GREYHOUND STEERS MARKETING TOWARD YOUNGER RIDERS

But Can Slick Advertising Overcome Tacky Terminal Image?

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Shifting gears as it attempts to map its way back to profitability, Laidlaw International's Greyhound Lines is preparing a new marketing effort
In its quest to lure younger riders, Greyhound has turned to more youthful gimmicks like its 'spokesdog' Friendly.
targeting younger customers.

90th anniversary
The Dallas-based bus line, whose dashing dog is one of the nation's most recognized brand icons, celebrates its 90th anniversary this year and will test new advertising creative concepts in late September.

Toby Purdy, senior vice president of marketing, said the new promotional programs will involve a wide variety of media and approaches, including promotional tie-ins and grassroots outreach. The strategy is to grab the attention of a ridership that increasingly consists of college-age travelers.

That's no easy task. Decades of experiences in grimly spartan, ill-maintained terminal facilities, road worn vehicles and the general low-end milieu of bus-station culture has endowed it with a less-than-cool reputation amoung the younger set.

That problem has been further compounded over time by the paucity of Greyhound's overall marketing communications programs.

No marketing
"The brand suffers not from bad marketing but from no marketing," said Allen Adamson, managing director at WPP Group's Landor Associates, New York. "They have a clear brand image and huge top-of-mind awareness."

He said the company's greatest challenge may come from the riding experience. "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."

A younger mind-set
Mr. Purdy, Greyhound's marketing chief, emphacized Greyhound's intentions to expand its use of media. "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."

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

Mr. Purdy would not reveal any details of the creative concepts, nor would he disclose how much is being spent. Greyhound spent about $16 million on advertising last year, according to data from TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, which measures media spending.

'Leave the driving to us'
But, he cautioned, the new emphasis doesn't mean that a brand associated with a famous tagline, "Go Greyhound and leave the driving to us," and, more recently, a "spokesdog" named Friendly, is planning to follow other iconic brands and turn to an edgier approach.

"I wouldn't say edgy; what I'd say is relevant. We still skew female for travelers and we don't want to alienate any of our target," he said.

Whatever the approach, the company has a number of economic challenges ahead of it. 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.

Deep cuts in service
Earlier this month, a new plan went into effect that cut service in about 260 communities between Chicago and Seattle in an effort to streamline operations by focusing on short- and medium-length rides.

Although it is the only national bus network, analysts point out Greyhound does face competition from airlines' inter-city routes -- with which Greyhound can compete on price and number of destinations -- and, of course, from automobile travel.

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