Advertising isn’t everything

Advertising. Although I love it, I know that it can’t work magic.

Let’s take a look at Arnold’s campaign for Amtrak:

When this campaign was created, Amtrak struggled with ridership. In 2003, Amtrak had 98% name awarness, but only 6% of adults rode Amtrak per year. Arnold found the key insight that people forget about the journey and only focus on the destination. After all, that’s one key benefit of taking the train. You don’t need to focus on driving and can see the sights, and there actually is a view (unlike planes).

I will use one of my friends to show that this insight works. A friend of mine was moving from Milwaukee to Seattle, and to get there, he chose Amtrak. Amongst other reasons, he chose the train because he could enjoy the scenery along the way. He was excited for the journey.

The ads in this campaign fit the insight perfectly. Each ad displays a different landscape, but because of the use of illustration, the scene is not tied down to one specific spot. It could be anywhere. This leaves room for imagination and for each person to think of their own journey.

While this advertising increased ridership over the span of 6 years, Amtrak still has a long way to go. For success, the product or service must follow up with the promise in the ads. How can someone enjoy the journey if the overall experience is bad? For example, my friend who moved to Seattle was stuck on the train an extra 24 hours because of a miscommunication that a track was closed. My one experience with Amtrak landed me 10 hours on the train with poor service, only to end up back home and out some money. As I mentioned Amtrak to my friends, conversation erupted about countless times that the train was late.

The idea of enjoying the journey is great, but the Amtrak needs to follow through with promises to truly build the brand. Otherwise, people will simply believe “you’re better off driving.”


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