Clean the house before you invite people inside

You remember how, when you were a kid, Mum used to make you tidy up the Lego/He-man toys/collected novels of Dostoyevsky before people came round? Turns out, Mum was right. A messy, confusing and trap filled house is no place for a guest.

But guess what? This blog isn’t really about parenting. Ha! What it’s really about is about is brand experience VS a brand campaign.

Unless you’ve been staring at your phone like a mindless automaton, you might have noticed Great Western Railway’s Enid Blyton inspired brand campaign that’s been running for the past 15 months or so.

Adam&Eve/DDB delivered a campaign that leans heavily on shared British social memory and manufactured nostalgia; the ads depict endless summer holidays, itchy wool trousers and uniquely un-exotic mini adventures. It’s a nice campaign.

Enid Blyton’s children’s novellas were ostensibly about the 4 kids returning from boarding school to enjoy summer holidays with their dog. I say ostensibly because these children clearly enjoyed almost unimaginable privilege and endless ham sandwiches whilst frequently engaging in low level smuggling during the early 1940’s as a war ravaged Europe attempted to emerge from the grips of genocide, economic collapse and the beginnings of the end for the dominance of the Abrahamic faiths over the Western world’s moral compass – so you tell me what these books were really about.

Anyway, GWR decided this was the best way to invite people into their house (not literally, remember this is a metaphor) to spend oodles of money on train tickets. So far so good.

Only it turns out GWR enjoyed the 1940’s so much they have delivered a customer experience worthy of wartime Britain.

Last week I tried to go from London to Bath with a bicycle (whilst this sounds like the sort of TV show Michael Portillo would present, it isn’t). Here’s what happened:

1. I tried to book online via the Internet, because its 2018.
2. I successfully entered my journey details. I will come to look back on the halcyon days of step 2 with great fondness; my only real victory here.
3. I got stuck at this screen for many minutes:

4. I reloaded the browser, repeated steps 2 & 3.
5. Having succeeded, I then got stuck at this screen (n.b. it’s similar to the screen at step 3 but NOT THE SAME SCREEN):

6. Next, I try to add a bike reservation. But you can’t, because no matter what train you select you get this charming little pop-up:

7. I debate using their ‘Live Chat’ function. There is a similar screen to steps 3 & 5. I give up and call them on a telephone; the kind of thing people did in the past like sun worshipping barbarians.
8. After one dropped call I succeed in booking my train and reserving a bike space. Big thanks to Gareth for being a lovely assistant. This is genuinely the only high point of my contact with GWR.
9. Later, I arrive at the station to pick up my ticket. Only I actually have 9 tickets. Enough paper to start a good sized BBQ should I get hungry. Which is convenient because: see step 10.
10. My train is cancelled.
11. Luckily, all the advanced ticket counters are closed.
12. Whilst I eat my emergency Twix, I decide that I’m just going to get on the next train like Winston Churchill would have wanted.
13. In turns out that there are more people inside the train than outside of it. This isn’t necessarily GWR’s fault – there were far fewer people in the UK 1942.
14. The end.

I’ll say this bit again: it’s a nice campaign. And I have no doubt it speaks to a cross section of Brits (despite a total and unapologetic lack of diversity in either the books or the ads, but ho hum).

But, and I can’t say this bit clearly enough, I never ever want to go round to their house to play again.

If you work for a business that is thinking about spending loads of money on a lovely, big-name-agency, campaign or if you’re the person responsible for this decision then I beseech you: get your house in order first.

There’s no point directing customers to your shop if the building is on fire, the door made from knives and the only method of payment is non-sequential $100 bills.

The way customers buy a product or service matters. How frustrated they get with your technology matters. The ability to select and pay for what they want matters. These are all components of brand experience. And brand experience matters; it matters oh-so much.

So please, clean your house.