Billboards and Beyond: Transport - Traditional rail

Maiden's downfall has given rail advertising a bad name, but the medium offers a lot of eyeballs.

Railway advertising has been getting something of a bad press in recent months. This is largely owing to the demise of the company most readily identified with the sector - Maiden Outdoor.

This is somewhat unfair, however. While Maiden got itself in trouble (it is widely assumed) bidding unwisely on Network Rail's railside and station advertising, its predicament was worsened by the delayed award of another contract - Network Rail's roadside business. As this involves posters owned by the rail company but situated in a streetside environment, it is not really part of the rail sector as far as outdoor is concerned.

The taxonomy of this medium can be confusing.

But there's no denying the fact that Maiden's slide into insolvency and eventual acquisition - it was bought by the US media owner Titan back in April for less than £50 million, including £39 million debts - are the most significant recent events in this sector. The episode may confirm for many the view that absolutely anything connected with UK railways is bound to be accident-prone.

Meanwhile, with most of the headlines in the rail medium being dominated by all things digital, you could be forgiven for suspecting that the traditional paper-and-paste rail sector has been somewhat in the doldrums.

This is a relatively mature sector with an emphasis on six-sheets and their even more intimate siblings, four-sheets, plus, at the larger end of the scale, station and trackside 48-sheets. In fact, the most significant shift in emphasis over the past five years where inventory is concerned is a slight increase in 48s - there are now more than 1,000 of them - and a decline in the number of fours.

What the medium does offer, though, is some spectacular numbers. In 2005 in the UK we took 1.07 billion rail journeys, an increase of 2.4 per cent on 2004, despite the terrorist attacks on London's transport infrastructure in July last year. And, of course, UK commuters represent an affluent audience - and 467,000 of them enter London alone each day during the morning peak period.

Total ad revenues in conventional rail advertising were around £40 million in 2005 - relatively modest in the great scheme of things, but the sector is actually more dynamic than you'd assume. Market value has almost doubled during the past five years.

Now, as the Transvision network of plasma screens continues to hog the headlines in the station environment, buyers say they expect media owners to make more effort to introduce smaller digital panels - as Viacom has been doing on the Underground.

It will be interesting to see whether the Titan boss, Bill Apfelbaum, can reinvigorate this sector. Apfelbaum has transport advertising in his blood and knows the UK market, having previously been the boss of TDI - the company that held the London Underground contract before Viacom.

And, of course, Viacom is active in the rail market too, with contracts on many regional networks. It might just be on a roll too. Earlier this year it pinched a couple of contracts - First Great Western and First Capital Connect - from Maiden.

FACT FILE

MAJOR PLAYERS: Titan Outdoor, Viacom Outdoor, T4 Media, Media Initiatives Group

WHAT'S NEW: Digital panels

CASE STUDY - Maestro

Client: Maestro
Media owner: Titan Outdoor
Brief: Encourage more everyday purchases using Maestro in place of cash
by repositioning the brand as the "new cash"
Budget: £3.5 million.

Target market: ABC1 adults; rail was used to target everyday debit-card use in a station retail environment.

Sector inventory used: Six-sheets, 48-sheets, highlights, floor media panels and directional floor media. PromoRail was also used to distribute sales promotion material.

Wider outdoor inventory used: Transvision.

Bigger picture: The campaign is laid down in several bursts over 2006.

Client testimonial: Rita Broe, head of UK marketing, MasterCard Europe: "We chose railway stations because they offer the perfect place for building habitual Maestro use. A very large percentage of our cardholders travel by rail, and use the various retail outlets in the stations several times per day."

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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).