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By Julie Sneider, senior associate editor
[Editor's note: This story was updated on Sept. 16.]
When CSX Corp.'s communications and marketing team determined the company needed a brand-awareness campaign on the importance of logistics and intermodal transportation, the group decided to go for something fun.How could they make the complex subject of logistics and intermodal transportation "fun" and memorable, especially for a target audience that wasn't necessarily rail oriented?Meet "The Intermodals," an animated video web series that CSX launched this summer to showcase its growing intermodal business. The series features a cast of characters — Mike the talking train, Carl the truck, Rosie the ship, Bob the crane, and Randy and Sandy, the stacked containers — whose stories explain an aspect of the intermodal and logistics business. Each 30-second "webisode" relies on tongue-in-cheek humor and a jingle to drive home the message.
The campaign's paid promotional period ended in July, but the series lives on at The Intermodals website.The company decided to build a campaign around intermodal service because it's "an important and growing" part of CSX's business, says John Claybrooks, CSX director of brand and digital media.
"The other thing about intermodal is that it's very relatable because most consumer products used in everyday life are delivered via intermodal transportation," he says. "We thought we would be able to drive home how essential and relevant CSX is to consumers and the overall economy."For six weeks, CSX paid for promoted posts and sponsored content on CNN.com and on CNN's mobile app. Before and after the paid campaign, CSX promoted the series on the company's Facebook and Twitter sites, which helped drive viewers to The Intermodals webpage. All 16 webisodes are available for viewing on the site. CSX worked with North Carolina-based marketing firm Mullen Lowe to create the stop-motion animation series, which Claybrooks says has appealed to a range of age groups, from millennials to their boomer-age parents. The campaign was delivered via social media for a specific reason."When we think about the generations that we're trying to attract to our industry, we have to be where they are and communicate in ways that reach them," says Claybrooks. "Social media is a platform that they respond to, so that's what why we chose it." Another technique used to attract an audience: gamification. In addition to the videos, The Intermodals website features "Modal Mania," an interactive video game that challenges players to place blue intermodal shipping containers on the correct train, truck or ship.
"One of the major trends in social media is gamification, so we were trying to find a way to leverage that in a business context," says Claybrooks. "You certainly drive your engagement with your content a lot more by having gamification be part of your concept and execution. And the game certainly has contributed to the success of campaign."
How successful has it been? The Intermodals have attracted "multi-millions" of responses in the form of website views, clicks, "Likes" on Facebook, shares from one platform to another, and views of the promotions on CNN, says Claybrooks.Some in the advertising media have compared The Intermodals' style to "The Lego Movie" or "Thomas the Tank Engine" children's books and TV shows. Claybrooks says any similarity is coincidence, but he doesn't mind the comparisons because they've helped drive up the appeal across demographic groups to include little kids."Children were especially intrigued by the videos and the jingle, and I heard that they were watching the series together with their parents," Claybrooks says. "We got multiple emails and shout-outs from suppliers and from our fellow peer rail organizations that the series was having that effect."There probably won't be any new tales of The Intermodals, but they will continue to exist online, says Claybrooks."The main takeaway for us is that we had such great success with the format," he says. "We will evaluate using short webisodes and this type of creative style again."