By Henry Harteveldt, Chief Research Officer and Co-founder, Atmosphere Research Group
Editor’s note: kids, as my month of fun continues, I am delighted to have the great Henry Harteveldt gracing me with his post on my blog. In his post, he muses about the current state of affairs for airlines and their television advertising. Enjoy!
Let me start by thanking Her Majesty Queen Benet for allowing me to do this guest post. It’s an honor! OK, enough genuflecting. On to the post.
For most people, December 25, Christmas, is a very special day. Not for me — well, not at least this year. For me, my “Christmas” took place on March 25, when the new season of “Mad Men” began on cable network AMC.
The period drama, set in a New York City “Madison Avenue” advertising agency in the 1960s, offers viewers outstanding writing, richly developed characters, and a well-crafted plot — all wrapped up in a fantastic “jet set” package. “Mad Men” is also kind to airline and aviation fans, incorporating American Airlines, Mohawk, Pan Am, and TWA into various episodes.
The show’s attention to detail is excellent: A scene set in a TWA 707 featured authentic seat covers, cabin sidewalls, and flight attendant uniforms. “Mad Men” is everything that ABC’s short-lived series “Pan Am” sadly was not.
I’ve always loved advertising — well, good advertising — and, no surprise, airline commercials have always been among my favorites. Those commercials heavily influenced my decision to focus my career in marketing.
From the 1960s through the 1980s, airlines aired many memorable TV commercials. Braniff International’s 1965 “end of the plain plane” ad campaign helped redefine not only the look, feel, and style of the airline industry, but advertising itself (I’m surprised that thus far there’s been no reference to Braniff’s advertising in “Mad Men”).
In the 1970s, American, under the leadership of then marketing head Robert Crandall, launched its memorable “Doing What We Do Best” campaign.
No discussion of airline advertising is complete without a reference to United Airlines and its iconic slogan, “Fly The Friendly Skies.” United’s advertising was so powerful that
the slogan became, and remains, a part of our cultural lexicon. This spot looks like it could have been produced by “Mad Men’s” Don Draper himself — except Draper would probably not want to take his wife along.
Great airline advertising wasn’t limited to US carriers. “BOAC Takes Good Care Of You” and “Iberia, Where Only The Plane Gets More Attention Than You” are two memorable
ad campaigns from carriers based outside the US.
Fast forward to today’s digital world. Airlines generally funnel their limited marketing funds into digital media, especially search engines. This is understandable: digital marketing is less expensive to produce, can be created and adjusted quickly, and is highly measurable. Airline marketing teams can track the effectiveness of different messages, prices, creative executions, ad size, page placement, key words, and more.
A few airlines, including American, British Airways, Delta and Southwest, still advertise on TV in the U.S. You’ll generally see their commercials on cable networks and sometimes in their key local markets. Three spots that I think are particularly good are (in alpha order of the carriers):
American Airlines’ commercial touting the availability of in-flight Wi-Fi:
British Airways “To Fly, To Serve” campaign, launched in late 2011 with this tribute to
the airline’s heritage.
Delta Air Lines, whose “Keep Climbing” advertising campaign matches arresting black-and-white video with beautifully written copy, narrated by actor Donald Sutherland.
As an analyst — and as a “marketing guy” — I believe that it’s smart for airlines to advertise on TV. Our research at Atmosphere Research Group shows that just 30 percent of travelers are brand loyal to a travel company. The airline business is similar to the soda business. A stagnant market means that to grow their market share, airlines must basically steal passengers from its competitors.
TV is a tool that airlines can use to help travelers understand their differences and reduce the number of people who think “all airlines are alike.” Fifteen percent of U.S. airline passengers in our research cited commercials as a tool they used when planning a trip. And, of course, thanks to social networks like YouTube, airline commercials can be viewed by a large number of potential customers. JetBlue recognizes this. The JFK-based airline has uploaded 33 videos, including its commercials, to the airline’s official YouTube channel.
TV is also a good way to reach employees outside of work, and help them feel proud about the carrier for which they work. The BA and Delta commercials seem to have
employees in mind as one of the target audiences. Smart.
What do you think? Are there any airline commercials, present or past that you really like? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section.
Note from Aunt Benet: back on Sept. 23, 2011, I did a blog post with my list of “Top 10 Favorite Airline Commercials.” Enjoy!