Instead of creating a generic night train ad, Finnish Railways turned one of its actual trains into the world’s most ambitious escape room game. The entire Escape Train campaign was a month-long cross-media reality-show competition, with a teaser phase, recruitment phase, a build-up phase introducing the participants, “the finale”: a 13-hour live-stream of the game; and follow-up material.
Without any investments on paid media, The Escape Train became Finland’s most watched web-TV-program, and it received more viewers than The Murder on the Orient Express – with 1/1000 of its budget.
Nearly every Finn travels northwards for the Holidays, as Northern Finland is full of holiday resorts and recreational real estate. In a country where distances are long, people generally drive their car when travelling domestically. Most don’t even consider taking the night train.
To increase consideration and persuade more people to opt for travelling by train, VR, the Finnish Railways, needed to draw attention to its night trains – a mission easier said than done during the busiest commercial time of the year.
Describe the creative idea
In the fall of 2017, a classic night train story was making a comeback to the cinemas, with the release of the 20th Century Fox hit film Murder on the Orient Express in November.
With the anticipation of the new film running high, we saw the opportunity to draw the spotlight towards VR’s night trains by bringing the fictional murder mystery to life.
Simultaneously, data demonstrated an increased popularity towards escape rooms, something no other brand in Finland had yet utilized as part of their marketing communications.
So we created the Escape Train – a 13-hour escape room game set on a night train journeying 1 000 kilometers across the country, with a storyline based loosely on Murder on the Orient Express.
Describe the strategy
Christmas – and especially the few weeks preceding it – marks the busiest time of the year for most Finns. Multitasking between holiday preparations and completing the year at work has pulses running high.
With the endless bombardment of promotional clutter, it was evident that cutting through to those already overladen minds would require something extra. Instead of pushing a low price point or generic selling points, we wanted to generate genuine interest towards trains.
While the overall target audience was the whole Finnish adult population, we set out to tap into the interests of a more niche audience, whose passion would fuel the campaign’s growth into a wider phenomenon.
Various data points showed how the popularity of escape rooms had been growing in Finland, so pairing experience gaming with the upcoming film made sure we had the support of both escape room fans and film buffs.
Describe the execution
The campaign began with a teaser film that was spread organically on Facebook and Twitter and seeded especially to the entertainment and movie media.
A recruitment site was opened for potential competitors to apply to play in the game. The hype was then built up with video clips of the chosen players preparing for the upcoming challenge.
The game itself was live-streamed in reality-TV style on Facebook, YouTube, and on Iltalehti.fi, one of Finland’s leading news sites. Viewers could alter the course of the game real-time, by voting on Facebook reactions, using again a recognizable reality-TV feature.
In addition, the game’s cinematic storyline could be followed on Facebook and Instagram stories, which were updated throughout the night. More than 50 clips were pre-shot to enrich the live-stream. With player introductions, character background information, and regular updates on the game’s status, the audience was entertained throughout the journey.
Describe the outcome
From the release of its first teasers, Escape Train generated unprecedented interest. Over 3,000 Finns applied to participate on the 13-hour trip, over an application period of two days.
The campaign generated more than 40 000 000 impressions in earned media, and reached over 6 000 000 people organically on social media.
The live-stream gained 123,000 views, more than Murder on the Orient Express during its first 5 weeks in theaters. The engagement rate on the Finnish Railways social channels rose to 6.7 %, nearly a threefold increase to the brand average.
Finally, December marked a year-on-year growth of 8 % in ticket sales, meaning that holiday trains left jam-packed for their annual journey up North.