No, you're not imagining things. That actually was Jay Cutler on your bus this morning. Or maybe it was Martellus Bennett. Or Kyle Fuller.
In an effort to promote CTA services, five Bears players—Cutler, Bennett, Fuller, Jared Allen, and Kyle Long—agreed to record ads for 16 different CTA bus routes, all of which stop at or near Soldier Field, for the first few weeks of this season.
The CTA now features voice overs from Jay Cutler? This is new.
— Heather West (@WesternPub) September 17, 2015
Just heard Jay Cutler's voice on the Ashland CTA bus. Not sure what he said, but people boo'd. #typicalchicago
— I love your face (@designhawg) September 17, 2015
"This is a pilot effort," says CTA spokesman Brian Steele. "The CTA spends very little money advertising its services. We always look for opportunities for in-system promotion. That’s why we wanted to try out this pilot. One motivation behind it was to promote CTA ridership for Bears home games."
The other motivation? Tying the CTA to "an iconic Chicago brand"—and one that's been around longer than the CTA itself (the football team originally started as the Decatur Staleys in 1919 and changed to the Bears in 1922; the CTA organized in 1947).
The five recorded ads, which the Bears provided to the CTA for free, run every 15 to 20 minutes on select bus routes. The ads rotate so you'll (hopefully) never hear the same player twice. "We wanted to keep the frequency low so that we weren’t adding too much additional audio on top of the existing announcements," Steele says. The 16 routes are: 9, 10, 12, J-14, 49, 55, 66, 77, 79, 80, 120, 121, 124, 125, 130, and 146.
So far the program, which started quietly on September 7, has had mixed feedback. "Some people really appreciate hearing the players they see every Sunday," Steele says. "Some of [the negative reaction] has been about a particular player, but others have been about people saying they don’t want to hear ads."
"I will let you discern that one."
The concern over paid ads making their way into your morning commute is one Steele is quick to quash. "There are no plans for CTA to introduce paid ads on buses," he stresses. "These are not paid advertisements. These are promotions for CTA service."
The CTA team has not done a thorough analysis yet of the program, but is monitoring comments on Twitter and calls into the CTA's customer service line about how it's working so far. "After last Sunday’s game, we did see a little spike in [negative] comments, because that was an emotional game. It did not have the outcome most Chicagoans would have wanted," Steele says. "When, not if, the Bears beat the Cardinals this weekend, we’ll be watching the feedback and see if it tends to differ with a victory."
The Bears play the Cardinals September 20 at noon at Soldier Field. The CTA program will run for "the first three or four home games."