What if we could make Metrolinx like Nike

What if we could make MetroLinx like Nike?

Nike consistently puts out some of the most compelling, motivating and beautiful ads. They tap into some universal human insight around our individual desire to be better, a competitive spirit that’s as much a challenge to another person as it is a challenge to our individual selves.

And it isn’t just celebrity that makes them so engaging. In fact, in Brainsights’ research, their ‘regular people’ spots (for want of a better descriptor) have been shown to perform at least as good as the celebrity-ladled spots.

They may not be shared as much online, but they activate something far deeper in our subconscious that makes us love the brand.

So much so, in fact, that the brand is worth $17 billion, according to InterBrand, the global communications consultancy. That makes it the world’s 24th biggest brand, and the largest in the sporting goods category, more than twice the value of Adidas.

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http://fortune.com/2012/02/13/nikes-new-marketing-mojo/

But how could MetroLinx, the transit agency of the Ontario Provincial Government, become like one of the best brands in the world? And why would we want it to be?

Let’s answer the second question first.

Why? Why on earth would we want the government’s transit organization to be like Nike?

Nike advertises in order to persuade consumers to adopt its view of the world. As a business, fundamentally this is to sell product.

MetroLinx isn’t too different in terms of its marketing and communications objectives. It advertises to persuade citizens of its value, and inevitably to embrace its product – public transit.

The difference is, Nike does it WAY better. Sure, it’s got global reach, and it spends billions of dollars each year marketing and promoting its brand (including its sponsorships not captured in the chart above).

It’s also not advertising public transit, but sports. And LeBron James, Christiano Ronaldo, Rafael Nadal and Derek Jeter.

So, there’s that.

But, imagine if MetroLinx could get citizens as excited about public transit and its benefits as Nike gets consumers excited about sports and fitness?

Imagine if through its communications, MetroLinx could galvanize the population to adopt its view of the world: that a better way of getting around – one that saves time, energy, money and our nerves – is possible?

By understanding how Nike’s advertising grips the consumer’s brain it’s possible to provide MetroLinx with some tips on how to use advertising to persuade people of the benefits of public transit.

We analyzed the subconscious brain activity of hundreds of adults in Toronto as they watched more than one hundred spots, and have identified the key themes and components of ads that drive the emotional response of consumers.

Among these ads were several MetroLinx and Nike spots. Nike’s spots ranked in the top ten percent of the ads that we analyzed in their ability to drive consumer subconscious engagement, consideration and memory encoding.

Here’s what it does right:

  • It focuses on Not concepts, not systems, but people. And, in advertising, people relate to other people. People persuade other people.
  • It shows; it doesn’t tell. The Nike spot linked to above builds, grows and improves through the narrative structure and storyline that it follows. That’s precisely what it’s trying to communicate – this idea of continuously improving and challenging oneself, and reaching higher and further each time a goal was achieved. Importantly, and related to the first point, it does so through scenarios that regular people can relate to.
  • It positions its brand around the deep human insight of self-improvement and competitive spirit. It’s about competing with yourself to be better. Nike is the platform that empowers that.

Now take MetroLinx. It does precisely the opposite. There are no people in this spot. It tells, it doesn’t (really) show. And there’s no humanization that happens. It’s a shockingly poor ad that audiences ignore. Their brain data says as much.

So does it have a hope? Could MetroLinx actually be an emotional brand?

Could it be like Nike?

Maybe it sounds silly to consider, but MetroLinx is a brand like any other (it’s just quite uninspiring at the moment). It provides a service, and represents a set of ideas and associations (some good, some not so good).

But look at its mission; it’s nothing short of hugely audacious. From their website:

Metrolinx’s mission is to champion, develop and implement an integrated transportation system for our region that enhances prosperity, sustainability and quality of life.

This is big. And the work it does is absolutely vital to the success of the greater Toronto region. Furthermore, transit is a passion point of many in the city (for better or worse).

All of this actually gives it an advantage: MetroLinx is relevant. It’s not a new organization trying to make a name for itself in a nascent industry – it’s the Ontario government tackling a persistent issue.

And it’s the only game in town. They don’t exactly have a competitor.

So what can it do?

Assuming it actually wants to garner public support for transit, it should be taking a page from Nike.

Here’s some straightforward ways it can:

  • Bring people into its communication.

This is an organization that touches millions of people everyday. What they’re doing relies on people (and their tax dollars) and benefits people (more efficient transit). It should have people in their ads.

  • Show how their work benefits these people.

Generic imagery of GO trains and traffic jams galvanize no one. They don’t show us how we benefit from their work. This spot could just have easily been used for radio (and it would have cost taxpayers less, as a result). If it’s going to use video (TV and digital), it needs to use it. Tell us a story. Get us engaged.

  • Make it relatable to people.

This isn’t difficult. GO Transit, the biggest division of MetroLinx, services 250,000 people every day. It’s a fundamental part of hundreds of thousands of people’s daily routines. It doesn’t get more relatable than this. Leverage it.

  • Position its brand as one that empowers people.

At its core, MetroLinx is a platform, one that enables individual citizens to achieve what they need to – big and small – day after day. The hidden magic here, is that by empowering the individual – each individual – we actually empower the collective. By persuading each individual to see the world according to MetroLinx, we actually persuade the collective to embrace public transit.

And at that point, the MetroLinx brand becomes about empowering the collective to continue to improve and be better – enhancing prosperity, sustainability and quality of life.

Sounding more like Nike already.

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