Greyhound sets sights on young riders

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As it attempts to move back to profitability, Laidlaw International's Greyhound Lines is preparing a new marketing approach targeting a younger customer base.

The youth push comes as ridership declines post Sept. 11 and the industry continues to fend off an unglamorous image of bus riding. The Dallas-based marketer begins testing creative in late September that Senior VP-Marketing Toby Purdy said will involve a wide variety of media and approaches, including promotional tie-ins and grass-roots outreach. Richards Group, Dallas, will handle the effort.

The strategy is to grab the attention of a ridership that increasingly consists of college-age travelers. "We have more of a mix of youth and college passengers riding Greyhound today," he said. "We want to make sure we're reaching targets using the right mediums. Their mind-set and the way they get information is changing. It's not just about a TV advertisement anymore."

Observers said it's also got to combat the image of bus riding perpetuated by movies such as "Midnight Cowboy."

`wrong side of the tracks'

"There's the perception that terminals are on the wrong side of the tracks and that it's not exactly an upscale mode of transportation," said Steve Kane, publisher and editor in chief of the monthly trade magazine Bus Ride. "Although I'm not sure that's entirely fair."

Others said Greyhound's main challenge can't necessarily be helped by advertising. "It's one thing to change an ad idea, it's another to get that reflected in the customer's experience-the condition of the buses or the terminals and so on," said Allen Adamson, managing director at WPP Group's Landor Associates.

"One of the reasons we're making changes to our network is so we can invest back into the company and into buses and terminals," a Greyhound spokeswoman said. For instance, the bus line is attempting to get terminals in intermodals, which are largely new or recently renovated facilities where more than one form of transportation is available.

In April, Greyhound broke a series of spots from Omnicom Group's PGC Advertising, Dallas, that portrayed the bus line as way for people to visit family and friends. Upcoming work is being developed by independent Richards, whose duties for Greyhound were recently expanded from media buying and planning to branding and offline creative.

not edgy

Mr. Purdy would not reveal details about the creative approach, nor would he disclose how much is being spent. Greyhound spent about $16 million on measured media last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

But, he cautioned, the new emphasis doesn't mean that a brand associated with the famous tagline "Go Greyhound and leave the driving to us" is planning to turn to an edgier approach. "I wouldn't say edgy; what I'd say is relevant. ... We don't want to alienate any of our target," he said.

Whatever the approach, Greyhound faces a number of challenges. Business dropped steeply following a surge in bus ridership immediately following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Greyhound posted net losses of $111.6 million in 2002 and $28.9 million in 2003. The company attributed the smaller losses on cost reductions and better ticket pricing.

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