I’ve recently recovered from a hacking, so to celebrate I thought I’d flag up an advert that has genuinely made me laugh out loud on two separate occasions this week – it’s this #iamtrain spot for the outfit formerly known as thetrainline.com – now rebranded as Trainline in an attempt to push people towards the app, rather than simple the website.
Before that, a caveat. I’m not especially fond of Trainline – the best of a bad bunch of websites that are clunky, confusing and rarely deliver on the kind of savings they shout about.
An example – if you want to travel one-way from Liverpool to Sunderland, as I have to regularly for work, you can’t get it for cheaper than about £70. Ever. If you go today, if you go next week, if you go next year you pay £70. Return? £85. Always. What’s that you say? Two singles might be cheaper? No, two singles are close to £150. Slower trains? No cheaper. Different routes? No cheaper. Oh, you can buy a single to York, the another from York. Then another back to York and another back to Liverpool and, yes, you might save a fiver. But then you’re committed to being on four different trains at specific times and and that point you might as well give up on life completely.
The last leg of this journey (usually taking 4-5 hours, despite its meagre distance of circa 170 miles) frequently leaves me standing on the godforsaken Thornaby platform. During one such windswept stopover here, deep in winter, I struck up a friendship with the only other fellow traveller. A mouse. Like a solitary-confinement prisoner driven mad by boredom and loneliness, I took some tiny solace that there was another living creature nearby and threw crumbs at it. Then the mouse left.
I was waiting for a benighted Pacer train – a train so depressing it’s what Thom Yorke would be, were the Radiohead singer a character in the Thomas The Tank Engine books. If Kylie Minogue had ever been on one of these trains she would never have sung The Locomotion, she would have written a concept album about entropy. During these journeys I am not train – I am expensive, cramped, uncomfortable, tardy cattle-truck. And whenever I travel by train this journey from Hell will cost me £70, regardless of whether I use Trainline or not.
So that’s the Trainline’s USP – that it’s cheaper, particularly if you book in advance – gone in a second. And that is, frankly, the only meaningful appeal of buying train tickets on the internet. If I want to collect them (rather than pay to have them delivered) there is one station in Liverpool that currently dispenses tickets bought online. And it’s not the station I use. And there’s a booking fee to buy tickets online. Fundamentally, using The Trainline is more expensive and less convenient to me than rocking up at the station on the day and slapping a load of cash down.
I could go on about the insanity of our privately-owned, publicly-subsidised, fragmented, cramped, slow, unjoined-up, shagged-out rail service but what would be the point? Even Tories agree the trains should be renationalised – sadly a tiny elite of evil warlocks have decided that such a thing is Beyond The Pale so everyone has to abide by the same lunatic failed system. No, I’ll restrict myself to a brief discussion of the joys of this advert instead.
It’s a nice idea – but sending up overblown spots isn’t exactly novel. What’s so good here is the execution. The narration is barely more ludicrous than the sort of slack-jawed eulogising frequently heard in spots for travel and leisure but it’s got a keen eye behind it. It doesn’t feature that deliberately overblown impression of Patrick Allen that infects virtually any It’s-Ironic voiceover in the last two decades (such as the Skeletor adverts).
The notion of a man whose superpower is essentially to use public services efficiently may be innately funny, but the turns of phrase are lovely: “I have a little banana in my bag” (and the little rise in intonation that accompanies it) perfectly catches the everyday, little-victory drudgery of a British commute.
And the idea this man is so incredibly excited at the prospect of his journey that he might belt out a rough approximation of the warning blast of an approaching train – to the general diffidence of his fellow commuters – similarly delightful.
That this passes off with barely a flicker of interest and with a slow zoom onto his face – raised in triumphant expectation, open-mouthed and quivering slightly with the unalloyed joy of it all; thrilled at the mere arrival of a train – has genuinely made my day.
If only all adverts could be this good. And if only British rail travel in the 20th Century – and the UX of Trainline’s website – matched it.