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Airlines Embrace Storytelling and Social in New Campaigns

  |  April 18, 2014   |  Comments

In the wake of US Airways' much-talked-about inappropriate Twitter blunder, it's easy to forget that airlines actually have a great track record of producing innovative, engaging social campaigns.

Airlines and their use of social media were top of mind this week when US Airways inadvertently posted a visual tweet that surely qualifies as one of the most ruinous Twitter gaffes of all time. It was one of two incidents - the other involving American Airlines - that had the Web atwitter. Everywhere you looked airlines seemed to be pulling negative headlines, and nothing but.

It's easy to imagine these brands feeling anxious about social media, and in light of recent events, they probably will. But airlines also have a staunch record of producing stellar social campaigns, particularly when they leverage storytelling. That was the case last December when WestJet launched its "Christmas Miracle" video on YouTube. Within a matter of days, consumers were flocking to watch the five-minute story of "real-time giving." Currently, the video is sitting at more than 35.7 million views.

Delta, too, has produced its share of memorable content. Recently it launched a themed YouTube video in honor of its first in-flight safety video, which launched during the '80s. And in United Hub, a content-rich section of the United Airlines site, the brand features news, interviews, insight into ad campaigns, and product videos of interest to its passengers. On Twitter, its monthly #UnitedPlaneChat gives customers the chance to converse with flight attendants.

JetBlue's approach is similar in that it too embraces themed efforts, branded content, and social media. For April Fools' Day 2014, the company veered away from the pranks and used its blog to deliver a reward to a handful of passengers. Fliers who were born on April 1 and happened to be flying JetBlue on that day were granted a credit equal to the cost of their flight.

It isn't the first time JetBlue has explored the concept of "giving back." September saw the arrival of "Air on the Side of Humanity," a cross-media campaign that used a pigeon - the "ultimate frequent flier" - as a symbol of JetBlue's human passengers. The campaign initially launched in Boston but this month expands to New York State and Florida.

Spanning TV, display advertising, mobile, and social media, "Air on the Side of Humanity" uses storytelling to highlight what's wrong with airlines today and emphasize the features that distinguish JetBlue from competing companies. "One thing we are looking to do is entertain consumers with content that they can't help but share," says Elizabeth Eelman, JetBlue's advertising manager. "From a social perspective, we selectively invest in content to drive scale behind these kinds of big ideas."

The multi-channel campaign also includes a branded content element designed to underscore the story of JetBlue's "Inspire Humanity" mission in a humorous way. A five-part Web series called "Shoo's Bird's Eye View," also featuring a pigeon, is currently housed at campaign microsite Central Perch, as well as on Funny or Die through a partnership intended to extend the campaign's reach.


On social sites, the brand is using the hashtag #YouAboveAll; search it on Twitter and you'll find images of pigeons in protest, all wearing signs in support of fliers' rights. JetBlue is also offering branded and curated Spotify playlists, an interactive mobile experience, and custom BuzzFeed posts to speak to each of its target markets. Visitors to Boston.com and MiamiHerald.com will see interactive homepage takeovers, and the brand will be using synched banner ad units on select sites. Boston-based Mullen, JetBlue's agency of record, is responsible for media and creative.

Airlines as a whole have come to understand that consumers consider more than cost, timing, and availability when selecting a flight. To them, most airline brands look alike. It's the way in which they're marketed that allows them to stand out.

One exception is Virgin Atlantic, which has perfected the business of standing out through its unconventional cabin designs, uniforms, and overall atmosphere. Still, the brand takes great pains to style its marketing campaigns in a way that complements its culture and gives would-be passengers a reason to fly Virgin. On its online portal, branded content rules, with loads of videos about its crew, style mantra, ad campaigns, and words of wisdom from founder and business icon Richard Branson.

The content imparts to customers what they can expect to get from the airline, particularly its "Flying the Face of Ordinary" video, a master class in brand storytelling and the jewel of Virgin's ongoing campaign by the same name. The site is an experience that's like the product in every possible way.


Creativity and a clever take on their campaigns are elevating airlines to the upper echelons of consumer-facing digital media. There's no denying social media is a tricky business; it's a living, breathing animal in need of constant care. But by increasing awareness, boosting loyalty, and differentiating their services, airline brands are still flying high.

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Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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