preliminary concepts for ads may be submitted to MTA’s advertising licensee for review. If the independent advertising licensee determines that a preliminary concept would not, or might not, comply with the Advertising Policy, then it will often forward such preliminary concepts to MTA for review.
Note that if a proposed concept for ads is provisionally approved, the final ads must still be submitted and approved under the procedures set forth in the Advertising Policy and described in these FAQs.
If MTA’s advertising licensee approves an advertisement without submitting it to MTA for approval and MTA subsequently determines that such advertisement is not permitted by the Advertising Policy, may MTA require the removal of such ad?
Yes. The MTA may require the removal of any ad that it determines at any time does not comply with the Advertising Policy. Given the large number of ads handled by MTA’s advertising licensee, it is possible that such an ad may not have been submitted to MTA for review by the MTA’s advertising licensee. Even if MTA reviewed and approved an ad, it may remove it if it later determines that the ad does not comply with the Advertising Policy.
Does the Advertising Policy apply to both static ads and digital ads?