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"Rebuilding the MARTA Brand" - Lindsey Kuper [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Lindsey Kuper

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"Rebuilding the MARTA Brand" [Sep. 27th, 2008|06:04 pm]
Lindsey Kuper

I've been reading The Fall of Advertising by Al Ries and Laura Ries. I picked up the book for 99 cents at Goodwill, intending to give it to Maya leadsynth since she makes a hobby of deconstructing advertising. Instead, I started to read it myself. I like their snappy writing style, and I like their discussion of branding, athough a lot of the brands they discuss aren't ones that I particularly know or care about. But I just got to a section of the book that's about a brand that I do care about.

We live in Atlanta, a city that has a lot going for it including hills, trees, growing businesses, and a great airport. One thing that is not going too well in Atlanta is the traffic.

To solve the traffic problem, we have MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority). What PR strategy would you use to get people out of their cars and into a bus or train?

Many social problems are similar to the Atlanta commuting problem. The drug problem, the alcohol problem, the obesity problem. People know all the reasons they shouldn't take drugs or drink too much or eat too much, but they do it anyway.

People know all of the reasons why they shouldn't drive their cars to work, but they do it anyway. Conventional advertising programs are a waste of money, and PR programs based on conventional advertising themes are just as useless.

After thinking about the problem, here is what we would do. First of all, divorce the buses from the trains. Even better, give the buses a different name and reserve the MARTA name for the trains.

A bus isn't exactly a "rapid transit" vehicle. Furthermore the car owner, the real prospect for the campaign, sees the bus rider as someone who can't afford an automobile. Moving from a car to a bus would be tantamount to stepping down in status, always a difficult sell.

Focus on the MARTA trains. Narrowing the focus is a good idea for any marketing program. It gives you something tangible to work with. (Many companies market a broad line of products or services to offer customers "greater choice". By doing so, however, the often undermine the publicity potential of their product line.)

How do we move Mercury, Mercedes, and Mitsubishi drivers to become MARTA riders? Specifically, how do we move them to MARTA if they already know all the benefits of doing so? (Only 4 percent of all Atlanta commuters use MARTA trains. And 78 percent of car commuters travel alone.)

You let them sample the system. (You don't sell a new drink by telling people how great it's going to taste. You let them sample it.)

"MARTA Mondays" is our concept. Every Monday, everyone rides free on MARTA trains. Once a week MARTA should let prospects sample the system to see how much time it takes, how comfortable it is, how far it is to the nearest MARTA station, etc.

A high fixed-cost system, such as a rail network, is ideal for free sampling. The cost of carrying additional riders is minimal. Sure, MARTA would lose money on some regular riders, but not those who buy weekly or monthly commuter tickets. Every good idea involves some sacrifice.

What are the chances of MARTA actually adopting the MARTA Mondays idea? Not very promising. "What? Give away our service for free? Forget it."

(It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a breakthrough idea to enter into the kingdom of the corporation.)

Dear MARTA: Hire these people immediately. Thank you.

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Comments:
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[User Picture]From: kel_e_o
2008-09-28 04:01 pm (UTC)
Ugh, I wish MARTA had a ride for free if you're a student program....

I'm a student and I live within the city limits, but I don't want to walk 2.5 miles to school nor do I own a bike (thanks to a semi-recent theft--stupid thieves), and parking in downtown is unbelievably expensive.

I think MARTA should at least have a graduated fare system depending on how far you're going (like in the Bay area). When I ride the trains, I don't ever take them more than 2 stops. It seems like a waste to pay MARTA almost $2 for that! I'd be willing to pay them $.50 per ride, but that's not even an option!

There's a problem with their PR idea, though--free Fridays would open up MARTA to a bunch of people that prospective customers wouldn't want to deal with. A ton ton ton of homeless people would be on MARTA practically all day. The only thing that keeps them out now is the $1.75 ticket price. If you only rode MARTA with those people, then you might get the (wrong) idea that MARTA caters to the homeless--not something that you're average "Mercury, Mercedes, and Mitsubishi drivers" would want to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

The biggest problem with MARTA is that it doesn't go to any touristy spots and only services 1/8 of the outlying areas where commuters might actually take it to work. It doesn't go to Turner Field, to the Georgia World Congress Center, to concert venues, to the GA Aquarium, blah blah blah... That's why us Atlantans have been hoping and praying that Atlanta will adopt a light rail system--where we can actually take public transit to the places that we want to go--where it's not a huge hassle to go into the subway, buy tickets (where we pay $.50 on top of the $1.75 to print a paper ticket) wait for a train, take it two stops, re-scan our tickets and climb out of the subway only 2 miles from where we started. It's just not worth it most of the time--especially for inner city folks.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2008-09-28 08:46 pm (UTC)
That's a good point about free days encouraging homeless folks to hang out on the train all day. I hadn't thought about that. I guess the way to solve it is either have there be a higher barrier to entry (make individuals register and show proof of employment to receive a "free Monday" MARTA card, or something), or continue having it free to everyone but increase the number of transit cops and other MARTA employees on Mondays so that the trains stay clean and safe. The first way is going to be too much of a hassle for the folks they want to reach, and the second way is going to cost money.

I think that the authors' point, though, is that it's crazy that organizations are unwilling to spend money on this kind of thing (which would generate tons of good PR) but they are willing to spend millions on traditional ad campaigns which don't really do much good. They say that advertising is only good at helping an idea that's already in people's minds stay in their minds. It's bad at putting an idea there in the first place.
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