Content Marketing Strategies for Airlines

by Marisa Garcia + Skift Team - Feb 2015

Skift Research Take

Content has historically put airlines at the cutting edge of the travel sector, with carriers setting many content management precedents, well ahead of grounded brands. While the world's leading carriers and flagship brands have always been content producers, they have become more sophisticated introducing innovative approaches to content production and media utilization.

Report Overview

Today’s leading airlines use original content to inform, entertain, build connections to passengers beyond their journeys, define and refine their brands, and generate a reliable revenue stream in what some propose could become a standalone business. Beyond this, leading airlines have developed platforms built on passengers’ own content through social shares and gaming, making their customers the most vibrant content producers and converting that content into a strong—and free—media asset.

For many years, rich airline content was confined to the cabin, with advertisers benefiting from what was perceived to be a captive audience. This is a characterization which one of the experts we spoke to disputes, calling it a misnomer. The reasons for his objection reveal a more nuanced understanding of the dynamics at play in passengers’ minds when they are entertained on the journey. Whatever the semantics on this, it is indisputable that there is now nothing captive about airline content consumers. The traditional content model has changed, escaping the confines of the jet. Airlines today experiment with a variety of content platforms and media, and using content to engage loyal customers and potential customers in the air and on the ground.

Content cross-over helps merge the airlines’ traditional print magazines, digital editions, airline blogs, content for apps, and content shared on social media platforms into a holistic assortment of media properties which grab and hold the interest of an active, adventurous mobile audience eager to go places. Airlines have tapped into new opportunities with special events, which generate still more content, and forge more brand partnerships, further refining the brand. Some are now getting their passengers actively involved, encouraging them to produce, develop and share their own content which is free, enriches the airline, provides valuable feedback and data, and, again, gives partners an opportunity to reach the airline’s fan base. It is no wonder that some tell us that these divisions of the airline could easily become stand-alone businesses, even more successful as stand-alone businesses than loyalty programs have been, with none of the drawbacks. If indeed content is king on the ground, in the air it is an effective way to build a brand empire.

Executive Summary

Today’s leading airlines use original content to inform, entertain, build connections to passengers beyond their journeys, define and refine their brands, and generate a reliable revenue stream in what some propose could become a standalone business. Beyond this, leading airlines have developed platforms built on passengers’ own content through social shares and gaming, making their customers the most vibrant content producers and converting that content into a strong—and free—media asset.

For many years, rich airline content was confined to the cabin, with advertisers benefiting from what was perceived to be a captive audience. This is a characterization which one of the experts we spoke to disputes, calling it a misnomer. The reasons for his objection reveal a more nuanced understanding of the dynamics at play in passengers’ minds when they are entertained on the journey. Whatever the semantics on this, it is indisputable that there is now nothing captive about airline content consumers. The traditional content model has changed, escaping the confines of the jet. Airlines today experiment with a variety of content platforms and media, and using content to engage loyal customers and potential customers in the air and on the ground.

Content cross-over helps merge the airlines’ traditional print magazines, digital editions, airline blogs, content for apps, and content shared on social media platforms into a holistic assortment of media properties which grab and hold the interest of an active, adventurous mobile audience eager to go places. Airlines have tapped into new opportunities with special events, which generate still more content, and forge more brand partnerships, further refining the brand. Some are now getting their passengers actively involved, encouraging them to produce, develop and share their own content which is free, enriches the airline, provides valuable feedback and data, and, again, gives partners an opportunity to reach the airline’s fan base. It is no wonder that some tell us that these divisions of the airline could easily become stand-alone businesses, even more successful as stand-alone businesses than loyalty programs have been, with none of the drawbacks. If indeed content is king on the ground, in the air it is an effective way to build a brand empire.

Introduction

SAS profiles customers on its We Are Travelers platform.

SAS profiles customers on its We Are Travelers platform.

Airlines have created content for decades. Back in the 1920s, in their most rudimentary form, the predecessors of today’s in-flight magazine were little more than pamphlets sharing information on the flight experience, route maps and some highlights of the sites over which passengers would fly over. They were developed and designed to make new flyers at ease with this unnatural form of transport.

