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