Campaign: Australian train operator for the Melbourne and Victoria region V/Line wanted to increase the number of off-peak trips made by people visiting friends and relatives. Working with McCann in Melbourne, V/Line decided to focus on young people who had headed for the city and left their parents and friends at home in the country. The campaign aimed to inspire friends and family to visit loved ones in regional Victoria. The campaign took a humorous approach to guilt young people into arranging a trip home.
Parents were encouraged to visit a dedicated microsite where they could create, send, and book a Guilt Trip ticket to bring their child home. Instructional guidebooks also were issued to help parents hone their “guilt trip” messages to encourage kids to come home. On YouTube, a series of films provided more tips on how to persuade your child. There also were more traditional elements to the multimedia campaigns, such as posters.
V/Line figures show that off-peak ticket sales increased by 123,000 tickets or 15 percent, generating $4 million in additional revenue. The $500,000 Guilt Trips campaign delivered a return on investment of 1,047 percent. Guilt Trips also won the Effectiveness Grand Prix at Cannes Lions 2014.
FleishmanHillard’s Armato Explains What’s so Smart
John Armato: Brilliance often deceives because it looks obvious. The V/Line “Guilt Trip” program might make you smile and think, “Oh, that’s clever,” but this is deeper stuff with multiple lessons for communicators and at least one way it could have gone very wrong. In fact, the closer I looked, the giddier I got because this is the kind of work all of us in the communications game need to aspire to.
So what makes this so effective? It boils down to four elements:
1. First, ignore the work and think about the brief that accompanied this client ask. Essentially, the client wants to promote off-peak travel, hardly an inspiring or unique challenge. Now, imagine all of the mediocre ways you could respond: familiarization trips for reporters, destination posters, Facebook contests, travel videos, discounts, trend stories. The travel and tourism toolkit opens up, and the usual tactics pop out. Most briefs are boring and generate equally boring responses. This program is a reminder that you have to bring inspiration to the brief and not the other way around. The team behind this campaign brought it and imagined a storyline that any one of us can see our own reflection in. Ultimately, being able to see the humor in that oh-so-familiar parent-child stress point produced more than the needed bump in off-peak travel the client desired.
2. It also would have been sooooo easy to solve the wrong problem, even once the gem of a storyline was conceived. The nugget of the “Guilt Trip” could have tumbled forward with tactical builds and high-fives all around because the insight was amazing and the creative was awesome. It might have generated travel, but what was the train-specific call to action? It wasn’t necessarily obvious to build the campaign’s call to action around a pre-paid ticket — and yet without it, there was no guarantee V/Line would be the beneficiary of additional travel. Without the creation of the train-specific product, the team might have ended up with an incredible message that had the target audience making tracks for their cars, rather than driving their cars to the station.
3. And in that solution lies a hurdle that this team overcame. Any professional in communications reading this knows how difficult it can be to go beyond advising clients on how they communicate to how they operate. And yet, this is the real promise of our profession. When communications influences an organization all the way through to, say, customer service, public policy, and even its product mix, then you’re talking about integration. Then you’re talking about a platform-agnostic approach. Then you’re talking about aligning reputation and brand.
4. Finally, V/Line and McCann took on a risk with this campaign. They took an emotion that in actual experience is fraught with enough anxiety, ill will, frustration, shame and resentment to fill multiple therapy sessions and turned it into something that actually feels good. “Guilt Trip” isn’t a hidden persuaders campaign built on motivations more effective if left in the shadows. No, the campaign calls guilt and the sometimes-neglectful behavior of offspring out in the open. It put the parent-child relationship on display in such a way that everyone has a good chuckle over the truth of it all. Tensions eased, they can move on with a lighter spirit, board a train and see their friends and family. Brilliant indeed, but obvious only now.
Excerpts from an interview by Contagious with McCann Melbourne’s executive creative director Patrick Baron and planning director Danish Chan.
Contagious: What was the brief for this campaign and what was its business objectives?
Baron: V/Line approached us and wanted quite a traditional campaign to promote off-peak travel since during peak hours their trains are all full. The recommended target was visits to friends and relatives because that was the most logical target. V/Line is a regional train network, so our brief was all about making us fill up the trains during the weekend and the only way to do that is to get people to go to the city or back from the city. The objective was to increase off-peak ticket sales over six months, generate $1.5 million in revenue and increase consideration leading to purchase by 10 percent.
Contagious: Who was V/Line’s target market?
Baron: Young adults who have relatives and friends in the country. The barriers to visiting home for 18 to 24 year olds now living in Melbourne are big. Country life lacks the excitement of the city and the ability to keep up with people remotely on Facebook removes any impetus to return to the country towns where they grew up. Ultimately, this group is just too busy getting on with the rest of their lives to prioritize regular trips home.
Contagious: Was there any research done to help uncover insights for the campaign?
Danish Chan: We conducted in-depth interviews among people in the city and used those interviews to fill in a little bit more of the color into what we already knew in terms of family obligations and so on.
Some of the quotes we collected from the interviews with parents included, “He only calls when he wants something from me” and “She comes back for Christmas, so that we remember who she is when she calls us for something” and “I will make her feel as guilty as possible before I transfer the funds.”
Contagious: What were the particular insights that drove the campaign’s creation?
Baron: We needed to draw on something that would help bring people back to visit parents. Guilt from a mother is one of the most powerful forces on earth.
But it wasn’t just limited to parents, it could be an old mate, a brother or a sister, basically people you love or care about who you haven’t seen for a while that you really should. So if your best friend has had a baby and you haven’t seen them or the new baby, that’s the kind of guilt message that your friend might send to you.
It’s also fun. At the end of the day, guilt doesn’t necessarily make people do things, but it’s a fun way for parents and families to engage with each other in playful ways. That’s what made it shareable; that’s at the heart of it. In Australia, that’s a behavior that people like to participate in, and that’s the reason it was successful at Cannes: People recognized the fun and how it started a conversation and that we created a product – Guilt Trip – that was actually a business solution.
Contagious: Is that more how you work now?
Baron: Absolutely. We did Dumb Ways To Die in 2012 and that campaign and V/Line try to find the sweet spot between advertising, PR and brand utility. We know we’ll do advertising but our ideas are not based around the media we need to advertise in.
Chan: A lot of our clients actually don’t have massive budgets, and we understand that advertising doesn’t work like it used to where clients would have to be on air most of the year to buy people’s attention. If we’re going to create something that actually works, it has to be a PR idea or a brand experience idea, something that people want to participate in. It’s that simple. We’re finding that across many of our clients, the day has gone where they can pay and spray.