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How Cubaka and ‘a bunch of nobodies’ boosted food sales onboard Virgin Trains


By Awards Analyst, writer

November 20, 2020 | 5 min read

Cubaka won the award for Best Retail Content Campaign at The Drum Content Awards 2019 with its work for Virgin Trains. Learn how the ‘#Unfluencers‘ campaign changed the menu with its comic, no-nonsense approach.

The challenge

‘Train food’ doesn’t have the best reputation. Beige bread? Limp lettuce? Sad, sad sandwiches?

Virgin Trains knew this and had recently invested in their onboard food and drink offering in an effort to compete with the retail favourites where passengers were stocking up before a journey.

It was a strong retail offering - vegan wraps, mac n’ cheese, even ethical coffee. The problem was, however, that nobody really knew about it. As a result, Virgin Trains had failed to hit their sales targets in each period of 2019. The brand needed people to positively engage in their new food and drink range, so turned to Cubaka for help.

Our KPIs were:

- Achieve a high % of positive feedback

- Drive a low cost per view with engaging/entertaining content

- Drive consideration of the new food range

The strategy

We wanted experience the new range for ourselves, so to kick things off we took a train ride as a team and ate everything on the menu – twice. Our lasting impression of the food was: “Yeah, it’s not bad.”

That’s really the best we could say about it. We knew we couldn’t bullshit the audience. This wasn’t about doing an M&S food porn approach. We had to be understated. The food just needed to be ‘good enough’ to be considered against the other options. This wasn’t about appearing to be gourmet.

We decided to feature understated reviews in the final films with end-lines such as “pretty good” and “yeah, decent” to describe the food.

At the same time, we’d noticed that the competition relied heavily on influencer marketing to promote their products. But the reality was that trust in influencers was taking an absolute hammering. Even the BBC was covering it.

We decided to take advantage.

The campaign

Instead of using influencers in our campaign we used ‘Unfluencers’ - a bunch of nobodies - Gordon Ramshed , Nige Lawson and Jamie Olivier to name a few.

We created a back-story about a #ad shoot gone wrong where the Unfluencers had turned up on set instead of the famous influencer chefs. Instead of Gordon Ramsay we had Gordon Ramshed. We had the Hairy Cyclists instead of The Hairy Bikers, Delia Smyth instead of Delia, the wrong Ainsley Harriet and poor Nige Lawson instead of Nigella.

We wrote a series of comedy scripts to promote each of the key items of food and drink and teamed-up with comedy director Simon Mathews and comedy specialist studio YES to bring it to life. We filmed a 45’ intro and 6 shorter videos (one for each item of food and drink on the new menu) and they were distributed on Insta and Facebook.

Virgin’s media company (Manning Gottlieb) planned the media in a way that pulled people through the story arc step-by-step. People were served the set-up video which explained the outline of the story, then were sequentially targeted with each of the six product videos. This ensured that people could follow the narrative unfold in their newsfeed day-by-day.

The results

The results were delicious. The period immediately following the campaign was the first period in 2019 that Virgin Trains hit their retail sales targets for food and drinks.

The softer metrics:

- 4 million video views

- The comedy helped drive a ludicrously cheap cost per 15’ video view of £0.01

- 97% positive conversation around the campaign. (Remember this is a train company)

- A happy client.

“Unfluencers is one of those campaigns you fall in love with instantly. Original, funny and bang on trend; it was a joy to work on from start to finish. The idea was so good I was nervous about how we would ever do it justice, but I needn’t have worried – the execution was flawless” - Emma Martell, head of social content, Virgin Trains

This campaign was a winner at The Drum Awards for Content 2019. To find out which competitions in The Drum Awards are currently open for entries, click here.

To find out what else is happening at The Drum, visit our new interactive calendar. Filter events by date, location and type, and add them directly to your diary.

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