East Coast Trains’ innovative use of TV programming

  • East Coast Trains wanted to demonstrate their quality of service and friendly, dedicated staff  
  • They opened their doors for a TV series to be made about them
  • As a result, brand favourability doubled

The Challenge

East Coast Trains have worked hard in recent years to build a great service brand, focussing on people, training, infrastructure and product, but they weren’t getting the recognition they deserved. The challenge for East Coast Trains in 2013 was to generate external recognition for the internal transformation that had taken place.

Although in the past the train operator had struggled, lately failing fortunes had been reversed and the operator was now responsible for 19 million passenger journeys annually between London and Edinburgh. They wanted to take this even further though.

Their business objectives were to increase customer advocacy and also increase their share of website bookings. In order to achieve these objectives, they needed to distinguish the brand and to make travel prospects aware of what makes East Coast so appealing. The specific objectives were to:

  • Improve key brand image metrics
  • Differentiate East Coast’s staff and service quality
  • Improve brand awareness and the organisation’s profile

With growth from existing customers reaching saturation, inspiring new travellers to choose train rather than other forms of transport would prove paramount to achieving these objectives.

The TV Solution

East Coast Trains knew that it was their caring and welcoming staff that made the greatest difference to customer satisfaction. It was this brand truth that they most wanted to communicate. They were in the process of planning a TV campaign with a ‘feel at home’ brand positioning. Their media agency Havas Media felt they could take this communication further and find a deeper level of engagement that would support the TV advertising.  

They came up with the idea to turn the staff and their day to day stories into editorial. Trains are often criticised but are rarely understood, as most people don’t realise the complexity and the efforts that go into fixing problems that arise because they don’t get to see it. This lack of empathy not only affects front line staff but also the perception of the transport mode in general which creates a hurdle for inspiring people to choose trains. 

The editorial would complement the advertising by delivering authenticity for viewers as well as creating a sponsorship-type asset for East Coast’s internal marketing. 

The end result was ‘All Aboard East Coast Trains’ – a primetime 10 part series on Sky 1 produced by Cineflix Productions. The series would showcase the unseen hard work that goes into keeping Britain on track. It would show members of staff going above and beyond the call of duty, saving the day when things go wrong. 

As editorial integrity was essential, this had to be a ‘warts and all’ exposure with complete impartiality. It took bravery for East Coast to open their doors to camera crews especially given the operational demands of running trains. However, they were so confident in their staff and business they felt able to take this leap of faith.

Havas Media then worked with East Coast’s other agencies to integrate the association across all other marketing activity. This included:

TV spots – the newly created ‘Feel at Home’ 30 second spot was broadcast in the centre break of every first run episode. In addition, they used Sky AdSmart to target mid-highly affluent people on a regional basis in Newcastle, Sunderland and Edinburgh. 

Online – display ads across the Sky 1 website as well as the purchase of key search terms. In addition, the brand applied #AllAboardECT into promotion, editorially integrating across Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. 

Outdoor – advertising on station-owned sites as well as leaflets that were distributed on board and at travel centres

PR - strategy based around lead characters

The TV ads would communicate that passengers can ‘feel at home’ on an East Coast Train. The TV programme would prove it to them. 


The series rated well, consistently performing within the top 10 best programmes for audience delivery on multi-channel. In addition:

  • 70% of viewers were aware of publicity highlighting the success of the activation campaign
  • They generated 1,752 sales directly from the East Coast website 
  • The AdSmart campaign resulted in an increase of 26% for new households booking tickets directly from the East Coast website (compared with control group)

Independent research verified that the show had significantly achieved their brand-objectives. For example:

  • 79% thought the show gave a positive impression of the organisation
  • 66% felt the show has improved their understanding of East Coast Trains, the routes they operate and services they provide
  • Brand favourability has almost doubled when comparing viewers to non-viewers

The series has noticeably improved staff satisfaction and has helped to support the feeling of ‘one team’. The exposure has raised the level of pride in working for East Coast which is of crucial value to a service business.   

The campaign was a Finalist in Best Use of TV Innovation in the TV Planning Awards

The impact of the show has been phenomenal: it’s championed our staff who work tirelessly for our customers, has noticeably raised our profile and morale of the whole company. Although driven by the marketing team, our entire organisation has been involved in the journey, from initial nerves, to growing confidence and eventually pulling together with Havas, Cineflix and Sky to deliver what’s been our most effective partnership to date. It’s been a pleasure working with all involved who’ve felt like new members of the East Coast family.

Natalie Cowen, Head of Marketing, East Coast Trains


Sector: Travel and Transport 

Brand: East Coast Trains

Campaign objectives: To promote the fact that East Coast Trains are a caring and welcoming company who offer a great service 

Target Audience: ABC1 Adults  

Budget: approx. £300,000 for the activation campaign 

Campaign Dates: The series started on Tuesday 12th November 2013 with the first run programme airing at 8pm. The programme was repeated on Sky 1 and Sky 2. The series concluded at the end of January 2014

TV Usage: TV programme, 30 second spots

Creative Agency: Cineflix Productions (Production Company) 

Media Agency: Havas Media 

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