As Raymond Girard, Spafax’s President of Content Marketing, explains, “It started with a need to inform. If you look way back to the 1920s and 1930s—we found airline collateral that was the precursor to the in-flight magazine that goes back to the first commercial flights—the reason that airlines did this was that they were dealing with a nervous passengers. It was born out of a need to control the fear of flying. Route maps were works of art which gave detail of what passengers would fly over. It was wholly informative. That evolved into other kinds of stories for customers, to engage and entertain them. It led to featuring things you can do along the way, things you can do when you get there and, from that, the in-flight magazine was born. It was part entertainment, part information and that’s still the model today for the print publication. Airlines have always needed to inform and entertain.”

Noting the popularity and effectiveness of these informational pamphlets, airlines moved on to greater detail, including entertaining stories often related to the destination and interesting facts about the attractions en route. Thus, from reassuring nervous passengers, the medium expanded and evolved into the world’s first infotainment. The stories included became more diverse, and advertisers were encouraged to sponsor the publication. The in-flight magazine became something much closer to what we see today, a publication carefully targeted at the traveler lifestyle, serving to relieve boredom in flight, and ultimately to align the airline with complimentary lifestyle and luxury brands. Some airlines have gone beyond a single in-flight magazine, adding a second publication targeted directly at premium flyers. These top-tier publications do double duty as a special treat for those paying higher fares—a recognition of their status targeted at their luxury lifestyle—and as an ideal medium for high-end brand partners to reach those select airline customers.

Even the introduction of in-flight films did not detract from the attraction of the magazine. Further introduction of modern audio video on demand (AVOD) in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems have only added another platform for custom content, complimenting the still popular and still relevant in-flight magazine. In fact, in deploying and formatting the embedded IFE systems airlines feature on their aircraft, they, by necessity, were the first to introduce the concept of entertainment on demand. This curated selection of music, film, and television programs, for which airlines invest considerably—negotiating contracts with content suppliers or with studios directly—are selected to fit the local preferences and tastes of the airline’s customers. In effect, the curating of the menu of programming available itself is brand definition.

To that, airlines contribute value-added and sometimes revenue-generating trip and service information, well-being content, destination content, and advertising for partner brands, all produced by the airline through media partners. This paid-for in-house content further refines the airline’s brand, engages passengers in the cabin, and complements the print publications in the seat-back pocket. Introduction of live TV services has not changed this, but has helped to further differentiate the airline brand. Its introduction gives airlines two passenger enhancements in one, as well as creating new content touchpoints. To provide live TV, airlines must have installed the connection required for in-flight Wi-Fi services. Depending on how those airlines structure the pricing for that Wi-Fi, it can serve as an additional revenue source, but the portal to access it (billed or free) is also an opportunity to share content snippets with passengers, some related to the airline and others featuring brand partners.

Though they make a considerable investment in content engagement and focus on ensuring a high-quality product in print, digital and video as well as alternative forms of content sharing, airlines aren’t publishers and they’ve never pretended to be. To ensure a high quality in-flight magazine–the original in-flight entertainment–airlines have relied on close partnerships with full-service media companies for editorial services, production, and advertising promotions.

The wide reach and capabilities of these companies have helped airlines expand their media platforms into new territories.

We’ll look at the trends in airline content and share insights from airlines, the media companies that help them manage and produce their varied media platforms, as well as review unique innovations this field.

The evolution of the in-flight magazine

In an industry that measures itself in inches and pounds—whether those be the ever-shrinking width of seats and pitches, or the increasingly growing size of in-flight entertainment screens—the pounds added by leather covers or ounces contributed by cocktail olives, the in-flight magazine is, for many airlines, the best justification to keep the seat-back pocket. This feeling is not universal. There are airlines experimenting with digital formats and much talk over the disadvantages of the page, but these arguments have not killed the old reliable print magazine.

As Raymond Girard, President Content Marketing of Spafax (which publishes magazines for Air Canada, Royal Jordanian, and LAN Airlines), explains, today’s in-flight magazine is doing better than ever, with higher production quality, top-notch content and artwork. It also generates sufficient interest from advertisers, better brand partners, and is self-sustainable.

The in-flight magazine has evolved and improved and, even as digital editions and app distribution of these publications become popular, print is king and treated with royal luxuries. Production quality of these print publications has reached new heights of excellence. Why? Collectability, says Girard.

Air Canada's enRoute inflight magazine appeals to traveler lifestyle, leaves room for destination advertising, and has introduced trip planning element for followers.

Air Canada’s enRoute inflight magazine appeals to traveler lifestyle, leaves room for destination advertising, and has introduced trip planning element for followers.

