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.