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VIRGIN TRAINS - "Apache Indian Attack" TV/CINEMA ADVERT    Director: Fredrik Bond


VIRGIN TRAINS - "Apache Indian Attack" Director FREDRIK BOND FREDRIK BOND - Director
A man is on a Virgin Train and while relaxing in first class is working on designs, then from a field looking over the track Indian chief orders an attack on the train, with little success. The Indian Chief orders a second attack as some farmers watch with bemusement, again with little success so the Indian Chief lassos the train and is about to succeed in getting into the carriage when a tunnel comes up.

VIRGIN TRAINS - "Apache Indian Attack"

Ad location
Creative agency Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe Y & R
Creative Ben Hartman, Neil Durber, Paul Reeves, Vasco
Production Co MJZ
Director Fredrik Bond

VIRGIN TRAINS - "Apache Indian Attack"

Virgin Trains go all Wild West


THE BRIEF: Show that going by train gives you thinking time

THE SCHTICK: Apaches on horseback race down a British hillside chasing a Virgin Pendolino train. In hot pursuit, they fire arrows at it, to no avail. One manages to hang on to a window, where he wields a tomahawk and gestures to a passenger that they want his notebook. The passenger clutches the book to his chest, and the Apache is knocked off by an approaching tunnel. The caption is: "Man who go on big train have big idea."

THE BREAKDOWN: Seen one way, this advert is refreshingly escapist. It's big, it's dramatic, it's got great scenery and music, and is a stylish successor to last year's classic which stitched together Hollywood moments (such as Eva Marie Saint canoodling with Cary Grant) on board a modern Virgin train.

But seen another way, despite the excellence of the production, it can be rather confusing, it buries its message, and it can leave you feeling a little uncomfortable.

First the positive.

VIRGIN TRAINS - "Apache Indian Attack"

Apaches set pulses racing

For too long, the thinking goes, train travel has been seen as the nightmare option, crippled with delays and overcrowding. So Virgin's tactic has been to emphasise the romance of the train - literally in the Cary Grant ad, and by extension here.

Going by train gives you time to ponder, space to look at the scenery, and opportunity to daydream. Crucially, here, it's the sort of place you might have a really good idea.

Puzzled passenger

In staging the Apaches attack in the English countryside (filming was done in County Durham and Cumbria), director Fredrik Bond - who gave the world the dancing jellyfish for mobile phone network 3 - has authentically brought a feel of the Wild West.

VIRGIN TRAINS - "Apache Indian Attack"

They're after the ideas

In a delightfully random way, the Apaches knock over a cyclist but ignore a couple of shepherds, who only seem faintly amused. Their whoops and arrows and their horses' pounding hooves almost get the viewer's pulse racing. The passenger, who has just been pictured having a smart thought and jotting it down, is puzzled and vaguely threatened until it becomes clear that, yes, the Apaches are after him.

Brand consultant Keith Lovegrove, author of Railway: Identity, Design and Culture, who was a fan of the Cary Grant advert and is impressed with this one too, says he particularly enjoyed the notion of the Apache chief attempting to steal the passenger's intellectual copyright. "Perhaps that's the 21st Century equivalent of lever-action Winchester Carbines," he says.

Big ideas brigade

But for him the masterstroke is that the passenger is not typing on a laptop, or thumbing something into a Blackberry, he's using a pencil and notebook. The advert knows its market - people who like to think of themselves as having big ideas and writing them down. "It's an advertising creative director's concept for the creative market," he says. "It's indulgent and that's probably why it works."

VIRGIN TRAINS - "Apache Indian Attack"

It's only a First Class experience

"I think an advertisement should firstly entertain and then inform. This does both, although I notice that a quick fade-in/fade-out subtitle tells us from the outset that this exciting interlude may be experienced in 'First Class only'. Train travel does give one time to think, possibly more so in first class where there are fewer fellow passengers and even fewer children."

There is a downside, however. One Native American living in the UK - part of a community reported to be just 25-strong - has complained that the advert is "trying to show us as savages or dumb-ass Indians who are going to be wiped off the face of the Earth". He is not alone - there have been 49 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority about racism and stereotypes in the advert, and the ASA is now investigating the matter.

Virgin's position is that the advert "spoofs the cowboy and Indian genre and is quite tongue-in-cheek", which is undoubtedly true. With the use of language, a spokesman said, it's clear that the advert is based on the film genre rather than showing disrespect to Native Americans today.

Subversive enough?

Often in these kinds of cases you would find stereotypes being subverted, and it might be one of the watchdog's considerations that this advert does not go far enough in that direction. It simply replicates the relationships of power seen in a hundred cowboy films - white man has the privilege, the wealth and the technology while the Indian (now in itself not a term used in the US) is racing to catch up and only has bows, arrows and tomahawk. The sting in the tale, in which one of the Apaches is shown having got on board and is serving coffee in a steward's uniform, goes some way to addressing the point; the ASA may well decide to consider if it's enough.

VIRGIN TRAINS - "Apache Indian Attack"

But is it subversive enough?

Another drawback with the advert, it might be suggested, is that it's not immediately clear what it's saying. On first viewing one might even think it was advertising Ernest Hemingway-style Moleskine notebooks. If it's the idea the Apaches are after, how exactly are they supposed to know the passenger has just had it? Until the viewer has seen and understood the "Man who go on big train" tagline, their chances of understanding the message are slim. Good job, in that case, that the advert repays repeated viewing.

Ad Breakdown is compiled by Giles Wilson

VIRGIN TRAINS - "Apache Indian Attack"
(click on frame to see advert)

VIRGIN TRAINS - "Apache Indian Attack" - Adrian Tyndale & Duane Howard
Adrian Tyndale & Duane Howard
VIRGIN TRAINS - "Apache Indian Attack" - Dee Tails
Dee Tails
VIRGIN TRAINS - "Apache Indian Attack" - Duane Howard, Dee Tails & Karina Guimaraes
Duane Howard & Karina Guimaraes



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31 Oct 2016


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