Via Rail gets back on track

After business largely came to a halt last year, the Crown corp returns to convincing travelers to leave their cars behind and get aboard its trains.

5d - Cossette & VIA Rail - photo

Via Rail is calling it a comeback.

In its first full marketing campaign since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new campaign from Cossette builds upon themes initially established in its brand repositioning in 2018, “Love The Way,” says Jean-Claude Kikongi, director and strategy lead with the agency in Montreal.

But the new ad does that in a much more dramatic fashion, reflecting the way many people feel about finally being able to travel. Time almost comes to a halt – much like most travel did last year – in a moody black-and-white scene, then the spot bursts into colour with a flurry of activity: people running to embrace each other, a train moving down the tracks and people finding their car with the help of Via Rail staff.

Via Rail had a record year in 2019 when “business was booming,” says Louis Levesque, senior director of marketing and communication at Via. “We had a lot of ambitions for 2020.”

But those ambitions were upset – first by a blockade that shut Via service down in February, and then the pandemic itself. Though there were brief periods of optimism between waves of the pandemic, usage of the Crown’s service suffered due to lockdowns and travel restrictions.

That shutdown prompted Via to “take a step back and look at who’s traveling and what the customer wants,” says Levesque.

“We still need to promote public transit, but we need to understand the new normal. Who is traveling, who is on our trains, who needs to travel?” he says. “Our lives are changing. People don’t need to work from the office anymore and can work from home. The needs of travelers are going to change.”

Through its research, Via discovered that people “are all eager to move again,” in no small part because the lockdown has kept them cooped up. Unfortunately, the lockdowns had driven many people back to their cars, and so Via needed to devise a creative and compelling message that would get people to consider traveling by train again.

But after a year when many brands had to find pivots or new messages to respond to changing customer behaviour, Cossette instead found the answer within the themes of “Love The Way,” which was built upon the “special feeling” that comes with travel on Via Rail.

4d - Cossette & VIA Rail - OOH“That tagline and brand promise was based on a truth about train traveling, which is that it’s different from any other kind of travel because of the experience it gives you from Point A to Point B,” says Kikongi. “From that, we developed the whole concept of booking your comeback and playing with the emotions of traveling again and the unique feelings of train travel.”

The campaign launched at the end of August and includes the 30-second spot, pre-roll video and audio ads, and digital OOH and web banners developed with Canadian photographer Norman Wong that recreate the look and feel of a train’s movement with the models in the shots. Response to the campaign so far has been positive, both through call centre feedback and “overwhelmingly positive” social media posts, according to a Via spokesperson.

Media agency Touche! and digital agency Tink are also supporting the effort.