Best digital campaign - medium budget Article icon


Buy Before You Board

Northern Rail

Agency: Blumilk

Northern Rail used to fine more than 1,300 passengers a week for failing to buy a ticket before they boarded a train, which is a legal requirement. Today, that number has dropped 47 per cent to around 700. This dramatic drop is down to a public awareness campaign, led by digital content via social media and an online game Queue Jumper which the rail company describes as ‘easy to learn, hard to master, compelling to play’. It involves travelling through stations, collecting as many tickets as possible.

There are six categories of ticket buyers. One will always buy before they board. Three want to buy but find the station has no ticket facilities, are running late for the train or prefer to purchase on board. One will only buy a ticket if confronted on board a train. And the final category does not want to or does not have the means to buy a ticket.

Northern Rail targeted those customers most likely to swap to app purchasing. The game was launched at an interactive roadshow at Newcastle Central Station, where it highlighted the ways customers could buy tickets before they had even left their homes. The roadshow moved onto other main stations.

Northern Rail created four separate message strands to engage the different audiences. Be A Queue Jumper was designed to encourage passengers to buy tickets early, benefitting from reduced fares. From The Comfort of Home was targeted at specific stations, such as those with ticket gates, where buying early would provide the most benefit. Season Ticket, which demonstrated how these saved money, time at station and ensured customers always had a ticket. And It’s The Law, which reinforces the legal requirement to purchase before boarding.

Those playing Queue Jumper were encouraged to share the game and their scores with the hashtag #queuejumper for a chance to win rail vouchers. (The game and hashtag were liked, shared and mentioned across social media more than 19,000 times.)

Supporting social media activity using the hashtag #buybeforeyouboard was simultaneously deployed, which blended the two messages.

Advertising posters, leaflets and announcements and displays on trains and in stations also reiterated the message.

To consider the campaign successful, Northern had to increase purchases via its app, experience an associated increase in revenues and see a reduction in ticketless travel fines. In the event, numbers of mobile app transactions rose 169 per cent within four months and total revenue over the period grew 90 per cent. The Buy Before You Board campaign generated a return on investment of £4.24 for every £1 spent.

The judges loved Buy Before You Board, describing it ‘really integrated campaign’ with clear objectives and ‘very good’ results. ‘Very impressive and eye-catching,’ they added.