Exclusive: "If we didn't believe in an increase, we might as well leave it alone"
In a new commercial, Switzerland Tourism sends Roger Federer and Trevor Noah on an involuntary panoramic tour of the Alps - giving them "The Ride of a Lifetime". Werbewoche.ch spoke exclusively with Switzerland Tourism CMO André Hefti and Wirz co-CEO Livio Dainese about the filming.
Advertisingweek.chAndré Hefti, Livio Dainese, when was the last time you got on the "wrong" train? And, direct follow-up question: Was it a nice trip anyway - or were you annoyed?
Livio Dainese: However, I was annoyed! I got on the wrong train on the way to a pitch because - similar to the movie - the brain was on a different track.
André Hefti: Fortunately, something like that will definitely never happen to me. Never. (laughs) With us, you're never on the wrong train, it's always inspiration, work time or relaxation. Somehow you usually get to your destination. It's always more reliable than road traffic.
I ask, of course, because a "fake" train as the hook of your new Switzerland Tourism spot serves. It has been live since Thursday afternoon - after a teaser on social media and a movie poster at the beginning of the week had already caused attention and speculation. Are you satisfied with the feedback you've received so far?
LD: Yes, very much. In addition to the idea and storytelling, Roger's acting performance is particularly appreciated. Who knows, maybe a second career is in the making.
AH: The first feedback is fantastic. It's great to see how an entire industry and friends of Switzerland as a travel destination are excited with us about the new episode in the "ST x Roger" saga. We are confident that we will be able to win over more fans here.
Can you tell me a bit more about the process of coming up with the spot idea? We already know: When Roger Federer wants to advertise for Switzerland, something - humorously - usually goes wrong. That was the case with Robert De Niro, as well as with Anne Hathaway. How did you get the idea that this time there should be an involuntary panoramic train journey with Trevor Noah?
AH: The focus of the campaign is the "Grand Train Tour of Switzerland". It is intended to whet the appetite of international guests to discover Switzerland's diversity by train. Switzerland: fantastically beautiful, varied, comfortable and charming.
LD: So something had to be found that would highlight the benefits of this wonderful journey. And in such a way that people would enjoy watching it voluntarily. And then, in the best case scenario, shared. And that worldwide. And successfully, please. We found the idea exciting that two world stars without a manager, without an assistant, without a wallet, without anything have to sit down on a train and get involved in the situation. And yes, unfortunately, this time there will be nothing with a commercial film of Roger. He doesn't even make it to the set.
Even if your spot is guaranteed to cause a stir in Switzerland - on the web, especially on YouTube, your competition is international. Each platform exists "only once for all" ... so you always have to prevail against global competition to get the attention of the viewers. How do you do that?
LD: Exactly. Our competitors are the big global players. With the corresponding budgets. We try to increase our impact with the power of the idea, uncompromising implementation, a focus on an outstanding communications product and a clever media plan. So far, we've succeeded quite well.
AH: Our reach in Switzerland is gift. Our target group is in "ferrophile" foreign markets. International groups of guests who want to take a train trip. And there we gladly take on other travel destinations.
The combination of Roger Federer and Trevor Noah is perfect for the spot, not least because of the obvious sympathy they both have for each other. What's more, both are half Swiss and half South African. How did you feel about the collaboration? Was it "work" at all for those involved ... or were there just two friends having a fun day?
AH: The collaboration was a lot of fun. That is now almost a basic prerequisite for being able to carry out such projects. The atmosphere beforehand was really great. Roger, Trevor and Tom (Hooper, director of the commercial, editor's note) were very committed and contributed their ideas at all stages. This positive energy carried everyone forward, so that the stars delivered their full potential until the end of the shoot late in the evening.
LD: The many arrangements in advance via video call were a highlight in itself. We laughed a lot because, among other things, Trevor is also really funny in reality. The production day in Switzerland, on the other hand, was a lot of very concentrated work. But in a good mood, because most of us know each other very well by now.
During the filming at Zurich's main station in January, I happened to catch a glimpse of the "action" (Werbewoche.ch reported). Can you tell me from your perspective what it takes to organize such a shoot with two world stars in one of the busiest places in Switzerland? Logistically - and in terms of security - it seems like an enormous challenge.
LD: Above all, it takes strong nerves. If you're making a film shoot at the main train station in Zurich, which is itself supposed to be a film shoot, then the potential confusion is huge: Is that security there or an actress playing security? Are they audience members cast for the shoot, or real passersby? Is that the guy from the Advertising Week or a bystander with a smartphone?
AH: Honestly - the challenge of shooting with the Golden Pass Express in the HB was bigger than getting along with Roger and Trevor. Moving a train all the way to Zurich, getting permission to shoot, adhering to safety regulations, respecting schedules, et cetera... it helped a lot that Roger and Trevor stayed relaxed and had a lot of fun.
Let's talk about the "hard facts": The spots bring you a lot of "earned media" - is that your most important KPI?
AH: The main goal of the campaign is to get as many international guests as possible excited about Switzerland as a travel destination and the possibility of traveling there by train. To be "top-of-mind" with the relevant target group. So we measure brand awareness and advertising impact. The more organic impact is achieved, the more effective the campaign is. But you don't get organic impact for free. Every detail counts.
You take a clever approach when it comes to working with the YouTube algorithm: you direct viewers to the platform to generate traffic, which in turn is rewarded by the YouTube algorithm ... and brings even more reach. It's not the first time this approach has proven successful, is it?
AH: Nobody knows the algorithm in detail. In addition, it is constantly changing. But we identify indicators, test them and adjust them continuously. We have learned a lot in the past two years. We try to build on this and get a little better each time. We have never put as much effort into media planning as we did this year. We are curious to see whether it works.
Normally, production teams tend to work in the background on commercials - this time, however, you hired Tom Hooper, an Oscar winner, as director. How did that affect the work on the film?
LD: Tom is uncompromising when it comes to storytelling and acting. In my opinion, that made the big difference. He's also a very fine person who was fully dedicated to this project until the very last second. Extraordinary. Great cinema.
With every campaign you publish, you raise the bar for yourself, for Switzerland Tourism and for Wirz. Is there any improvement at all on the spot you've just presented?
AH: Even after the first campaign with Robert De Niro, we thought: It doesn't get any better than that. Then we went one better with Anne Hathaway. Now we're confident that we can top that again. If we didn't believe we could do better, we might as well not do it. Standing still is not our thing.
LD: I think we're both similarly ambitious. Drum: Yes, of course.
Livio Dainese is co-CEO and co-owner of the Wirz Group, which is responsible for the creation of Switzerland Tourism advertising. He was named Swiss "Advertiser of the Year" in 2018. André Hefti is Chief Marketing Officer and a member of the Management Board of Switzerland Tourism. In 2023 - a few days before the launch of the commercial discussed in the interview - he was named the reigning "Advertiser of the Year.