Media: Strategy Analysis - Return to the golden age of the train

Brand: Virgin Trains Clients: Craig Inglis, Steve McDonald, Lloyd Page Brief: Make the train popular again Target audience: Business and leisure travellers Budget: Undisclosed AGENCIES Media: Claire Marker and David Bratt, Manning Gottlieb OMD Creative: Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R Digital: Glue


Richard Branson called train travel his greatest challenge. When Virgin entered the market in 1997, the UK was frustrated by the state of this industry. By 2002, travellers' opinions were damning and, as the highest-profile operator, Virgin Trains was often singled out for criticism.

But Virgin Trains was here to stay and the roll-out of its Voyager and Pendolino fleets showed its long-term intent. The new fleets and an improved timetable started to deliver a service more in line with expectations of the brand.

This year's "return of the train" campaign would herald the completion of the Pendolino roll-out. The strategy was to forge a connection with consumers and make them fall in love with Virgin Trains and train travel all over again.


PTV was used to bring to life a return to the golden age of trains. Longer spots showcased the creative, which merged classic movie train scenes with footage taken inside and around the Pendolino trains. Interactive TV enabled viewers to continue their experience. This golden-age association was extended by sponsoring a season of weekend matinees on Turner Classic Movies.

PCinema This heritage was emphasised further using on-screen and foyer cinema activity, and a sponsored season of film classics, such as Some Like It Hot. This season ran at the Prince Charles cinema, Leicester Square, for four weeks and was sold out each night.

An exclusive content-driven deal with Total Film magazine allowed cinema fans to understand the making of the ad through editorial, advertising, and a competition.

Underpinning this emotive strand of communications were "minds" messages.

After eight years of operating the networks, Virgin knew it was not enough just to say that the great era of train travel had returned - it had to prove it.

This strand of communication highlighted increased speed and reduced journey times, improved frequency of trains, and onboard services. People needed to see evidence.

POutdoor and radio focused on key moments when the target audience was dissatisfied with alternative modes of transport - in traffic bottlenecks and jams, in taxis, and using posters at service stations and motorway-based truck rears.

PPress underpinned the volume of outdoor and radio. This "hard facts" environment, particularly at a local level, would add credibility and dwell-time.

POnline media delivered these messages in core travel environments, providing information and driving awareness and ticket sales.


The campaign has persuaded air travellers to switch to the new Virgin Trains. Ad and brand tracking has shown excellent results, with very high levels of involvement, saliency and persuasion across both business and leisure audiences.

From news coverage in industry and national media, to interaction (with 33,000 entries for the interactive TV competition and website visits up 43 per cent), to hard sales results and an online return on investment of 8:1, and even blogs showing positive comments, the campaign has put Virgin Trains firmly back on track.


Malcolm Hunter chief strategy officer, Vizeum HQ

Here's a controversial thought. The best way to travel is by train. As cars sit in jams and planes circle airports, trains get better.

On the continent, it's already happening. There are no longer any flights between Paris and Brussels. You can get to Provence from Paris on the train in less than three hours.

Now Virgin is promising something similar in the UK. But it's a tougher job here. British trains are a national joke. We all know about "leaves on the line" or "the wrong kind of snow".

So I admire this strategy. An emotional re-assessment of train travel is necessary. This creative strategy does it well, playing on the memory of a glorious age of train travel.

Does the media do it justice? Well, almost.

It makes sense to divide the channel selection into emotional and informational.

TV, cinema, film sponsorship, outdoor, press and radio - everything works together nicely.

However, I wonder whether focusing on the creative idea means we miss opportunities to connect with consumers.

Here are three thoughts:

(1) A message is more powerful when you are in the mood to receive it. The strategy talks about targeting people when they are fed up with other modes of transport. But it doesn't talk about finding consumers when they would welcome a message about the golden age of trains. This could have guided TV spot selection.

(2) Media can magnify the brand experience. I support the idea of using longer time-lengths but I'm not convinced by an argument that says "showcase the creative work". Surely longer time-lengths help convey the sense of a relaxed, leisurely journey?

(3) If you want people to change their minds, they need a big symbol of re-evaluation and you often need to step outside traditional media to create it. Virgin does it brilliantly - balloons hovering over the London Eye, spoof porn films, naked people in phone boxes. I couldn't help feeling this was the missing piece of the jigsaw.

So, a big ambition, a big idea, well-integrated media. A bit of thinking beyond the advertising idea and I'd have given it four stars.

Next time I go to Manchester, I'll take the train. At nearly £300, I hope it lives up to its promise.

SCORE 3.5/5.

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