Back in the day, US carriers’ television commercials were incredibly memorable. Airlines used sex appeal, like National Airlines’ “I’m Nancy! Fly Me!”. They also used humour; who can forget the United Airlines commercial that showed a new flight attendant practicing her customer service skills on an empty plane?
With the advent of the Internet, some airlines have strayed away from advertising on television. But TV ads still matter, even in the Internet age, says Henry Harteveldt, chief research officer and co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group.
“When I look at what Delta and Southwest have done on television, they have very different campaigns, but both have ones that help them sustain their brands,” says Harteveldt.
Delta’s commercials have two components: selling services and making an emotional connection, says Mauricio Parise, the carrier’s general manager of mass communications. “We have 150 million passengers a year that travel on Delta, but we tend to focus on premium business travellers. We want to build the brand beyond just frequent flyers.”
The drawback of TV is a lack of ability to target ads, but it does allow for a huge emotional connection, says Parise. “People still watch on average 5.5 hours a day on television, so it’s still an important medium.”
Debra Kennedy, senior manager of advertising for Southwest Airlines sees television as key to keeping the carrier’s loyal customers and getting new ones. “TV works for us because it’s highly interactive and a great way to get our message out.”
Southwest creates key messages to share with current and potential customers, says Kennedy. “We look at things including humour in relating our messages. We end up with a product on the air that makes you smile and want to fly Southwest.”
Both Delta and Southwest also see their YouTube channels as effective tools in telling more of their stories. “Television is our outlet to tell a 30-second story. We use YouTube to show things like a video that shows the journey of luggage. It gets 1.5 million hits a month,” says Delta’s Parise.
On YouTube, Southwest can tell more stories and not be limited to 30 seconds, notes Kennedy. “With television, you show one message. With YouTube and social media, we can do 20 or more messages to multiple audiences.”
Harteveldt points out that more than 200,000 people have “liked” the classic Braniff Airlines “Air Strip’ ad on YouTube. “This is for an airline that’s been out of business for 30 years and a commercial that was done almost 50 years ago.
“So TV does still matter. It may not have the same role it once did, but when airlines look at it as video content, it has enormous reach for potential travellers.”