It may be an odd place to start a post about railway history, but Tesco are currently running one of their biggest campaigns in over a decade called “Food Love Stories”. This apparently seeks to focus you, the consumer, on the quality of their food offering. The campaign is hard to miss, Tesco are pushing it across multiple platforms including posters, youtube, Facebook, television and, of course, in-store. “Food Love Stories” are truly all around.
In marketing speak, what Tesco is subjecting us to is commonly known as ‘Integrated Marketing Communications’ (IMC). This is not simply where companies publicise their wares through multiple channels, this is where across channels you will see a single message or idea projected. This multi-layered approach, it is hoped, will much more influential on consumer choice and build stronger relationships with the consumer than if the message came from a single source, or you were receiving different messages about Tesco’s products and services at different times.
Whilst obviously interested in marketing practice today, as a business historian I am curious to understand when and how these modern practices developed. When did IMC first emerge, even if it was not called this at that point? Recently, Mike Heller has pushed the story of IMC in Britain back to the inter-war years. The General Post Office (GPO) in the 1930s sought to increase uptake of the telephone, something it had been criticised for not acting on in the 1920s, as well as grow usage of airmail. Innovative campaigns with single messages were launched across newspaper advertising, public relations, promotions, cinema, events and pictorial posters. The GPO’s slogan in 1933-34 was ‘Come On the Phone’, whilst in 1934 there was a national ‘telephone week.’ These efforts were successful, and, for instance, 200,000 new telephone subscribers were added annually in the later 1930s.
There is however more to say about the inter-war origins of IMC . At the end of his article, Heller posed a challenge to scholars; “More research here is needed in order to ask whether the GPO was an isolated case or whether it was indicative of an emerging form of marketing communication.” My research has shown that the latter was true, and that arguably the London & North Eastern Railway’s (LNER) publicity methods were equally advanced by the 1930s.
There is no shortage of printed matter telling us how great inter-war railway marketing was. Most famous are the pictorial posters that have done so much to shape the collective memory of the 1930s and the railway industry within it. Yet as I was at pains to point out last year, before 1939 posters were just one element in the railways’ wider system of marketing communications which encompassed handbooks, displays, model trains, handbills, newspaper advertisements, bookmarks, postcards, cinema and, from the 1920s, public relations.
Alongside diversifying the media channels they used to advertise, the railways’ technical skills in advertising also advanced and developed. Under William Teasdale, Advertising Manager between 1923 and 1927, the LNER started developing advertising practices recognisable as early forms of IMC. From 1924 its publicity began proclaiming that it served “The Drier Side of Britain”, its territory and resorts having less average rainfall than the rest of the nation. This phrase was projected across print media adverts, editorial copy, handbooks, leaflet and posters, impressing on the consumer that were they to travel to via the LNER for their holiday, they were guaranteed to have a sunny, less wet time. The company’s 1929 Holiday Handbook proclaimed that when choosing a holiday destination “the fact that the East Coast is the Drier Side of Britain is a factor to be carefully weighed.” Despite “The Drier Side” remaining in the LNER’s publicity lexicon until the company’s end in 1947, the slogan was frequently subsumed within, and incorporated into different campaigns, and was only occasionally the headline itself.
It was under Teasdale’s successor, Cecil Dandridge (1928-48) that the LNER’s approach arguably matured into IMC as it is recognisable today. Dandridge was one of the foremost commercial marketers of the age. He was deeply embedded in communities and networks of marketing professionals (which undoubtedly included GPO officials), and he proclaimed the need for a more ‘scientific’ approach to advertising.
Building on Teasdale’s work and undoubtedly drawing on what he learnt from the wider community of publicity professionals, Dandridge began projecting through media channels consistent advertising slogans, motifs and messages to maximise their impact. The most significant development was the company’s campaign “Meet the Sun on East Coast.” Launched in April 1939, this used almost every communication channel at the company’s disposal. In what was considered an innovative step, the slogan along with a cartoon sun adorned banners hung at stations and on embankments, and was affixed to the company’s motor vehicles, booking offices and ticket gates. Traditional advertising materials were also used; newspaper adverts, posters, handbills and handbooks all sold the message that you could “Meet the sun” via the LNER. To generate press coverage, journalists were taken around the company’s territories behind a train adorned with the “Meet the Sun” cartoon and slogan (see below for image). Finally, local authorities in the resorts the LNER served incorporated the slogan into their own press advertising. The sum result was that everywhere inside the company’s network, and far beyond it, a single consistent message was proclaimed. Such was the campaign’s intensity that Dandridge stated in May 1939 that:
At this moment hundreds and thousands of people are aware of a certain exhortation. The Londoner has seen it. The villager knows it. The Tynesider, the Mancunian, the Yorkshireman have heard it. When taking their holidays, they will very likely heed it—this exhortation to “Meet the Sun on the East Coast.” All around them, like Balaclava guns, are advertising media bombarding incessantly, urging them continuously to meet the sun where it shines on golden sands.
Unfortunately, the impact of the campaign is unclear, the war intervened before a full analysis could be undertaken. “Meet the sun” was however indicative of how far British railways’ marketing communications had come by 1939. The integration of different and sometimes innovative communication channels to project a single message in complex ways demonstrates that the LNER was one of the most creative marketers of the inter-war period. It is quite possible, then, that were Tesco’s marketing executives to look on this example today, they might identify a practice that is familiar to them – IMC.
If you are interested in learning more about British railway history, perhaps you want to study the University of York, Centre for Lifelong Learning’s Postgraduate Diploma in Railway Studies, which I teach. The development of railway marketing is covered in module 2 (The declining profitability of the British railway industry, 1870-1914) and module 4 (Railways and government, 1880-1939). More information on the course can be found here.