“Print will always be relevant,” he tells us. “I’ve been hearing about the demise of print for ten years. But you look at all the major digital brands offering content currently, upscale properties in major world hubs, they’re launching print magazines because it is increasingly being seen as a gift and a keepsake, something that people want to spend time with. There are different dwell times with print than you get with anything you get with anything digital or online. Print is more of a commitment. Brands that are looking to show to the customer that they really care about the experience are still going to be investing in print. Print is the permanent. Everything else is ephemeral. People might bookmark web content, or download an app, but how much do they bookmark web content or download an app? Digital is incredibly useful, obviously, and certainly both the future and the present, but it’s not a keepsake, it’s not a souvenir. People don’t collect the web the way they still collect print.”

Reaching an active audience

Girard doesn’t like the term captive audience. To him, it’s a misnomer and a fallacy. Using that term reflects lack of understanding of behavior during the journey. “Use of that term should be banned in the industry entirely, because it makes us so lazy. As soon as you think you have a captive audience you stop competing with other things in their sphere of attention,” Girard argues. “Anyone getting on the plane with a smartphone or briefcase is nobody’s captive. They never were as captive as much as we like to think they were. As soon as you have a paperback, you’re nobody’s captive. It’s a misnomer. If you assume they’re captive, then you’re not trying to compete for their attention, you treat them like an easier target and they’re anything but.”

The journey, he tells us, affects how a passenger responds to content and which content they respond to best.

“Getting through the stressful experience of getting to the plane and that stress is still having an impact on your overall state, and through all the great content that you might have on phone or your tablet. It makes us lazy and we have to work very hard to compete with all of the great content that people already have with them. We have to compete with the newsstand at the airport. If an in-flight magazine is not relevant for or somehow boring to the passenger, you’re not doing your job. We have to celebrate that environment, and is opportunity. Why would anyone want to they pick up the magazine? Relevance is why they would pick it up. That’s key. Make sure the product is relevant and where they’re going and what they’re doing.”

Girard also feels that aviation has a special advantage on content which it can capitalize on to make the airline’s content uniquely attractive to passengers. The appeal of flight, he says, endures despite common complaints about the pain of it.

“The fact that they’re flying on an airplane is still kind-of a sexy thing, in a weird way,” Girard proposes. “That goes way back to the initial intent of the in-flight magazine. Inform people of what they’re doing. Celebrate the whole idea of flight. The plane is an entertaining thing, and not just to engineers. On a four-hour flight from Toronto to Calgary there was a guy who stayed on the fleet page for the entire flight, measuring the planes to make sure that the proportions were exactly right.”

“We’re always close to a second screen wherever we are. If you want to attract people, if you want them to come to you, your marketing message has to be interesting and it has to be a story that is valuable to them. Otherwise, they will just screen you out.”—Gustav Vidlund, New Business Director at OTW Communication, Stockholm

Girard also feels that aviation has a special advantage on content which it can capitalize on to make the airline’s content uniquely attractive to passengers. The appeal of flight, he says, endures despite common complaints about the pain of it.”

Passengers simply react and respond differently when they’re on a trip, Girard suggests. They are more open to certain kinds of information, more receptive to the attraction of certain brand offers, generally more active, more engaged, more turned-on. Far from captive, the traveler is free.

“It’s better to refer to it as a traveling audience,” he says. “That implies a really special mindset. When I say traveling they are not the way they are on the ground. People behave differently on planes. They’re outside of their comfort zone which makes them open to different messages, different input.”

“Understanding that travel mindset is essential. What do they need when they’re traveling, when they’re not tethered to one spot? What do you want when you travel? Do you want to learn? Do you want to work? What’s the traveler mindset and how do we create media options that really speak to that and give the traveling consumer what they need when they need it and how they need it.”–Raymond Girard, Spafax

Airlines don’t just capitalize on that special traveler mindset in the air, today’s leading airlines try to prolong that special attitude by staying in touch with their passengers throughout the year. The campaigns they schedule to accomplish this and the content they produce for those campaigns are distributed in multiple formats on multiple platforms. The best of these approaches happen year round, suggesting journeys passengers might enjoy, inspiring them to get back in the air and get away, escape everyday life, and enjoy that traveler’s high again.

To do so, airlines must gather intelligence on their customer preferences, and intelligently apply those insights to their content plans.

