Amtrak Advertising Through the Years
A Look at the Taglines You Loved
As the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” When looking at Amtrak’s advertising campaigns over the past 50 years, that phrase has never been truer. Although we can point to the evolution of the style and location of the advertisements — going from printed posters and supermarket sweep campaigns to social and digital media — the premise has always been about highlighting the customer experience and the comforts and benefits of train travel.
In order to focus on Amtrak’s next 50 years and beyond, it’s essential we remember where we’ve been as a company. Here’s a recap of our major advertising campaigns over five decades and examples of how they were promoted through posters, brochures, television commercials and other means:
1971: “We’re Making the Trains Worth Traveling Again"
”After Amtrak was created by an act of Congress in 1970, it got to work creating a unified passenger rail system spanning the entire country — something that had never existed in the United States. Under the “We’re Making the Trains Worth Traveling Again” advertising campaign, Amtrak touted improvements it was making to the rail system. Print ads in newspapers and radio spots addressed the negative perceptions some people had of trains, and they invited Americans to check out the progress Amtrak was making to enhance the customer experience. The company highlighted passenger car overhauls, including interior refurbishments for greater comfort and style; faster and simpler reservation and ticketing procedures; schedule adjustments for better departure times and connections; and increased frequencies on some routes.
1978: "We've Been Working on the Railroad"
This campaign updated the well-known American folk song to include Amtrak’s continuing progress in making rail travel worthwhile again. It reflected major improvement programs undertaken by Amtrak in the late 1970s.
Amtrak employees were used in the print ads and radio and television commercials. A sales promotion effort supported the advertising program with special materials, including posters, brochures, counter cards, new menus, timetables and special fare programs. Merchandising and special events took on new character to concentrate on programs that had broad appeal, while also projecting a progressive rail image, building a larger sales base, and capitalizing on events of national or local importance.
The sweepstakes concept was used to reach large numbers of people with promotions offering rail trips as prizes. One major merchandising effort saw the successful implementation of an A&P supermarket sweepstakes that reached many new potential customers through the grocery chain’s television and print coverage.
Amtrak’s special “route blitz” program focused on three separate trains during the year:
- The “Return of the Champ” blitz centered on the reinstatement to year-round service of the popular Champion, a daily train running between New York City and St. Petersburg, Fla.
- The “Twentieth Century Week” blitz followed the route of the Lake Shore Limited (New York/Boston-Chicago) with a tie-in to the hit Broadway musical “On the Twentieth Century.” Included were special discount theater tickets for Amtrak passengers.
- The blitz focused on the Southwest Limited (Los Angeles-Chicago) was the most successful effort with a program that tied into the national celebration of Mickey Mouse’s 50th birthday. Mickey traveled from Los Angeles to New York City via Chicago and Washington with Amtrak.
1980: "America is Getting into Training"
As physical activity and exercise became more broadly popular with Americans — seen through increased interest in tennis, jogging, swimming and golf — people were also discovering trains and finding out that Amtrak was an effective and easy alternative to the private car.
This new campaign began over radio and featured a variety of musical arrangements such as pop, disco, country western, and Latin. New television commercials also aired from spring into summer. Finally, an eight-page insert for Reader's Digest featured a full-color presentation on the variety of accommodations, meals and trains operated by Amtrak, with highlights on the areas served by the company. Amtrak promoted this campaign internally with a kit, including a lapel button, pens, stickers, note pads, posters and counter signs.
1981: "See America at See Level"
Amtrak strategized its next advertising campaign to specifically focus on the 26 highest potential markets across the country to adapt to a national advertising campaign undertaken by air travel companies. The “See Level” series targeted audiences including business travelers, senior citizens and different multicultural groups.
Magazine ads for the “See Level” series showed actual scenery from Amtrak train windows to entice travelers with the benefits of Amtrak as a more relaxing and comfortable way to travel. They also pointed to the beauty and history of America’s towns, cities and countryside that were missed by air travelers. Likewise, regional television commercials used similar train window photography for vacationer appeal.
1983: "All Aboard Amtrak"
Market research completed in the early 1980s had revealed that much of the traveling public did not perceive Amtrak as a transportation mode that had the features and services they wanted. To show travelers the benefits of rail travel, Amtrak unveiled an aggressive advertising campaign and fare plan called “All Aboard Amtrak” aimed at capitalizing on the vast improvements in the system, the company’s ability to meet the needs of potential passengers and to acquaint the public with improvements in system and passenger amenities.
