In the run-up to the first anniversary of its move to the St Pancras rail station, Eurostar has endured difficulties not of its own making – from the Channel Tunnel fire last month to a 24-hour general strike in Belgium that affected services this week.
Such incidents have led to some brand wobbles for Eurostar, which had hoped a move to St Pancras from London Waterloo would herald a new age of the cross-Channel rail service.
But thanks to holding a monopoly on the Channel Tunnel passenger franchise and a high-profile and innovative marketing strategy, the brand has a strong reputation. However, with the tunnel being opened to rival franchises in 2010 and the departure of its marketing director Greg Nugent after five years at the helm, numerous challenges lie ahead.
Nugent, who steps down in November, will be replaced by Emma Harris, who takes the new title of sales and marketing director UK and International. Nugent will, however, remain in an advisory capacity.
The cross-Channel train operator began services between London, Paris and Brussels in 1994. Two years later it extended its services to Ashford International. Interbrand UK chief executive Rune Gustafson says its marketing strategies played a pivotal role in establishing itself.
To begin with, Eurostar’s fate was entrenched with that of the Channel Tunnel. “Its strategies helped people to dissociate it from the tunnel and perceive it as a unique mode of transport,” he adds. “Today, Eurostar is a brand of experience rather than sheer transportation.”
Gustafson says Eurostar’s innovative marketing proposition to push train travel as a unique experience and “modern, trendy with state-of-the-art service” helped it become synonymous with the London to Paris connection.
It has sought to underline that connection not only with tactical ads that show the difference in time travelling between the two cities by train and by plane, but also with tie-ups.
In the late 1990s St Luke’s created a series of executions including one starring French footballer Eric Cantona “philosophising” on a Eurostar journey, and another tongue-in-cheek execution featuring actor Antoine de Caunes.
More recently it has diversified its ad spend through partnerships, including a tie-up with Columbia Pictures that saw the train company spearhead the marketing behind the release of The Da Vinci Code in 2006. Eurostar, the film’s first global partner, worked with VisitBritain, VisitLondon, VisitScotland and Maison de la France to boost tourism in the numerous European locations outlined in the book. Activity also included an online webquest as well as other experiential, licensing and promotional strategies.
A far more ambitious tie-up, the £500,000 financing of a feature film directed by the critically acclaimed Shane Meadows, heralded Eurostar’s move to St Pancras. Somers Town is set in and around the area of St Pancras, with the film showcasing the station and Eurostar trains throughout the plot. It was brought to life by Mother, rather than Eurostar’s agency of record Fallon.
Although the film did not receive universal acclaim, many in the ad industry have lauded it as one of the most ambitious ad-funded projects in the UK.
And the budget was low, compared to the many millions Eurostar spends on advertising each year, as well as the £800m cost of moving its terminus north of the Thames. Analysts see this move as the most significant in the brand’s history.
St Luke’s managing partner Neil Henderson says that not only can the service boast easier links from “across Britain” to Paris, but it can also call on the “glamour” of the renovated station, first opened in 1868. “St Pancras is a brand by itself, with its glamour and grandeur, as opposed to the ordinary Waterloo,” he says.
Eurostar’s aggressive campaigns lauding its greener credentials have also wooed many airline commuters, and is expected to be a mainstay of its advertising.
Yet Eurostar also stands accused of tardiness, particularly in light of issues such as last month’s tunnel fire, when it seemingly did little to reassure those affected.
Gavin Mackie, managing director of N1 Creative, points to British Airways’ “T5 is Working” ad campaign, which sought to change the way the terminal was viewed after a bungled launch. “But Eurostar never launched any reassuring campaign after the tunnel fire,” he says.
But perhaps the more pressing issue is that, in two years time, the Channel Tunnel will open to new franchises. With more competition in future, Henderson says Eurostar must vouch to be the most premium train travel experience with a sense of style and charm. “A mere mention of bullet trains in Japan is met with an air of excitement; Eurostar must bring in the same level of excitement among people to retain the brand it has built,” concludes Henderson.
Facts and Figures
- Eurostar began its first high-speed rail service directly linking the UK to France and Belgium via the Channel Tunnel in 1994
- Since then, it has carried over 81 million passengers on more than 230,000 trains. The service began with two trains a day from London to both Paris and Brussels
- Eurostar launches the ‘Tread Lightly’ initiative in 2006. This means all Eurostar journeys to/from London will be carbon neutral. Eurostar also pledges to reduce its overall carbon emissions by 25% by 2012
- London services move from Waterloo St Pancras in 2007
- From 2010 Eurostar will lose its monopoly of the Channel Tunnel, under EU legislation opening the lines up to competition. Air France and train operator Deutsche Bahn have shown early interest in running services.