Defining the Amtrak Brand IdentityComments
September 23, 2015
A strong brand represents why a company exists and for what it stands. Amtrak sums up its brand essence as “Simply a smarter way to travel.” America’s Railroad offers a transportation choice with comfort, freedom, service and value. It crosses the nation downtown to downtown, community to community, connecting more than 500 destinations.
“Amtrak’s new brand campaign speaks to the uniquely enjoyable experience of rail travel.” - Darlene Abubakar, Amtrak acting vice president brand management and marketing.
As part of its master brand program, Amtrak recently unveiled a nationwide brand campaign inspired by passengers' travel experiences: “500 Destinations. Infinite Stories”. The storytelling at the heart of the campaign focuses on the unique experiences and adventures only rail travel can provide. “We are reinvigorating the Amtrak brand by celebrating thousands of travel experiences while simultaneously reinforcing what longtime Amtrak loyalists love about America’s Railroad: comfort, convenience and a commitment to excellent customer service,” says Darlene Abubakar, Amtrak acting vice president brand management and marketing.
The multi-platform campaign, created in coordination with advertising agency FCB Garfinkel, provides brand consistency across all channels including television, print, digital and social media. It features the breadth of the Amtrak national system including long distance, Acela Express and Northeast Regional trains, and state-supported routes. A new collection of television spots can be viewed on the Amtrak YouTube page. The 30 second commercial is featured below:
Amtrak.com received a new look this summer in keeping with the refreshed visual identity associated with the master brand. The updated design incorporates new photography and “journey lines” joined at round connection points. The website refresh is one of the first steps of a larger program to provide Amtrak customers with a modern experience for booking their tickets, modifying their travel plans and learning about train travel.
For a business enterprise with a national scope, a catchy name and logo are essential brand elements that help create a unified corporate image easily recognized by the public. This was especially true for the newly formed National Railroad Passenger Corporation, established by an act of Congress in 1970 to operate the country’s intercity passenger rail system. One of the first steps taken by the young company was the creation of a more relatable brand name.
Although “Railpax” was initially used, it was soon replaced by “Amtrak,” a blending of the words “American” and “track” developed by communications and design firm Lippincott & Margulies. “Amtrak” was considered “a short, powerful name, easy to pronounce and remember, with high visual impact..." The firm also created a “crisp, modern” graphic identity for the company defined by the patriotic colors of red, white and blue.
A press release issued just weeks before Amtrak began operations on May 1, 1971 explains how the company’s visual identity was created: “A team of twenty [Lippincott & Margulies] consultants conducted an intensive analysis of attitudes and opinions among railroad executives, employees and passengers. This basic data led to a set of specific criteria, chief of which was the capability of a new communications system to interact with virtually every aspect of national railroad operations…”
A new logo, or service mark, was intended for use in a variety of settings—from rail equipment paint schemes to ticket counters to timetables. It took the form of an inverted arrow that conveyed a sense of motion. The company’s color scheme and service mark were even reinterpreted for use in the first set of cohesive uniforms created for onboard service and station service employees by well-known designer Bill Atkinson. Introduced in 1972, the pieces’ necklines, jacket cuffs and other areas incorporated the inverted arrow and chevrons. At their unveiling, Amtrak President and CEO Roger Lewis enthused, “We are presenting a creative new look to show the nation that a new era in passenger railroading is opening.”
The original service mark remained in use until fall 2000, when Amtrak launched a rebranding effort following two years of research examining how the old brand was perceived and used.1 The refresh was based on a new “Satisfaction Guarantee” in which Amtrak promised to make every trip a “safe, comfortable and enjoyable experience.” If Amtrak employees were unable to make things right for a customer, he or she could ask for a Service Guarantee Certificate toward future rail travel.2 The rebrand also coincided with the introduction of high-speed Acela Express service in the Northeast.
An article in the July/August 2000 issue of Amtrak Ink, the employee magazine, noted: “We are signaling a transformation of Amtrak into a company geared for business success, and one backing that up with an unprecedented satisfaction guarantee. We are a revitalized company: a company with record ridership and revenue, expanding services, and exciting new commercial partnerships. Through these efforts and more, our employees have earned a new identity.”
Amtrak introduced a new logo or “travel mark” as a key component of the brand's visual identity. Still in use today, it was designed to “suggest movement, the delight of a journey and the excitement of new technology – reflections of a changing Amtrak…the travel mark and the new typeface will send a message that reflects Amtrak’s growing commercial strength and reliability.”3 As supplies of brochures, signage and other items ran out, new stock incorporated the new travel mark, thereby introducing the refreshed brand identity gradually and in a cost-effective manner.4
The text of this cartoon by CL Katz from the September 2000 issue of Amtrak Ink reads: "Old Logos Don't Die...They Just Become Collectible."
Employees also received a Brand Management Handbook to help them determine the appropriate ways to implement the visual identity. Executive Vice President Barbara Richardson noted in the November 2000 issue of Amtrak Ink: “Consistency in appearance signals a strong and aggressive company…This is a major signal to the traveling public that we are indeed a different company, one that is cutting-edge, contemporary, and capable of changing the whole face of the travel industry.”
The current service mark features prominently in the new national brand campaign, as do "journey lines" representing "where the train can take you."
In the 15 years since the refreshed brand went into effect, Amtrak successfully introduced high-speed rail in the Northeast; entered into partnerships with states including Maine, Illinois and Virginia to launch new trains and additional frequencies; advanced passenger service enhancements such as automated voice response technology ("Julie"), eTicketing and AmtrakConnect Wi-Fi; and grew national ridership by approximately 47 percent (FY 2000-FY 2014).
1 “Brand New,” Amtrak Ink, July/August 2000.
2 “Amtrak – The Company that Guarantees Guest Satisfaction,” Amtrak Ink, July/August 2000.
3 “A Fresh New Look for a Revitalized Amtrak,” Amtrak Ink, July/August 2000.
4 “Brand New,” Amtrak Ink, October 2000.