If there's anyone still debating the role of data in ad creative, as opposed to media buying, they don't work at Draftfcb. Last week, the Interpublic Group shop unveiled an integrated campaign on behalf of Amtrak's express eastern seaboard rail service, Acela, that aimed to get business travelers to reconsider the value of air travel.
"We like to call ourselves 'data whisperers,' and numbers are at the heart of what drives our campaigns generally and this one in particular," said Sara Bamber, EVP/chief strategy officer at Draftfcb. "We always like to have a number that makes you stop and think. It's part of our creative briefing process. Why I like this as a technique, is that it makes you, as an account planner, really home in on a fact that radically impacts how you perceive a brand or creative opportunity."
The number at the heart of this campaign was that in 2012, Acela, which runs along Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, had nearly 3.4 million passengers -- slightly more than the number of shuttle seats the airlines filled that same period, Draftfcb found.
The little factoid was enough for the agency to base its campaign on. The idea was that in order to convince non-Acela business travelers in the northeast to abandon the plane and take the train, the ads would have to show how popular Acela is with other travelers. But peer pressure wasn't going to be enough.
"Our research also showed us that business travelers are generally on default," Bamber told AdExchanger. "When you are invited to a conference or a quick business meeting, you're operating almost on default. A message will come into your inbox about a meeting in Boston to someone from New York, and you'll immediately think, 'Delta Shuttle.' Our campaign needed to disrupt that. And we attempted to play to the rationality of frequent business travelers."
The Acela account went into play last fall after Amtrak expanded the service, adding an additional late evening weekday round-trip between New York and Washington.
Choosing business publications and related sites was a no-brainer for this kind of ad campaign, but exact times of when the ads should be shown were also adjusted by the moment. Offline print, TV and out-of-home reinforced digital messages aimed at frequent air travelers.
In terms of playing to business travelers' rationality, the creative focused on customers enjoying the upscale perks offered on Acela service, seemingly little things like conference tables and the fact that train travelers don't have to return their seats to the upright position or turn off their electronic devices. There was also an emphasis on free wi-fi.
"In comparing plane and train travel, we found that people could be four times more productive on Acela versus a flight between New York and Boston," Bamber said. "Those kinds of specifics will make the difference in this campaign, rather than if we did something more general and purely emotional."