Best user-generated campaign 2016 Article icon

Best The Virgin Christmas Trains Virgin Trains
Virgin Trains East Coast
Agency: Hope&Glory PR

Christmas is a vital time for Virgin Trains and Virgin Trains East Coast, which serve 45 million customers between them, and the brands wanted to create a campaign that spanned both services but made them iconic during the festive season. They wanted their very own ‘Coke Trucks’ moment that signified The holidays are coming but also prompted more customers to take the train.

In 2014, Virgin Trains had created Traindeer, a train on the West Coast Mainline route that was transformed into a reindeer using the design of two young sisters from a local primary school. Last year, agency Hope&Glory wanted to take the idea further. It planned to unleash two Christmas trains (one on each route) that featured festive designs created by young passengers.

The campaign started in the summer when Virgin Trains launched a nationwide competition for primary school children to design a festive train. Supported by the Book Trust and Jill Murphy, illustrator of The Worst Witch, the competition was trailed across Virgin Train’s channels and promoted on board trains, by staff and on social media. A media relations campaign also served to raise awareness, securing coverage across 60 regional titles, the S Magazine in the Sunday Express and 30 radio interviews with Murphy. When the competition closed five weeks later, there had been more than 250 entries.

A shortlist of ten were promoted in the media, before the judges selected nine-year-old Amber Maxfield and 11-year-old Maddie Deakin, who were brought to London’s King’s Cross station to see the trains carrying their designs.

The West Coast Pendolino train was rechristened #Penguilino, a play on its name and design, while the East Coast Class 91 locomotive was rechristened #Claus91. The unveiling, which brought together two trains from two lines for the first time, generated 200 items of coverage, including items in the Daily Mail, The Sun, Independent, BBC News and major regional titles, including all those along the trains’ routes. A video of the launch, which was shared on social media, has been viewed more than 70,000 times on Facebook alone.

The Virgin Christmas Trains were on the rails from 1 December until 4 January, and over that period secured more than 7,900 organic messages by passengers using the hashtags, reaching more than 12.2 million people. A five week calendar of ongoing content, through Virgin Trains’ Twitter and Facebook feeds, also ensured the conversations kept going. Passengers were also encouraged to post their own images of the trains.

Engagement rates on Facebook were five times higher than Virgin Trains’ average, while engagement with Christmas Trains’ content was 12.4 per cent compared to 2.5 per cent for business as usual brand content. Visits to Virgin Trains’ media centre also more than doubled.

In total, the campaign generated 492 items of editorial coverage but, more than that, it prompted a 3.3 per cent uplift in journeys taken on Virgin Trains during the three months it ran from September to December.

The judges loved the campaign, saying: ‘Although competition entries were relatively low, the impact was genuinely maximised leading to a very successful campaign that had great integration and interaction and was a steal for the budget.’