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Most Creative Marketers

Most Creative Marketers: Jo McClintock

Trainline’s VP of brand, Jo McClintock, predicts strong signals for sustainable travel journeys – by train of course

By Jennifer Small

If you’re at the Cannes Lions Festival this year, ask Jo McClintock how she travelled there… and she’ll tell you, “I Came By Train.”

It’s also the tagline for the brand’s latest platform (all puns intended), created by Mother and fronted by Craig David with a track, called ‘Better Days’, he penned specifically for Trainline. It’s step beyond the brand's usual marketing fodder, pushing reliability, pricing, and ease.

Described as “a love letter to Mother Nature,” McClintock says the song “conveys the opportunity that people have to make different choices, rather than making them feel shamed into change.”

Described as “a love letter to Mother Nature,” McClintock says the song “conveys the opportunity that people have to make different choices, rather than making them feel shamed into change.”

With transport being the UK’s number one cause of climate change, the campaign is designed to nudge behaviour towards train travel for sustainability reasons: train journeys are up to 70 per cent more sustainable than car journeys, but only 17 per cent of people in the UK are aware of that, so the brand faced a huge awareness challenge. In fact, cars and planes create 58 per cent of the UK’s transport CO2 emissions, whereas the entire rail network (with all the trains to everywhere) adds up to just 1.5 per cent.

Following the campaign’s first run there was a 13 percentage-point spike in awareness around rail being more sustainable, with ad recall at 30 per cent against an average of seven percent. At its heart, the platform is a mission to drive people to change at least one flight or car journey to train. And Trainline itself has a five-year ambition to save 200,000 tonnes of CO2.

“We believe we can do it with 22 per cent of the population moving at least one journey per year from car and air to rail,” says McClintock.

And it’s working: 92 per cent of people who recall the campaign said they were likely to switch, according to Globescan 2023. Meanwhile, of people who were primarily car drivers, 14 per cent were more likely to switch a journey to rail after seeing the campaign, with 23 per cent of air travellers more likely to be persuading to take the train after seeing the campaign.

“As a platform, ‘I Came By Train’ has all been about addressing societal demand, ditching scare tactics and focusing on the idea of ‘train bragging’ as we call it, and the idea of creating pride. So what's the best thing you can say when you turn up somewhere? ‘I Came By Train,’” McClintock says. “Not only has it grown awareness, which was a huge barrier and one of the key objectives, but it has also motivated people to switch. We've got a huge job to do to get people to change behaviour, but these kind of top-level results are really strong indicators that what we've done has worked – and now we need to build on it.”

Craig David: born to do it

He was “a lovely guy, the warmest, kindest, and a really great guy to work with,” says McClintock of the noughties R&B star Craig David. His smooth tones, which resonate across a couple of generations thanks to his dance music Ibiza Rocks stardom, are laid over an animated video created by Golden Wolf, which McClintock describes as “the movie.”

“I call it a movie because to me, it feels like a movie. It feels like a Disney-style thing with great storytelling throughout. We are trying to make a positive impact to the planet, so, for me, animation plays brilliantly in this space. And we had a great talent, so we were able to integrate Craig into the movie, and integrate trains into it. I'm super proud of the work.”

In addition to the music video, the campaign was amplified further by carbon-sucking billboards nationwide and a dedicated website highlighting facts about train travel. With the help of independent creative agency Mother, the transcendental talent of Craig David, and a certain trainspotting social influencer Francis Bourgeois, the campaign exceeded its social media tracking benchmarks by 485 per cent.

“It blew every target out the water, with 15 per cent engagement, and 1.6 million views of the content. What we did was to really try and drive fame and awareness,” McClintock explains. “And now we're seeing people like Francis, and other content creators who have engaged with the campaign, either organically or through partnerships, are starting to build that conversation online about trains being much more sustainable.”

Listen to Mother

McClintock admits her initial brief was “terrible” – like “help us make rail famous for being sustainable.”

But it was the right ask, she says. “It wasn’t asking to help Trainline grow its business, it was saying ‘it's our job to make people aware they can make a better choice for the planet and also a fundamental part of our being and purpose at Trainline.”

McClintock has admired Mother’s work for a long time in the sustainability space, having spied the agency’s Greenpeace work back in 2018, which she praises for marking the shop out as a creative agency that “really knows how to land something powerfully emotional, and get people to engage with it. For me, it was a no-brainer to work with these guys.”

The relationship with Mother, says McClintock is one of “radical candour, openness, and trustworthiness.”

On the right track

And it’s really just the start, says McClintock, because this is a five-year ambition for Trainline. Part one has arguably has been a great spike and success, but McClintock has a lot more work to do, including a Reasonable by Rail research and database tool, to highlight “hero routes” where rail is significantly cheaper and faster than car, such as Bradford – London, Edinburgh – Newcastle and Manchester – Glasgow and London – Manchester, which offers an opportunity to save time, money and carbon by taking the train rather than flying.