“All of those connections are via metrics: where is the customer? What are they doing? What do they need? There’s plenty of data that will tell you that,” Girard says. “Some of it is open source data and some of it is difficult to measure, usually when that customer is on the plane. Never has there been so much information about that customer except for that one really key point of the journey which is when they’re in that airplane seat. They’re on closed circuit systems that don’t necessarily communicate with the ground. Even when they are in connected aircraft, the amount of data you’ll get on that customer on the plane versus when they’re at home is really restricted. That is something that the industry really has to address if they want to connect with consumers using content in a very effective manner. We have a lot of research projects that we’re doing to try to fill in that gap.”

Understanding the traveler lifestyle

In collaboration with its media partner OTW, SAS has tapped into the traveler mindset expertly by developing its new We Are Travelers platform. This platform allows the airline to define itself clearly as a travel-as-lifestyle brand and encourages customers to link their own identity as adventurous travelers with the airline’s brand ethos. The airline has also used this clear brand definition to align its content on the new Scandinavian Traveler magazine (which replaces its Scanorama in-flight magazine) with key trends. On Scandinavian Traveler the airline also features brand partners which reflect travel-as-lifestyle and which have products and services that cater to SAS passengers’ tastes.

As Stefan Hedelius, Vice President, Brand and Marketing, SAS explains: “You want to do this to create an interest with the in-flight magazine to encourage travel. We produce a lifestyle and travel magazine, with interesting content. Most stories are connected to travel but not all. We include tech, fashion, design and also travel.”

The airline’s decision to target its content in this manner and to so clearly define it is borne of a deep understanding of its customer demographic.

Scandinavian Traveler online is more than just a digital copy of the in-flight magazine, formatted like a blog it allows readers to click and enjoy featured stories, leaving room with brand identity aligned luxury brands.

Scandinavian Traveler online is more than just a digital copy of the in-flight magazine, formatted like a blog it allows readers to click and enjoy featured stories, leaving room with brand identity aligned luxury brands.

The traveler identity is ideally matched to SAS customers, many of them Scandinavians for whom travel is an integral part of life. Taking advantage of that openness and enthusiasm for travel, SAS continuously shares content with customers which promotes destinations and venues, offers deals and generally inspires on its own airline site, its digital Scandinavian Traveller site, its social media channels, and regular emails to EuroBonus loyalty customers as well as previous travelers with the airline. All of this in addition to the We Are Travelers channel.

“In SAS case, this fits very well with their overall strategy,” Gustav Vidlund, New Business Director at Stockholm’s OTW Communication, which works closely with SAS, tells us. “They want to be relevant to their customers wherever they search for prices, for services and inspiration.” But this strategy is content-hungry and demands constant feeding. “What we produce is lots of content that they can use in many ways. It’s not just for the website or in-flight magazine, it’s content for destinations, for email marketing. With the email that you get just before the flight, with relevant content on the destination that you’re going to, that is up to date and more interesting than just the ordinary: these are the hotels that available or how you get a taxi.”

SAS has carefully planned the process of content channel expansion, ensuring at all times that it is consistent keeping the brand identity closely linked with the passenger identity. The airline has also been clever about distributing the content through various channels, wherever they fit best. “We’ve put down a content strategy, and we mostly make the content depending on what channel it was intended for. Now we create a centralized library of content and bring it out on various channels. With each we have different angles and depth of the content, appropriate to the channel.”

“We did the research from our target group with the people that are flying with us, the interests they have the other brands they’re attached to and established partnerships. Content is actually strengthening our brand positioning.”—Stefan Hedelius, SAS

This consistent application of the message thought the airline’s media properties encourages ticket sales, Vidlund explains. “Anyone that didn’t know that they wanted to travel with SAS, they will find that content online. Once we’ve brought them into the Scandinavian traveller website, we can tell them more stories and funnel them down to actually buying a trip that they didn’t know they wanted to buy in the first place. Using online content gives you an opportunity you didn’t have before with just the in-flight magazine.”

Both SAS and OTW tell us that they prefer to control and drive the story and that, for the most part, stories are unique editorial content, rather than sponsored content. “The story is an editorial decision on behalf of the magazine,” says Vidlund “Any story that is interesting is a story that we make, either in the magazine or online or both. We get all sorts of proposals and interesting stories from SAS, through freelancers and through ad sales. We have a very tight relationship with SAS on this. It’s their content and their channel, so they have the final decision on what’s produced and what’s published.”

