I spotted an ad for a Lionel train set as I was sitting on a stalled NJ Transit train the other day. The ad was pushing Lionel train sets at a 20 percent discount for NJ Transit passengers in honor of NJT's 30th anniversary. Holy cow, thought I, NJT has been torturing passengers for three decades now? How 'bout that?
And then I thought: how 'bout this dubious co-branded partnership between Lionel and NJT?
Typically, we create win-win partnerships with non-competitive organizations that are at least the equal of, if not superior, to our clients in terms of image and reputation. I can't ever remember suggesting a partnership with such an obviously bogus brand as NJT.
What must the marketing geniuses at Lionel have been thinking at the time? "Guys, we have tons of these crummy steam train sets lying around and the boss wants them out of here pronto. I want ideas on how to offload them on an unsuspecting public that a) has no discretionary money whatsoever and b) would much rather buy video games for little Jimmy. Thoughts?
Yes, Phlegmstein? Create a partnership with the worst commuter train line in the Northeast? Burn through our few remaining marketing dollars to create in-train posters that will catch the eye of angry, stressed out commuters offering 20 percent discounts? Interesting. Go on. It's also New Jersey Transit's 30th anniversary? Wow, this is a perfect storm! Well done, Phlegmstein. Get chugging!"
Can you imagine any pissed off NJT passenger spying this ill-conceived, woefully executed poster campaign and thinking, "By golly, baby Abdul loves throwing rocks at trains as they speed by our trailer. Why not honor NJT's decades of service, purchase a train set for the lad and save some of my hard-earned dollars in the process?"
There are bad marketing ideas and then there are the Lionel Trains/NJ Transit partnerships that simply defy logic.
As for celebrating NJT's anniversary, I'd suggest instead a subtle, but compelling, update of the tagline I created a while back: "NJT: Just train bad for 30 years."