Advertising Los Angeles’ Bus Service On Television: 1956 Cartoon Commercials & How They Were Made


Transit promotion is everywhere. The ever-expanding media universe and our constant contact with it provides ample opportunities to spread the word about the benefits of public transportation.

These days, transit marketing can be found not only in traditional media outlets, but online as well.

But in addition to new and emerging media as forums for advertising about transit, transit has evolved into a platform itself for messaging (and innovative revenue streams) about other products and services.

Buses are used as rolling billboards, transit stations capture the attention of arriving and departing eyeballs, subways are wrapped in eye-catching ads (we looked at some wonderfully creative “subway wraps” last year), and Transit TV, an entire television “network” developed just for transit, claims its consumers retain very high rates of what they saw and heard.

Animation color expert holds up an inked and painted cell for early animated transit commercial, 1956.

According to Practical Measures To Increase Transit Advertising Revenues (107p. PDF), sale of advertising in public transit facilities and vehicles is a nearly $1 billion industry generating approximately $500 million annually to transit agencies.

But back in 1956, it was all about using television to promote transit when Metropolitan Coach Lines created two animated commercials for prime-time broadcast in Los Angeles.

The Unstrung Man” and “The Wax Man” were two 20-second spots that played alternately on Monday evenings and Tuesday evenings during timeslots featuring The Rosemary Clooney Show, the Liberace show, the David Niven show, and late-night news.

We located the June, 1956 edition of the Metro Coach News employee newsletter (5p. PDF) which featured more information about the early days of transit advertising on television in Los Angeles.

The bus company allocated $60,000 for television advertising, and production for the two short commercials cost approximately $6,000.

Storyboard for "The Wax Man," a 1956 cartoon commercial for Metropolitan Coach Lines which cost $3,000 to produce.

The article intended to explain to employees why Metro had taken to the air waves for an advertising medium, why animated cartoons were the chosen medium, what the costs were, and how animated cartoons were made.

It proposed that animation appealed to the viewer’s sense of humor and generated a pleasant association with the bus service.

The “expensive” short cartoons were the result of a labor-intensive production which is explained step-by-step.

An idea is turned into a storyboard with captions, along with soundtrack, drawings, checking for running time, and the painstaking hand-drawn and hand-colored cells making up each frame. (Each of the 480 frames was made up of 1 to 6 cells).

But why television?  Although TV began broadcasting commercials in 1941, it wasn’t until the 1950s that U.S. household ownership  really took off.

Animation camera on pulleys suspended over movable table.

According to Historical Statistics Of The United States, the number of U.S. households with television sets more than doubled (5,030,000 to 10,320,000) between 1950 and 1951 alone.

By 1955, more than 30 million sets could be found across the nation, meaning the number of television sets in America grew nearly six times over in just 5 years.

Americans were glued to their sets and television advertising was just the place to grab the attention of potential transit users.

However, television advertising just isn’t what it used to be.

Aside from the broader array of media available for marketing, according to Practical Measures To Increase Transit Advertising Revenues:

Recent trends in the advertising industry have weakened traditional advertising media.

Television advertising, in particular, which has long dominated national advertising sales, faces media fragmentation due to a mushrooming spectrum of cable and satellite channels and commercial-skipping technologies such as TiVo.

These trends tend to decrease the attractiveness of television as a medium for advertisers.

Our YouTube Channel features a number of historic, informative and entertaining video clips, along with playlists featuring transit and transportation content from other providers, as well as our Transit Promotion playlist containing Metro films and content from our predecessor agencies.