Rail travel has jumped 40% in the past 10 years and is set to expand another 40% over the next decade, according to the Government's latest National Travel Survey. That may be bad news for commuters - unless capacity expands to meet the extra demand - but for advertisers it means access to an increasingly large and otherwise elusive audience.
Three out of four rail passengers are ABC1 - in other words educated, upmarket and affluent. Titan Outdoor head of insight Joe Hall explains: "Rail is one of the few places left where you've got a concentration of ABC1s. Unlike newspapers and TV, we're happy with media fragmentation."
London remains a commuter hub, with 42% of the capital's workforce using rail as their main mode of transport. But the rising costs of running a car, as well as the increase of long-haul services, mean there is less of a South East bias in passenger profiles. CBS Outdoor commercial director Jason Cotterrell says: "Three things that have boosted the appeal of rail travel are mounting fuel costs, more reliable services and a reluctance for downtime."
A recent report by CBS, in conjunction with The Future Foundation, pronounced that "car time is dead". The survey of 1,813 adults found that trains and the Tube/Metro are the most productive forms of travel, with 47% of people texting and 30% making mobile phone calls. Not only are numbers growing, but passengers actively welcome advertising, according to new research from Titan, conducted by independent research agency Other Lines of Enquiry.
Titan found that the average dwell time at train stations is seven minutes, rising to 22 minutes at terminal stations. And, unlike other forms of traditional media, outdoor advertising is non-interruptive - 75% of passengers surveyed said they preferred stations with poster advertising.
Eager to tap into a relaxed and receptive audience, advertisers are using ever more innovative ways to engage with potential customers. In January, Kinetic developed a multi-format campaign to promote the cinema release of Sweeney Todd, with commuters at Liverpool Street and Victoria stations offered a free wet shave at stands made up to look like traditional Victorian barber shops.
This summer, the agency oversaw "total rail domination" at 16 Network Rail stations across the UK to promote Vodafone's mobile internet service, with advertising on banners, billboards and ticket barriers, as well as Titan's Transvision screens. Meanwhile, a Vodafone mobile internet cafe toured stations, providing passengers with interactive areas.
Kinetic account director Luke Willbourn, who worked on both campaigns, explains that experiential advertising ticks all the right boxes; most importantly, it allows advertisers to interact with passengers and immerse them in a brand.
On-train advertising is also thriving. KBH Transport Media, which holds the exclusive advertising rights to 40,000 traincard panels across 10 London train operators, including South West Trains and Stansted Express, identifies its audience as 83% ABC1.
Passengers' average personal income is 30% higher than the average across London and the South East, and the audience spends on average three hours 30 minutes a week exposed to onboard advertising.
When Swiftcover, the online insurance division of AXA Global, ran a 10,000 panel campaign in October last year, 15% of passengers spontaneously recalled seeing advertising for an insurance company, 72% of whom mentioned the brand by name.
CBS Outdoor's Cotterrell says the challenge for advertisers is not to work out how to target passengers - a large and captive audience already exists - but to reach out to that audience in new ways, for example with more and better digital formats and advertising direct to mobile phones and laptops.
The contractor recently teamed up with Stirling Council to launch a Bluetooth download campaign around Stirling station's poster sites, making it the first Scottish station to "talk" to passengers about leisure and shopping opportunities in the city.
EMI also turned to Bluetooth technology earlier this year to promote Coldplay's X&Y album on six of Titan's 18 Transvision screens across London. In two weeks, 15% of passengers identified as having Bluetooth phones - 13,000 people - requested free download material, making it the world's largest known Bluecast.
Finally, as more and more people visit the retail units at major rail stations, advertisers are waking up to the benefits of targeting impulse shoppers as well as regular commuters.
According to research commissioned by Network Rail, the total footfall at Liverpool Street station is 141 million, which is five times more than that of Bluewater shopping centre in Kent.
With passenger numbers soaring, the opportunities for targeted, point-of-sale advertising can only go the same way.
Digital developments: new formats to reach rail users
- Titan Outdoor is rolling out 106 digital six-sheets across major London stations, including Waterloo, Victoria and Liverpool Street, in a £2m expansion of its UK rail estate. The new sites, known as D6s, use 65-inch high-definition screens that can be clearly seen from all angles. They can be remotely managed and have Bluetooth capabilities to allow advertisers to interact with nearby customers via their mobile phones. The roll-out is due to be completed by the end of October
- All GNER trains running from London to Scotland via Newcastle, Leeds and York are equipped with a wi-fi network. Access is free in first class, while standard passengers can use it on a pay-as-you-go basis
- National Express East Coast introduced free wi-fi access for all passengers in December. In June, it launched a free wi-fi network covering most of York station, which is used by more than 10 million passengers per year
- Southern Railway offers wi-fi on select Brighton Express trains through T-Mobile. Eighteen stations along the London to Brighton route are wi-fi-enabled, including Clapham Junction, East Croydon and Gatwick Airport
- The Cloud, Britain's largest wi-fi network, offers paid wireless internet services at numerous train stations, including Reading and Slough
- All 17 Network Rail-managed stations, including Waterloo and Paddington, are wi-fi-enabled. The main hotspot providers are O2, BT Openzone and T-Mobile
- Heathrow Express offers an on-board wi-fi network, developed by T-Mobile and Nomad Digital, along the entire route, which includes a 6km tunnel
Eurostar: key travellers
After an £800m restoration and extension programme, St Pancras International reopened in November 2007 as the new home of Eurostar, as well as the terminal for High Speed 1, the UK's first high-speed railway.
Titan Outdoor, which won the six-year advertising contract for St Pancras in August 2007, forecasts the site will deliver an audience of 44 million commuters by 2010, nearly nine million of whom are expected to use the station for retail purposes only. According to Titan, one in four passengers will be young, single and with cosmopolitan tastes, while 16% will have an appetite for luxury products.
Eurostar carries more passengers between London and Paris than all the airlines put together, 18% of whom are senior or director level, according to JCDecaux Airports.
Capitalising on 82,000 square feet of retail space, as well as Europe's longest champagne bar, Titan has developed a number of key outdoor sites. St Pancras boasts one of Titan's signature Transvision screens, six-sheets in 10 different locations and 11 24-inch plasma screens at visitor information points, which are in high footfall areas.
Meanwhile, CBS Outdoor manages advertising on 50 branded ticket gateways at the entrance to Kings Cross St Pancras Tube station, offering footfall of more than three million every fortnight.
Advertisers have been eager to make the most of the new sites. In December last year, IBM launched a two-month campaign to target Eurostar business travellers by sponsoring all available panels at St Pancras, including on the upper concourse and at the departure level entrance to the London Underground. Meanwhile, Fortis Bank wrapped a whole train on the Calais to Brussels route.
St Pancras is also keen to push its credentials as a hub for time-poor business travellers. Since August, passengers and visitors to the terminal have benefited from a free wi-fi network covering all station areas and platforms, managed by network provider City Space.
This article was first published on Media Week