To meet the demands of increasingly demanding and savvy passengers, some airlines have recognised that instead of developing elements of services themselves, it is easier to team up with well-known brands which stand for quality in a specific field.
Although branded amenities aren’t a new feature aboard airlines – think amenity kits from luxury brands such as Bulgari, Ferragamo, Kiehls and La Praire – the number of branded services in recent years has expanded to other parts of the inflight experience.
Examples include Starbucks coffee served on board flights by United Airlines and Porter Airlines; Nespresso coffee in Swiss’ first class cabin; and Bose noise-cancelling headphones in first class on American Airlines and Japan Airlines (Air France has teamed up with Sennheiser).
American has also partnered with Samsung to offer Galaxy Tabs as IFE on select routes served by Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft (photo, above right).
Instead of teaming up with quality brands on select items, Singapore Airlines a few years ago commissioned French fashion house Givenchy to exclusively design nearly 200 items in all classes, including duvets, cushions, and down-filled pillows in the premium cabins and seat fabrics and blankets in economy.
First class customers can also lounge in style in a Givenchy sleeper suit and plush suede slippers, while passengers in premium cabins have their meals presented on Givenchy designed tableware and linen (photo, left).
Besides the individual passenger experience (seat, catering, IFE), brand partnerships also extend to cabin interiors. Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) has installed Toto washlets, commonly found in Japanese homes and hotels, in the bathrooms of its new Boeing 787 Dreamliners, while Korean Air has worked with vodka brand Absolut to create three Absolut ‘Celestial Bars’ on board its A380 aircraft.
The bars sport minimal Absolut branding with no visible logos, but feature three signature Absolut cocktail drinks, chilled liquor bottles concepts, martini glasses, a display tower and duty free Absolut products for purchase. On the lower deck of Korean Air’s Airbus A380, there is also a Lancôme-designed duty free shop.
Co-branding initiatives can also be an economical way to provide a service or even an additional sources of income for airlines. Faced with ever more experienced consumers, who routinely ignore the mass marketing commercials and ads thrown at them, consumer brands are increasingly will to pay airlines to let passengers experience their product in a relevant setting, since airline passengers are an interesting (and captive) audience.
For example, when Samsung launched its new Galaxy tablet in late 2010, it teamed up with Virgin Atlantic to let the airline’s premium passengers try out the devices at the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounge at Heathrow. Motorola, meanwhile, recently let passengers try its Xoom tablet on board flights of Mexican low-cost airline Volaris. Dubbed ‘Tryvertising’ by trendwatching.com, these tie-ups are still a relatively undeveloped commercial opportunity in the airline industry, especially outside the USA where airlines such as Virgin America and JetBlue have been very active in setting up product placements.
JetBlue marketing manager Kim Ruvolo says: “It is all about the surprise and delight for our customers. We try to provide true value to our customers in any way that we can, so we look at ways to partner with well-established brands to provide extras for our customers.”
Describing its passengers as “influencers, buzz generators and trendsetters, who work in innovation-oriented industries – fashion, film, media, technology, design”, Virgin America has developed a reputation for teaming up with brands for product placement. Following earlier collaborations with brands such as Method and Victoria’s Secret, Virgin America in July 2011 teamed up with Google to allow passengers to “test-fly” the tech giant’s new Chromebook laptop computers for free (photo, above right).
From 1 July 2011 through mid-January 2012, Virgin America passengers could pick up a Chromebook on select airports and use the computers onboard their flight. Afree in-flight Wi-Fi session was included in the offer and the machines could be returned at Google Chrome Zones at the arrival gates. Virgin America and Banana Republic in December 2011 also held a holiday surprise for passengers waiting for their luggage at San Francisco airport, putting gift boxes with Banana Republic apparel on the luggage belt for passengers arriving on flight VX837.
On a similar note, JetBlue in September 2011 partnered with camera brand Olympus for an Oprah-style giveaway: each of the 100-plus passengers boarding Flight #001 from New York to Fort Lauderdale was given a backpack containing the new Olympus PEN E-PM1 camera (photo, main page).
Passengers could take the camera with them but were asked to upload 20 of their favourite images captured to a special campaign website. Needless to say that the free publicity generated by word-of-mouth (both offline and online) following the giveaway was well worth the investment.