Best practice from OMD
Richard Branson called train travel his ‘greatest challenge ever’. Since the launch of Virgin Trains in 1997, the last ten years has been spent facing huge obstacles:
- inheriting a failing network and poor rolling stock
- high consumer expectations of a Virgin brand entering this sector
- increasing frustration at the time it would take to turn this situation around.
But with recent campaigns like ‘The Return of The Train’ not only contributing to strong business performance, but also making people fall in love with the train again as well as the development in communications over the last decade, there was an opportunity to do something new.
With Most Valuable Travel Time, people were asked to think about the potential to achieve onboard our trains. This was a brave step for Virgin Trains. It was a move from campaigns highlighting quality services, to a campaign focused on the quality of the experience, a notion that was less easy to grasp.
The task was to not only establish what was meant by this claim, but ensure that people engaged with, understood and believed the idea. It couldn’t be a generic claim which could be made by a competitor like BA or Easyjet.
The concept had to work hard against measures such as business performance and return on investment. It had to show how perception had changed from late trains and negative opinions of Virgin Trains.
Within a wider framework of research, information gathering and audience segmentation, five key insights were distilled:
People couldn’t be pigeonholed. Customers want different things on different journeys depending on their travel purpose.
People needed to be excited. Current train bound activities tended to be passive, so we wanted to remind people of the variety of activities they could undertake in their travel time.
Virgin’s sense of fun had to be retained, to ensure our point of difference from other travel brands.
Media had to be used to deliver depth of communication in addition to providing attention for our messaging. TV couldn’t deliver this on its own.
Using environments our audience already had a relationship with could be of benefit.
Magazines were a core finding as a significant audience ‘rewarded’ their stolen time onboard a train with their favourite title.
TV would announce the concept to the world with a stunning and cinematic piece of creative, but it was absolutely clear this announcement message needed to be underpinned with activity that would engage and inspire on a more personal level.
The Role of Magazines
By their very nature magazines capture the essence of “valuable time”, offering a moment to reflect, to learn, to be inspired, to be creative and often simply to relax. They ensured that the various Virgin Trains audiences could be engaged on their own terms, in their own language, in their own time.
The magazine strategy worked on two levels.
This was to communicate the belief in Most Valuable Travel Time and what it can represent. People weren’t told what should constitute their Most Valuable Travel Time, instead executions were used to to show a range of possibilities.
2. Reward and return
The intention here was to offer the audiences something more. The campaign needed to illustrate depth of communication, and the earlier research had shown that reading was a valuable activity onboard for our audience.
Thus, bespoke communication vehicles were created in partner titles that could excite and challenge people to think about their travel time, and use it in the most effective way for them.
The content should also reward the reader and provide an opportunity to win and interact further with Virgin Trains. The titles used were TimeOut and Heat (Leisure Audience: Bright Young Things segment), Spectator (Business: High Fliers segment).
An 8 week campaign was created with Time Out playing to the listings nature of this title. A weekly “London Escapes” feature was created showcasing a range of destinations as well as challenging the audience to use their travel time to enhance the journey – something unique to Virgin Trains travel. They were also asked them to tell us about their Most Valuable Travel Time moment with some interesting results!
For the Spectator, the editorial team developed a glossy 28 page bespoke supplement, bound into the title, that covered a range of topics (planning your garden, creating a wine cellar, writing your first novel to collecting art and how to train your brain to lateral thinking) and encouraged fresh thinking. A competition also asked readers to identify famous passages describing the English countryside on view from the trains.
With Heat, an 8 page glossy mini mag, bound into the title, was developed which covered editorial from what to wear while travelling, working out on board, planning a new wardrobe, wine tasting to a spread of puzzles to engage the mind. A promotion also offered readers the chance to win the VIP treatment and help with all of these tasks on a shopping trip to London.
Response was measured in two variables:
1. Competition entrants:
Time Out – 533 responses per week, greater than any other travel provider in 06
Spectator – 120 responses to the competition
Heat - 2,778 responses, 30% higher than average returns
2. Engagement of the campaign, with the request for readers to detail their “idea of most valuable travel time?”
“My best inspiration always comes when I am travelling by train, so I always bring a pad of paper and a pen to jot down my ideas for whatever pops into my head. I also like people watching, better than tv.” [Week 1]
“I stimulate my brain glands by taking a jumbo book of puzzles and having a good go at a pot-pourri of word games - some straight, some full-bloodedly cryptic and some a simple matter of general knowledge.” [Week 1]
“Catch up with my written correspondence. Writing a letter is infinitely more personal and affecting than an email or a text message, however, I only get the time to write them whilst on train journeys.” [Week 4]
We even got a few poems:
“Faster than fairies, faster than witches, I compile on my laptop today's sales pitches; And charging along like troops in a battle, I pour over Heat for celebrity tattle; All the sights of the hill and the plain fly as thick as driving rain; And ever again in the wink of an eye, painted stations whistle by, but I can't hear that as I've got my iPOd on.” [Week 1]
“Oh to be on a train what a pleasure it would be, some special time that’s just for me, I can dream of Richard Branson maybe he’s serving the Tea, Oh the joy of daydreaming and just having time for me!” [Week 3]
For a Train brand emerging from years of negative PR, it was a bold move to step away from announcement messaging and step into the experience arena. Building on the awareness generated by our TV campaign, magazines added vital depth to the campaign, making it real and understandable for the different target audiences.
The diversity of magazines and their content provided the perfect vehicle for inspiring, engaging and exciting the target audiences in a way bespoke to them.
The range of written response received from the people following the content week to week showed not only that people understand the concept in all its variety, but that it also sparked creativity within them.
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