How TfL’s reverse marketing helped keep Londoners safe

When the pandemic hit, Transport for London had to supress demand and encourage people to stay at home rather than travel on its network.

TfLOnce a vital, vibrant and crowded part of London life, when the UK went into lockdown in 2020, the role of Transport for London (TfL) changed irrevocably. With it the role of marketing and communications was transformed, with a ‘reverse marketing’ strategy needed to dampen demand and encourage Londoners to remain safe at home.

The project, managed by VCCP, brought with it four major challenges: to drastically reduce numbers, to ensure cleanliness and safety for those frontline workers still required to travel, to protect air quality by nudging behaviours toward walking and cycling rather than driving, and to gradually reintroduce services as the pandemic eased.

To handle these challenges and manage the uncertainties around who could trave, VCCP created an in-crisis team across TfL and its agencies. The team met daily to ensure its responsiveness, with every possible scenario carefully mapped out, and media turned around within 24 hours of receiving a brief to reflect the shifting crisis. These messages spanned asking customers to be kinder and more considerate with one another and staff, to supporting staff safety at work, and balancing face mask compliance with avoiding the harassment of those medically exempt.

The scale and breadth of this work sees TfL win the 2021 Marketing Week Masters award for Travel, Tourism and Hospitality. The highly visible advertising campaign reached at least 70% of Londoners and successfully reduced demand by as much as 95% at certain periods. Even more impressive is the fact TfL balanced this messaging with one of reassurance in the safety its service, so as to avoid any long-term damage and successfully maintain confidence in the capital’s public transport, despite the crisis.