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Mile High Net?

  |  January 21, 2003   |  Comments

Travel advertising goes digital. Is it a high-flying opportunity or a disaster waiting to happen?

As a media person, I'm constantly challenged with determining the psychographic attributes of target audiences. Luckily, there's one characteristic that most every target has in common -- they travel, for either business or pleasure. Even better, online media planning tools such as @Plan allow planners and publishers to cross tab any demographic with "travels."

As I'm sure you know, the incredible amount of time people spend traveling has resulted in a great number of offline advertising opportunities. Almost everywhere you look, you see an advertising message: taxi tops, floor signage, coffee cups, billboards, napkins, stickers, ticket backs, ticket envelopes, televisions in frequent/preferred flyer rooms, in-flight television programs, complimentary newspapers and magazines, the list goes on. Has online media missed the boat? Well, let's take a look at the overall experience.

Do you remember when the first air phones came out in airplanes several years ago? I do. I remember thinking how cool it was and how far technology had advanced. Little did I know it would cost about a gazillion dollars per minute and the reception would suck. Still, even when my rose-colored glasses turned clear, the technology was cool.

My travels have allowed me to read things I would never have otherwise (in-flight mags), talk to people to whom I never would have spoken (the woman next to me clenching her teeth because it was the "first time" she'd ever flown), and think about how little I knew about the geography of my destination.

I've often thought, "Shoot, I should have scouted out some good restaurants close to my client's office." On some trips, I've forgotten to use online mapping technology to figure out my route to and from meetings. On nearly every trip, I've forgotten to check the weather, resulting in my hauling around too-heavy clothing.

Meanwhile, I have my laptop in front of me on every flight. And watching DVDs while using headphones just doesn't cut it all the time. I always wish I could be surfing the Net.

Well, this week I was made aware of a company that would allow me to do just that. Several foreign airlines have been working on technology geared to enable passengers to surf the Net, check email, and send SMS messages. Certainly restrictions exist. This isn't available on short flights, and surfing cost extra. According to The New York Times:

  • Lufthansa Airlines of Germany has begun flying a plane with Internet technology.

  • British Airways will have similar technology on trial flights this month.

  • Japan Airlines and SAS, the Scandinavian carrier, signed deals to connect a dozen planes to the Internet next year.

  • Cathay Pacific of Hong Kong will offer new email service on 40 planes later this month.

  • Virgin Atlantic Airways already uses a system on four of its planes that allows passengers to send text messages. (Virgin will extend this system to its entire fleet by the year's end.)

  • Air Canada and Singapore Airlines have tested the same technology as Virgin.

Some airlines are using broadband technology that works similarly to that enabling satellite television. Boeing seems to be ahead of the pack in adopting and implementing such services. The company says it is in test mode. However, if passenger demand increases, Internet connectivity will, too. A Seattle-based company, Tenzing Communications has been the predominant leader in the technology development.

As with anything new, pricing models for the service are up in the air (no pun intended). Should airlines charge for unlimited usage or for a certain amount of data transmission? What are passengers willing to pay?

I'd like to leave you with several questions to think about:

  • What do you think users would do while in flight?

  • Would they be apt to go to the same sites as they would while on the ground or to different sites altogether?

  • Would time spent on a site have the same significance for in-flight surfing?

  • Will ad units change as a result?

  • Should content be more concise?

It seems as if there are several potential opportunities for publishers and advertisers to break into this category. Would you be one of them or would you prefer to have someone else be the guinea pig?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Seana Mulcahy

Seana Mulcahy is vice president, director of interactive media at Mullen (an IPG company). She's been creating online brands since before the first banner was sold. Her expertise includes online and traditional media planning and buying, e-mail marketing, viral marketing, click-stream analysis, customer tracking, promotions, search engine optimization and launching brands online. Prior to Mullen, Seana was vice president of media services at Carat Interactive. She's built online media services divisions for three companies and has worked with clients spanning financial, telecom, high-tech, healthcare and retail. Not surprisingly, she has taught, lectured and written about the industry for numerous trade associations and publications.

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