Television, radio and print promotions stressed rail travel’s comfort, reliability and convenience, emphasizing that “Amtrak takes you where you want to go — in style.”
1993: “There’s Something About a Train That’s Magic”
Amtrak worked with agency DDB Needham for a $30 million television, radio and print campaign. While this tagline was part of every commercial, it complemented, rather than replaced, the popular 10-year-old "All Aboard Amtrak" closing song performed by Richie Havens.
2001: “Arrive/Life on Acela”
To introduce its then-new high-speed Acela train to the world, Amtrak created the “Arrive/Life on Acela” campaign. It interpreted direct conversations from dedicated Amtrak passengers who described their personal feelings while traveling by train. From dreaming to reading to pondering to discovering, people felt very protective and defensive about “their” trains. It was their time-off or time-on. Doing nothing or being productive, they all loved life on their trains. The campaign ran for nine years inside major train stations, painted on buildings, and in New York City’s Times Square.
National Public Radio called this campaign "An attention getting effort to elevate train travel to where it once was."
2011: “You Have the Right”
Acela vs. the airlines. With fliers feeling increasingly marginalized, Amtrak’s message was one of empowerment. The “Rights” campaign ran in media spaces in and around regional airports — on television and in print, and it targeted the older business traveler. Awareness of Amtrak climbed 12 percent and Acela “stole” ridership at double its goal as well as bringing in revenue at 1.5 times its goal.
2013: “Take Off”
Highlighting the choice and benefits that consumers have for business travel, the “Take Off” campaign promoted the freedom and efficiency business travellers enjoy on Acela trains with captivating headlines like “Please Continue to Use All Electronic Devices,” “Seatbacks May Remain Reclined for As Long as You Like,” and “Today’s Trip is Full of Leg Room.”
The fully integrated campaign included digital, print, out of home and television elements. Ads featured customers enjoying the upscale perks offered on Acela service, including conference tables, comfortable seating, a wide variety of food and beverage options and complimentary WiFi. Being productive and hassle-free en route to a destination was vividly captured in the crisp, quick-cut imagery featured in the new spots.
2015: “500 Destinations, Infinite Stories.”
The nationwide brand campaign — “500 Destinations: Infinite Stories,” was inspired by passengers’ travel experiences from across the U.S. The campaign was designed to create top-of-mind awareness and showcased the comfort, freedom, service and value of train travel. The storytelling at the heart of the campaign focused on the unique experiences and adventures only rail travel can provide.
The multi-platform effort provided brand consistency across all channels including television, print, digital and social media and featured the breadth of Amtrak’s national train system including long-distance, Acela and Northeast Regional trains, as well as state-supported routes.
2017: “Break the Travel Quo”
Going head-to-head against some of the pain points of modern-day travel, “Break the Travel Quo” reminded consumers that Amtrak is a far easier, more comfortable and convenient way to travel. “Break the Travel Quo” depicted a lighthearted approach to push against the realities of air and car travel that have become par for the course, juxtaposing commonplace scenarios against the comfort and convenience of Amtrak. Ads featured taglines including "Legroom with Enough Room for Your Legs. Both of Them" and "Fly Past Traffic Without Having to Fly." The integrated multi-platform campaign employed digital, radio and outdoor advertising, in addition to public relations and social media.
2019: “Get Carried Away”
The “Get Carried Away” marketing campaign was developed to remind customers that traveling on an Amtrak train is not just about the destination — it is about the experience in between and the memorable moments that occur before they arrive at their destination. The national campaign included advertising placements on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, radio and digital display banners on hundreds of websites. Paid search placements on Google and Bing and digital billboards in select markets rounded out the paid media plan. Amtrak’s social media platforms and Amtrak Guest Rewards also featured the “Get Carried Away” creative and messaging in their communications
The campaign creative materials included three videos that are still running digitally (as of Feb. 2021) with select media partners and on social media platforms. The videos showcase the unique Amtrak travel experience and inspire and educate travelers to consider Amtrak for their future trips.
As we reach our 50th anniversary, passenger trains are needed more than ever. Whether it’s through advertising campaigns or another medium, Amtrak will continue to depict the benefits of rail travel, including modern amenities, safety, sustainability and more. The customer experience will continue to be — and always be — our best-selling point. Sometimes, things don’t change.
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