How a Train Operator Went Viral for a Day

Trainy McTrainface
“Meet the Coolest Train We’ve Ever Seen: Trainy Mctrainface”Travel and Leisure

Let’s face it, commuter trains are boring.  They get you from A to B, and with a bit of luck they’re on time.  With a bit of luck you won’t be sat next to a screaming baby in the morning or a screaming drunk on the way home.

In London, train operators aren’t the most popular companies in the world.  Ticket prices are high.  Trains are delayed.  And as for getting a seat during rush hour, well, you’ve probably got a better chance of riding shotgun with the driver.

So how did South West Trains become so popular for a day?  How did one of their commuter trains go viral across social media and feature in mainstream media?  How did they get such a brand boost, for free?

The answer: Trainy McTrainface.  A joke by a train guard who changed his train’s display board to Trainy McTrainface.  A nod to the Boaty McBoatface furore.

Commuters spotted Trainy McTrainface as it rolled into London Waterloo one morning.  Phone cameras flashed.  Tweets went out.  Soon Trainy went viral, and its guard became an instant hero.

“Commuters took to Twitter to salute the cheeky worker.”Evening Standard
“Commuters salute guard after ‘Trainy McTrainface’ pulls into Waterloo”Evening Standard

The positive publicity boost for South West Trains is pretty exceptional, given the general negative vibes towards train operators in London.  And it wasn’t planned by the marketing team.  Didn’t require a budget.  It was just a guerrilla prank by a playful employee.

A South West Trains spokeswoman said:

“It is a one-off by one of our creative guards who wanted to bring a smile to the face of our customers.”

A Starbucks server in the US did the same thing.  They brought a smile to the face of one of their regular customers in a more heart-warming way.  They learned American Sign Language (ASL) so they could communicate with a deaf customer.  The story went viral on social media, featured in mainstream news, and boosted the Starbucks brand.  Again: no marketing plan, no expensive ads.  Just a resourceful employee surprising a customer.

So what made Train McTrainface and the Starbucks ASL story go viral?  Ibby Piracha, the deaf Starbucks customer, reveals the answer in his Facebook post:

“I am surprised she learning sign language because I attend to Starbucks 3 times in a week”

He was surprised.  Just like the commuters who spotted Trainy McTrainface.  They were surprised too.  Ibby Paracha wasn’t expecting a Starbucks server to learn ASL just for him.  The commuters at Waterloo station weren’t expecting a train with a silly name.

Surprise is the single common element of viral content.  You can read all about it in our free e-guide.  You can see how other businesses, brands and blogs use surprise to go viral.  And you can see how surprise would work for you.

Until next time!

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Image credit: Evening Standard

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