The Challenge

After taking over the SWT franchise in 2017, South Western Railway (SWR) was plagued with union disputes and the longest rail strike in history. Unsurprisingly, the brand suffered, as long-suffering commuters raged on social media for the franchise to be revoked. 2020 was the year to turn this around, or risk face terminal cancellation.

But in March, following government advice to avoid public transport, passenger numbers dropped by 95%. Then the Department for Transport ordered all train companies to cease any marketing that promoted travelling.

It seemed like karma was coming at us fast.

Our Approach

The Brief

We had a choice to make. We could hold our spend until rail restrictions were fully eased. Or we could find a different route We flipped years of promoting end destinations on its head by supporting the local businesses on audiences’ doorsteps which had suffered months of closures. SWR would help get them back on track, spotlighting amazing local enterprises people had missed.

What we did

1. July: Local Nominations With brand sentiment at an all-time low, we needed to lean on a well-regarded media partner to help facilitate and encourage nominations. Enter Global, whose radio stations Smooth & Heart are a beacon of positivity and matched our network footprint. Local Smooth and Heart presenters encouraged listeners to nominate the business heroes they thought deserving of a helping hand.

2. August: Winning Businesses We surprised five businesses with the news they had each won a ‘restart’ package of £10,000 marketing support and £2,000 of business equipment, having been entered by members of the public. Two of the winning businesses featured in their own 60″ micro-shows during Heart’s breakfast show, where they described how they would use the prize. One was Matthew’s coffee shop in Weymouth, a family run business for 44 years who had no idea who had nominated them.

3. September: Extend support Lastly, a series of audio ads in the style of Heart & Smooth encouraged audiences to support local businesses across SWR’s network. We amplified this message using SWR’s existing OOH holdings across their network across the entire three-month campaign period.

The Results

Our new route had positive impact on SWR’s brand health. We received 2,222 nominations across two weeks, over double the forecast. Over a third of those who entered opted-in to share their data, unheard of in previous campaigns. Despite a small budget, 20% of our network area recalled the campaign. It also resonated: the score for ‘I liked it a great deal’ shot up 366% versus the mean for SWR campaigns. Empathy was the key. One business owner cried when hearing the news. One of the most

derided companies in the country was able to turn things around by first helping others get back on track

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