Tuesday, 22 March 2016

and you think your commute by train is hard work...

The daily commute to work, squashed into an overcrowded train, is an experience shared by people across the world.

India, a place I was lucky enough to visit nearly 20 years ago, seems to take that challenge to a whole new level. This is an excerpt from an article I've just come across on the BBC's website, and is a brilliant insight into what some people go through just to get to work every day.

India's railways carry 23 million passengers every day - many of them to and from work. Bhasker Solanki photographed commuters on an early morning train from Surat in Gujarat to Mumbai. 

Jayanti Gandhi (shown opposite) has been commuting on the same route for 35 years - his 300km (185-mile) journey between Surat and Mumbai takes five hours each way.

"It costs too much to stay overnight in Mumbai," he says. "I work in the photographic business and have to go to Mumbai three times a week. This whole train could be filled with just the season ticket holders. 

Rahul, (shown sitting below) wakes up at 04:00 every morning - he has a 25-minute walk to Navsari station where he catches a train to Vapi, 65km (40 miles) away. Then there's a 28km 

(17-mile) shared rickshaw ride and another 15-minute walk before he arrives at the college where he lectures at 08:30 - four-and-a-half hours after he got up. His classes finish at 14:30, leaving him time to get back to the station for the 16:30 train home.

When he gets in, he usually cooks and gets ready for the next day. Although his journey is far from quick or luxurious, it's better than the alternative - in the past, he used to catch the bus which meant waking up at 02:30.

Now those two gents have some commute but I guess they haven't got any choice. The work is in Mumbai, and they've only got one way of getting there.

You can read the whole article and see the rest of Bhasker's candid images here.

we rebrand Grampian, the mother of First Bus...

Grampian Regional Transport was the company that gave birth to today’s First Bus.

The company created in 1986 to operate Aberdeen’s municipal buses at arm’s length from Grampian Regional Council was sold to a management/employee buyout in January 1989.


It wanted to protect itself from the emerging big groups and instead turned itself into what for a time was the biggest group of all, FirstGroup, with operations across the UK, North America and toeholds in Europe.

Until First adopted a uniform UK bus livery at the turn of the 21st century, Aberdeen’s buses (and trams before them) were green and cream. Grampian added a stripe of orange when local government transferred them from the city corporation in May 1975, but they became green and cream again in the 1980s and the arm’s length GRT adopted a two-tone green version with a kick-stripe towards the rear.

This became the corporate style as the privatised company expanded south, but in different colours to respect local traditions: two-tone blue at Midland Bluebird; two-tone green at SMT and Lowland; two-tone red at Leicester and Northampton; red and orange at Eastern Counties.

Then GRT merged with Badgerline to create First in 1995 and two years later the magenta, pink and off-white ‘Barbie’ livery began to create a uniform identity across all fleets, including those in the group’s headquarters city of Aberdeen. The Grampian name gave way to First Aberdeen.

So how might things have looked had Grampian have stayed Grampian and kept its buses green? We took on the challenge...

click here to see the complete rebrand

It was hard to separate Grampian from the striking landscape from which it was named. Therefore, it was an obvious choice to develop an identity and livery with the imposing grace and beauty that is associated with the geography. The challenge was to simplify such a mountainous landscape into a friendly graphic that could form the basis of future marketing communication.

The logo is a simple uppercase, bold font with exaggerated spacing, reassuring the customer that Grampian is a reliable, dependable company. The colours used are similar to the original livery, providing that vital link between old and new.

The ‘M’ graphic within the brand name is depicted as a straight edged mountain shape in the centre of the new identity, which has also been incorporated in the design of the livery. The mountain scape has been formed by carefully layering subtle shades of green and grey/blue, giving the design depth with an overall sleek soothing result. The lines and patterns have been made slightly irregular, producing the varying spaces and shapes that would be seen in the natural landscape.

The background has been lined up symmetrically from the centre of the identity to make a focal point on the bus’s body, meaning it can be painted in a single base colour and vinyl used to display the graphics.

As the vinyl is very slightly opaque, limited contra-vision has been used, which although loathed by some, adds a nice continuation in the tonal shades of the horizon.

The finished livery design is quietly majestic with echoes of the landscape it is based upon, yet maintains a contemporary feel derived from the geometric approach. The identity is sturdy and strong and makes a step in the right direction for this company’s re-branded future.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

National Express introduce the 'Travel to Bristol' challenge

Have just come across this video from National Express, where they introduce The Journey Boys and their travel choice when getting from London to Bristol.

The 'boys' have planned to visit friends in the west country for the weekend, and need to decide how they are going to make the journey. Two of the friends choose to hitch hike, whilst the other two opt for National Express.

The video, which lasts over five minutes, tells the stories of their differing fortunes.



The script tries to get every single selling point of the coach in - tickets on your phone, price, wi-fi. USB, reclining seats, even the possibility of meeting members of the opposite sex - but I'm not sure you end up remembering any of the them.

