Fred Frailey Blog

My favorite railroad commercial, ever

  • Comments 19

How long has it been since you’ve been drawn in and captivated by a railroad’s television commercial, one that makes a strong point and yet is entertaining and, yes, enjoyable? I went so far in one of my first columns for Trains to write that to most people, “railroads are big, impersonal, faceless entities that wake you up at night when you don’t want to be romanced by a whistle and block your way home as 170 cars roll by at 15 mph.” The point I was making is that railroads do a poor job relating to the public, and their failure could come back to bite them.

Now I come in praise of Norfolk Southern for its captivating commercial appearing in recent weeks on CNN, Fox News, and other channels. “City of Possibilities” is cute, warmhearted, and captivating, while packing a powerful message that comes at the conclusion.

It begins with a boy and his dog in his bedroom, playing with model trains. Before dad turns out the light, he loads a final hopper car with marbles. With the boy asleep, his imaginary world wakes up. The NS model locomotive begins moving with the marbles. Dolls and slinkies climb out of the toy chest and go to work on toy tractors to build a bedroom city. The dog is bewildered. Before you know it, the bedroom is filled with marvelous activity. You see toy containers being hoisted onto flat cars. Through all this roars that NS freight train, while the voiceover says, “Wherever trains go, the economy comes to life. Norfolk Southern: one line, infinite possibilities.”

What I’ve just written hardly does justice to this marvelous animation, created for NS by its ad agency, RP3 Agency of Bethesda, Md., and by The Mill of New York, a producer of computer-generated graphics. Go here to see for yourself.

The triumph of “City of Possibilities” is that it marries the fascination that children have with trains with the importance of railroads in our real daily lives, and does so in a manner that will draw in viewers young and old. Well done, Norfolk Southern. NS presently plans to air this commercial through November 11 on CNN and Fox News and through December 30 on PBS’ Washington Week. Like the bedroom with the sleeping boy, it may be revived next spring. — Fred W. Frailey

  • Did you notice the heralds of the "fallen flag" roads on the toy chest?

  • Fred,

    I agree wholeheartedly. It draws the viewer in with a kid and a dog, and goes on to make its point in a direct by subtile way.

  • Plus you have to watch it several times just to see everything that's happening.

  • love it

  • Excellent' well done ad. It is well timed too with Christmas coming.

  • Excellent!!!  Well Done NS and it's media partners.  Love the toy story theme.

  • I miss it the first time I watched, but clever idea to have all the fallen flags on the front of the toybox.  Clever way to honor the heritage of the NS>

  • Great job--thanks, Fred, for the alert.  There's also a 30 on the lampshade for their 30 years...

  • I especially appreciated the "heritage" toybox with two N&W and Sothern heralds each but with the Keystone properly at the top... at least that's what I saw.

  • I agree, I really love this TV advert, see it a lot on the TVs in the hotel I work at, looks good in high-def digital cable.

    Youtube has a collection of railway adverts, from the stand point of passenger trains British Rail and private Japanese railways have some real good ones.

  • NS may have the "best" commercial running, but I have noticed that CSX, BNSF, and UP also are running TV commercials.  Railroading has great visuals.  The commercials I have seen are all colorful and very positive.  It's about time the railroads marketed themselves.  Most of the commercials I see are on CNBC, which suggests that they are trying to reach investors more than shippers.

  • For those who eschew the boob tube, here is the link to youtube:

  • And here is the story behind the story:

  • ;Yes, I saw this commercial online.   Very creative, goes well with the Christmas shopping season.  I noticed the "fallen flag" roads on the toy chest too.  I would say most railroad commercials are targeted for opinion makers as well as investers.

  • Seeing this at the end of the election season with all the requisite horrible, debillitating and negative ads, this is such a refreshing look.  It kind of restores my faith that there is something out there besides self centered, corrupt politicians.  Great job NS and I hope we see more like it from other railroads.

My favorite railroad commercial, ever