RK Venture

Metrolink Case Study

In Southern California, car travel is still king. It was the main reason for the expansion of the American population to the West Coast in the 1950s, and it is still the main mode of transportation for millions of people in the region to this day. Despite ever-increasing traffic, fluctuating costs of fuel and vehicle maintenance, not to mention the negative impact that driving inflicts on the environment, it remains a challenge to get drivers to consider alternate means of transportation, particularly riding on a commuter rail system. 

RK Venture began working with Southern California’s commuter rail system, Metrolink, in 2011. The nearly 20-year-old rail service was suffering from negative public perception for a number of reasons. First and foremost, many potential customers in car-centric Southern California did not even know that there was a commuter rail system. Further, because the name is so similar to that of the Los Angeles County commuter system (Metro), there was confusion among the public that Metrolink was a separate entity. Lastly, those who did know the name Metrolink had heard of the rail line when one of its trains was involved in a deadly crash. Our original tasks were intended to bring new vitality and public awareness to the existing Metrolink brand.

A second project undertaken to increase ridership and tout the eco-friendly aspects of train ridership, was the “Bikes on Board” campaign. Metrolink recently began designating specific cars on each train open to bike riders, providing on-board racks in an effort to make it easier for bike-to-train-to-destination commuting. The campaign indicated to the public that this service existed, and wayfinding was designed to clearly designate which car was the “bike car.”


Most recently, a campaign to raise awareness and increase ridership of Metrolink, a variety of social media platforms were utilized to extend the reach of the traditional advertising efforts revolving around a huge construction project on Interstate 5. A seven-mile stretch of the highway was slated for a major reconstruction and expansion project, sure to affect thousands of drivers every day. Audience engagement was solicited by enlisting several highly followed Los Angeles based YouTube, Vine and Instagram content creators. Following our supplied brand positioning and creative direction, each creator was then given free reign to interpret Metrolink benefits into their posts. Content was then shared to their multitude of followers. To coincide with this push, RK Venture also produced a supplemental video that further extended the brand message, releasing it on YouTube and Facebook in coordination with the various Vine and Instagram posts by our chosen content creators.


The strategy that RK Venture devised was intended to give a personality and voice to an underserved brand. The visual look and feel of all materials was updated and given a contemporary, urban, hip look. Copywriting and general messaging was given an updated, casual conversation friendly tone. We also explored alternate ways of telling stories that highlighted Metrolink’s benefits; we needed to devise ways to cut through the clutter of an oversaturated media market. RK Venture decided that alternative platforms to get the Metrolink message across would also include heavy reliance on social media and unique copy positioning for out-of-home media buys including outdoor posters, billboards, station graphics, bus shelter signage, and animation graphics for the terminal. Other collateral included direct mail pieces with coupon codes to redeem from the Metrolink website, print ads, rack cards, web ads, and radio spots.

For one of our first projects for Metrolink, RK Venture developed eye catching vinyl wraps applied directly to the train cars. Theses graphics promoted the “Bikes on Board” effort, which allowed riders to bring their bicycles on board the train with them, thereby making a car–free commute even easier. The entire train cars were wrapped in campaign graphics, creating, in essence, rolling billboards for the initiative. The launch of the program was kicked off with a highly publicized press conference and a free ridership day promoted through area bike shops and clubs. Subsequent advertising campaigns also utilized train car wraps as part of their creative execution.


Next, Metrolink assigned RK Venture to create a new safety campaign to remind passengers about train safety throughout their route network, in stations, on platforms, and along the tracks. The character “Smarty” was introduced in 2013, and serves as a spokesperson for all of Metrolink’s safety efforts, while also appearing on posters, collateral, train car wraps and TV / video executions. Smarty’s presence will continue to grow in all venues including a living/walking mascot that will soon travel throughout busy terminals to remind people to be “Track Smart.” A nice endorsement of the campaign’s success came from earned media, as the Smarty PSA “Hey Spandex” appeared as one of StreetblogLA.com’s “Daily Headlines” in August of 2014.


As RK Venture’s relationship with Metrolink continued to grow, our scope of work expanded to include advertising efforts revolving around a huge construction project on Interstate 5. A seven-mile stretch of the highway was slated for a major reconstruction and expansion, sure to affect thousands of drivers every day. By pushing the train as a dependable, relaxing, cost effective alternative to construction zone traffic, we were able to convert a sizable amount of drivers to become Metrolink commuters. Direct mail and outdoor billboards were utilized to spread the word about Metrolink being an alternative to fighting traffic during the I-5 construction. A supplemental social media campaign was developed and launched, featuring a series of traffic frustration-related videos that were created and shared by a handpicked group of Vine creators, whose audience is a multitude of followers. Additionally, an RK Venture directed video was produced and released on YouTube. 

The work RK Venture has undertaken for Metrolink can certainly be seen as a success. Ridership on all Metrolink trains has increased during the length of our contract, especially for the coveted, millennial audience on affected train lines. There has also been a huge increase of views on the Metrolink website. We have been able to retain an average of 52% of returning website visitors while capturing 47.6% of new visitors to the site over a 12 month period.

RK Venture has won numerous Telly and Addy awards for the campaigns we’ve created, and Metrolink themselves have been cited for outstanding marketing efforts from numerous transportation industry awards competitions.

In 2011, Metrolink saw its numbers of daily riders steadily increase from 39,047 to its highest number of 44,269 that same year. 

Since the inception of the Bike Car campaign in December 2011, there have been monthly increases in biking Metrolink riders, with the current figure being nearly 22,000 biking passengers a month.

While the campaign efforts are ongoing, Metrolink has already seen positive results. From FY11 to FY12 they have had ridership growth of 9% and revenue growth of 6%.

These are some of the strongest growth numbers in the nation for commuter rail.

Most recently, 2014 has shown numbers to hold steadily with an average of 40,000+ riders on a monthly basis.