Praise should go to National Express for trying something different, although I can't help feeling it lacks a bit of snap. Five minutes is a long time to expect someone to sit and be sold to.

It look like this is the first in a series of videos with The Journey Boys so perhaps I'll reserve judgement on the campaign until they been on a few more adventures.

Monday, 7 March 2016

how to spend £100k marketing a bus service

Unfortunately for agencies like us, the real proof of the pudding for public transport isn't in the marketing of a product but in the quality of the product itself.

Marketing a poor product well will only highlight its inadequacies, and ultimately lead to it failing quicker. Why sell something that you know deep down needs massive improvement?

I had a meeting with a well known managing director of a bus company a couple of years ago, and got posed a hypothetical question - "If i gave you £100k to market our company, how would you spend it?".

From researching the company pre-meeting, the first thing that came in to my head (although I would have still given the same answer given longer to think about it) was to offer half the money back so they could sort out the well publicised punctuality and attitude issues the company was suffering from.

I don't think it was the answer this particular managing director was expecting, or indeed wanted to hear. Suffice to say our fledgling relationship didn't go any further.

In short, get your house (or in this case your bus) in order before you waste £50k telling people how great it is, only for them to quickly find out it isn't all that great at all.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Stagecoach and Go-Ahead in marketing battle

...well to my knowledge they're not – however it was that headline got you interested enough to potentially read the story.

If there’s one absolute truth when it comes to writing advertising copy it’s that a well-crafted, targeted, attention grabbing headline is the most crucial part of any communication and should always be given the due craft it deserves.

It can be argued that a headline is equal to, if not more important than, the actual body of content itself. The headline is the first thing a potential reader will see and it’s at that point a decision will be made to commit further or move on and read something else.

If the headline is poorly written and fails to catch the reader’s attention the quality of the material becomes irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if the piece is 20,000 words or 200 words; it all begins with a headline, and a nano second in time.

The best copy knows how to incentivise the reader to keep reading. That's why “how to” posts almost always seem to attract attention. Because the reader instantly assumes that the time spent reading the article is going to be well invested. They believe that they’re going to learn how to do something new and beneficial because the headline spells it out for them loud and clear.

Could public transport marketing learn from acknowledging the importance of a snappy headline?

You tell us.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

to cove or not to cove, that is the question


According to Exterion Media, whose job it is to sell on-bus advertising to anyone that will buy it, 86% of people can recall a bus advert they’ve seen (and I'm assuming they're referring to an advert on a bus, rather than an advert for a bus!).


Example of a route-branded cove mhd recently did for First
A figure of 86% is some claim towards the effectiveness of the medium. My own experience, mainly on Stagecoach Gold between Gloucester and Cheltenham, is somewhat different - especially where internal coves are concerned.

Not only do I not remember the ads (which isn't the bus company's fault) I struggle to see them in the first place (which, in a way, is the company's fault).

Assuming you are seated, 50% of the coves are out of view (that will be the ones directly above your head), leaving the remaining 50% on the other side of the bus. Unfortunately they are at such an acute angle you can't see them even properly if you wanted to. So if I can't see them in the first place, there's not much chance of me being able to remember them!

I've always found it a little strange why branded services like Stagecoach Gold allow external messaging in the first place. Obviously there is a financial gain but this has to be weighted against a diluting of the service's brand in the long term - especially when there is no control over the type of adverts that appear.

Showing ads for budget dog food on a premium service is hardly a match made in brand heaven is it?

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

can the bus industry benefit from a little outside influence?

It's a rare field of work where most people at the top started sweeping the factory floor or as a £50 a week apprentice in that very same industry.

The bus industry however, seems to be that very place - where those with influence have spent most of their professional career with a timetable in one hand and a list of services in the other.

Two notable (current) managing director exceptions to the shop floor approach are Fiona Kerr at First in Glasgow and Kevin O'Connor at Arriva Bus. They arrived at the top via PwC & John Menzies and Waitrose & G4S respectively - about as far away from public transport as you could imagine.

So is there a right way and a wrong way? Of course not. But for me, a bit of outsider thinking can only add something to the mix.

I'll be honest and say I've not studied the FTSE100 in detail, but I'm willing to wager a few quid that the people sat around the boardroom of a given company haven't spent their whole career in that particular industry.

They will have considerable experience in a particular discipline, and this will have been gathered across a variety of industries both home and overseas. This gives the board member perspective, and an understanding that there isn't only the one solution to any given problem. They are in a position to challenge the industry status quo on any number of issues.

The best leaders will realise they are always learning, and just because they've always done things a certain way, that doesn't mean more suitable alternatives don't exist. I definitely think that experience of doing things a number of ways can benefit both the company and ultimately, its customers.

It will be interesting to see if the tenures of both Fiona and Kevin bring differing ways of doing things to those traditionally seen in the industry.