At this year’s Cannes Festival, travelling via Eurostar to Paris with a second train all the way down to the South of France, McClintock will also be sponsoring and mentoring a group of young creatives (also travelling by train) from Brixton Finishing School through the Cannes For All initiative.

“It’s about how we can take the opportunity to invest in other great talent, while taking the train and understanding the environmental benefits. So we'll be doing some work with them there, helping them with mentoring and how they might evolve their careers,” explains McClintock.

She has a history in sustainable travel, having held senior marketing roles at Skyscanner and as a founding partner and adviser to the Travalyst team, alongside The Duke of Sussex, Visa,, and TripAdvisor, working to create a plan to lead the change to sustainable travel.

“We're all trying to find ways to improve sustainable travel choices, and it really is tricky,” she admits. But it’s not a hard choice for McClintock herself, who is a thorough convert to rail.

“Having such a huge and personal investment in the movement of ‘I Came By Train’ now in my conscience, I don't want to get on a plane. It doesn't really appear so much in my consideration set anymore,” she says.

As to the future, McClintock is on a mission to scale ‘I Came By Train’ into a public movement, bringing the rail industry, governments and public officials, along for the sustainable train ride through research, data and events such as COP. For now, there are strong signals that she’s on the right track.

The world according to Jo McClintock

Who is your creative hero or favourite piece of creativity?

“I loved the “explains a lot” comeback tweet, which was Burger King UK’s response to Kanye West’s love of McDonald’s, and is now the most-liked branded tweet of all time. It was all thanks to a really well-established social listening strategy and a rapid sign-off process, according to the tweet’s author, social creative James Parker. Just those three words were enough to nod to all the social context, which was awesome.”

What’s been feeding your imagination lately?

“Where I live in Norfolk, I just look outside my office door and at the end of my garden there's a field, where I've literally seen all types of nature: hares, partridges, herons… All sorts coming and going, sometimes I literally stare out there, so that and spending time outside is a really good breeder of creativity in my mind. It’s definitely where I get my ideas, or noodle on my thoughts.”

What do you think has been your boldest creative play?

“When I worked at Moonpig as brand director we tweeted about someone's genitals. I was hoping I wasn't going to get fired, and I didn't, which was good. And the tweet went viral. As a personalised card business, people can upload their own images and some like to upload pictures that aren't appropriate. Basically, this one guy kept doing it and it was appearing everywhere across our alerts. So we sent out a note on Twitter saying: ‘can people please stop sending pictures of their genitals? It's against our T's and C's.’ And it went viral. I thought I might have been fired, but they loved it. Obviously it was tongue in cheek, and being Moonpig thankfully everyone got the humorous brand vibe.”

How did it pay off, and what lessons did that teach you?

“First of all, it was a real human truth for us to say, “Would you stop doing that please?” And that's literally what we did. We made the brand act as a human would, and played into our tone and personality, and it paid off. For me it was the first time making Moonpig a little bit braver, we did it a few more times on different bits and pieces – its popularity gave us permission to just push the boundaries a wee bit more.”

What do you enjoy most about being a marketer?

“Taking risks but obviously calculated risks, not flippantly doing things that aren’t backed by insight. Great creative can be made on tiny budgets if you take big risks, but you can also make great creative on bigger budgets, taking risks or not taking risks. It’s all about taking risks or not taking risks. Looking at insight and asking “what if?” for me is a really great place to play, because that's where you can drive real outcomes and fame or impact from your ideas. It’s about being able to be that role in the business that thinks big and pushes the boundaries across all teams.”

What makes a good creative marketer?

“You can have the greatest idea or work with the greatest creative minds, but if it's going to achieve what it set out to do commercially, it's got to be based on consumer insight. Those are the foundations of any great creative. Alongside that, it's exploring all the potential ways you can push the idea and be open-minded about what it could be.”

What makes a good creative agency partner?

“We have a very good relationship with Mother in terms of radical candour. We talk about the challenges as they really are. There's no sugarcoating things. It’s all about getting the best possible work and outcome, and the teams being able to do their jobs in the best possible way. And that's what's great about our relationship with Mother – it’s a really open, honest conversation. And that has really driven great work along the way.”

And what frustrates you?

“Playing it safe. Great ideas come from boundary pushing and trying to find other ways to solve big problems. I'm always keen to peel back the layers, to find out what we could do to change people's minds or evolve their thinking.”

What excites you about the future?

“Sustainable travel and sustainable marketing. It's a super hard nut to crack. But I do know we've made some amazing progress, and some really strong signals, which is fantastic, but it's obviously just the start of a pretty big journey.”


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