Virgin Trains unveils £8m brand reboot

Virgin Trains has unveiled an overhaul of its brand positioning that it hopes will make it “an irresistible travel option” for UK commuters.

The brand has unveiled a new strapline – “Arrive Awesome”  – in an £8m campaign intended to demonstrate Virgin Trains’ new focus on service improvements and its emotional engagement with passengers. 

The campaign comes after the company secured a three-year franchise from the Department for Transport (DfT) to continue running the west coast mainline in June.

A TV advert, which broke last night (16 September), echoes the quirky and self-confident marketing of other Virgin brands by showing passengers apparently walking in slow-motion as they disembark from a train in a film that was shot in real time.

The TV campaign, devised by Krow, TMW and Profero, is supported by cinema, radio, print, outdoor and online activations.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Virgin Trains head of marketing Danny Gonzalez explains that Arrive Awesome will act as a “stake in the ground” that will run through all of the brand’s marketing communications over the next three years. 

“We want to become an irresistible travel option for people so that as soon as they know they’re travelling on a long distance journey on the west coast route, their immediate thought will be ‘I want to be on a Virgin train’,” he says.

“To do that we need to get both the service right and our marketing comms right. Previously I don’t think we have been as true to the Virgin brand in our marketing comms as we needed to be.”

Virgin Trains’ franchise win this summer brought to an end a protracted period of uncertainty after the Government initially chose to install a rival operator when the contract came up for renewal in late 2012. Following a legal challenge from Virgin and outcry at the handling of the franchise deal, Virgin Trains was reinstalled on a temporary management contract.

Gonzalez explains that this uncertainty prevented the operator from pressing ahead with plans to relaunch the brand. With the franchise now secured, Virgin Trains is rolling out a series of service improvements including improved wi-fi, expanded standard class capacity and a new loyalty tie-up with Nectar.

According to Gonzalez, the company is also considering how it can add the “Virgin sparkle” to rail journeys through additional services like on-board beauticians and mobile services that provide customers with access to entertainment content.

“When we were repurposing the brand, we realised that we shouldn’t just be looking at our own industry to say ‘we’re the best train company’ – we should be benchmarking ourselves against the very best customer experience businesses and saying ‘are we as good as that and if not, that’s where we need to be’,” he says.

Virgin Trains is currently bidding for the east coast mainline in competition with FirstGroup and Eurostar. A decision on the franchise, which is currently run by state-owned East Coast, is expected next month. 

More: Virgin Trains’ head of marketing Danny Gonzalez discusses the brand’s makeover