Holmes Report 14 Feb 2011 // 12:00AM GMT
Half of the continent, 7 time zones, 12 regions and 87 towns and cities – all from the comfort of your…armchair. You may think of a world atlas or of a quite long travel movie. But it is something more interesting and even breathtaking. Welcome Moscow-Vladivostok (Trans Siberian): virtual journey on Google Maps!
Since its Moscow office debut in 2005, Google Russia has been working on becoming less of a 'foreign' identity among Russian users and a more 'locally relevant' Internet search engine across the whole country. While looking for ways to create a genuine Russian-ness in communications we discovered an intriguing fact: most Russians have limited knowledge of their own country and few ever take the chance to explore how diverse, complex, appealing and breath-taking the biggest country in the world actually is. We needed to find a uniquely Russian concept which could become the country’s ideal symbol of search and exploration, which might convince more Russians to discover and experience more of their world with the help of Google Russia.
Our research uncovered the Trans Siberian tour, the longest railway in the world, which spans for almost one fourth the distance of Earth's equator. It connects all of Russia to Europe and the Far East, stretching across seven time zones. The epic Trans Siberian railway is considered the most important transportation link within Russia, and passes through 87 Russian cities en route.
We realized the potential of the legendary Trans Siberia tour adventure to become Russia’s unique calling card and potential dream journey of travelers worldwide, and the ability of Google technology to empower everyone in Russia to digitally experience the rail without ever traveling those 5,000 miles.
Business goal: Make Google stand out from its major Russian competitor in terms of creativity and complex approach.
Awareness goal: Increase awareness of Google search engine and Google products (Maps, YouTube, Dictionary, Picasa, Blogger).
Media goal: Generate international outreach and beat the 1 bln impressions benchmark.
From a logistical point of view, the project proved to be complex and ambitious. First we needed to secure the cooperation of the Russian Railways. Then we needed to visually document the thousands of miles of the train’s actual journey. This was challenging because the railway spans from Moscow to Vladivostok and the trip takes six days and nights of travel.
To record the almost 150-hours long video from the train's window under the daylight, the crew had to travel for 30 days, leaving the train every evening – and taking another one the very next morning.
We also selected 14 of the most appealing locations en route – but had an enormous challenge finding a creative film crew that was not only willing to take the month-long journey but also would be talented enough to create an impressionist portrait of a city and turn it into a three-minute YouTube-style video – virtually overnight.
A 'perky but surprisingly erudite' (as Christian Science Monitor later described) radio DJ Yelena Abitaeva became our devoted all-Russia tour guide, sharing her own explorations on the route with the millions of users worldwide. Yelena's humorous and entertaining yet informed and informative video reports are uncovering big stories and small secrets of Russian cities and towns.
We brought to life authentic stories along the journey: walking around Yekaterinburg with a Russian rock-star legend and visiting Buddhist Temple in Ulan-Ude; searching for oil in the capital of oil-rich Tyumen region and looking for ethnic Jews in the formal 'Red Zion' Birobidjan; describing the view on 10-roubles note in Krasnoyarsk or swimming in the icy cold Baikal. As the stories came together, we painted a mosaic picture of a diverse country, its breathtaking nature and its many people.
Content and the site
The Russian Railways also made a valuable content contribution, providing the stunning work of renowned photographer Anton Lange, who spent years travelling across Russia, and documenting its most breathtaking landscape images for the joint project, 'Russia From the Train Window'. These highly professional and artistic images added further dimensions to our project – allowing us to create the ultimate digital travel postcard for Russia.
While all the video footage was undergoing the magic of experienced video editors, a team of Google developers was building the interactive web-site to navigate easily through the massive data and images. The website was built on Google's products platform, integrating Blogger, Google Maps, YouTube, Picasa and even Google Translate with the latest advancements of geo-tagging and HD-Video.
It took us a year to prepare for the launch – and in February 2010, our first press invitation went out.
At Google’s office in Moscow we've recreated the romance and magic of the rails with the help of an interior design. To make the experience even more authentic, we catered all of the traditional local cuisine one might find traveling through the many diverse regions that the Trans-Siberian visits on its journey.
More than 60 journalists attended the press event, making it the most-well attended press conference Google had ever conducted in Russia.
In the first 20 days after the launch, more than 1.2 million users landed on the project page. In addition to local media exposure, Virtual Train received massive coverage worldwide with publications ranging from ABC, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post and Guardian to blogs of renowned marketers and travelers across the globe – even receiving a praise of Lonely Planet and popular tour-guiding web-portals.
Benchmark of total 1 bln media impressions was beaten with more than 780 mln local outreach and more than 230 mln international print and online.
In the end, this marketing/PR project has had a profound impact on adding another popular search product to Google's portfolio in Russia – bringing the country into focus to Russians as well as world travelers.
During Googlers’ global PR meeting the project was recognized as one of the most exciting and successful initiatives brought to live in 2010 across all Google offices in the world.
“Google's new map of the Trans-Siberian Railway is a thing of beauty,” stated UK's Guardian – and at this stage we are proud to agree.