The comprehensive plan of SAS includes producing original content for its onboard in-flight entertainment including sponsored content.

“We add our own content to the IFE as well as partner content,” Hedelius tells us. “The most important thing is that it has to be relevant to the customer. It can be movies, documentaries, gaming.” Hedelius also leaves us the thought that, perhaps uniquely for SAS, print may not be a medium that endures. “In the future, we will have our in-flight magazine just as a digital or on IFE,” he says.

The airline and its media partner OTW are constantly building up a collection of video content to support plans like these.

“Since we’ve started with the project we’ve produced lots of video,” says Vidlund. “Most of it is related to the stories that we tell. It would be destination content which adds to a written story. It’s also campaign related video, so behind the scenes from the recording of the ads that they produce–stories about the people featured in the ads. We try to add relevant and interesting content to the marketing experience which gives more meaning and more depth to the traditional marketing.”

And the attraction of flight comes up here again. Vidlund tells us: “We also produce video that is interesting to aviation related content. It could be anything from interviews with the CEO, to facts about how on how to overcome your fear of flying. We produced lots of videos in the campaign last month about the first refreshed cabin in the new cabins they are releasing this year.”

Appealing to brand partners

To airlines, support from advertisers is essential to support these publishing platforms. Though some of the airlines we spoke to said that part of the content is supported through their own marketing media budget, and more than one put more emphasis on unique content than sponsored content, in reality there is a considerable dependence on sponsorships for much of the content produced, be that through sales of advertising or other forms of sponsorship.

Maintaining a working relationship with those “brand partners” requires a specialized skill. Airlines may be publishers, and they may include reports in their magazines, but they’re not newspapers or news sites. They carefully plan their editorial content to complement sponsors and they also carefully select sponsors to compliment their brand.

A large portion of in-flight media is financed by third-party advertisers, and these advertisers are asking for is a live element to deepen their connection with the customer. They want to be able to target an airline customer across as many channels as they can, and as many mood states in that journey as they can, on as many devices as they can. They don’t want to miss an opportunity to truly connect with that airline customer.

For those brand partners, not missing out on opportunities to reach the traveler means keeping up with and supporting the airline trend to maintain a year-round content connection. But holding the interest of travelers, especially high-spend travelers, can’t be based on the written word alone, and the airlines’ brand partners are eager to support more ever more creative ways to keep the airline on travelers’ mind between trips.

Meeting that need has also forced the media companies which support airlines to stretch their capabilities.

OTW’s Vidlund tells us that airlines are attractive to brands as an alternative to traditional media, but attracting those brands to a particular airline and forging that partnership requires creativity.

“There’s a big focus on content and content marketing and a lot of money is moving from traditional bought media investments to content production and owned channels,” he says. “The main reason for that is that it’s becoming more difficult to reach audiences through bought media. People are in general trying to avoid being advertised to through traditional media TV or even magazines. What we do is produce content that is interesting and valuable for your audience, which means that they will choose to read or look at the video that we produce.”

The need to furnish partner brands with more opportunity to reach the most desirable traveling consumers has pushed the strategy of these specialized media companies beyond the page and off the screen into the real world. “We’ve become a bit of an events company,” Girard says. “Last year we must have produced fourteen events targeting different airlines’ premium customers, all financed by what would have been called in the past advertisers—now brand partners. Advertising is a simple transaction, whereas partnership is working together to create the platforms to target those customers. To airlines, that can be really complicated.”

The matchmakers

Like anything else in aviation, content for airlines is about making connections. The media companies which support airlines in their content production, are, at least in part, responsible for making those connections, brand matchmakers to a certain extent. This curious label fits the process of matching the requirements of all the stakeholders. It alludes to love and marriage, intrinsic requirements of airline content which must be attractive, emotive, compatible, and lasting. Airline content must fuel a passion for travel, and it must associate brand partners with that passion. It must inspire and encourage a love of travel, and support the places one might want to travel to. It must make the airline and its partner brands easy to fall in love with.

The degree to which these specialized media companies manage airline content can vary widely. As we’ll learn when we review specific case studies, some airlines depend entirely on outside help while others remain actively involved throughout the process and maintain the overall control of their various media properties.

“It depends entirely on the airline, their branding strategy and the degree of trust between the airline and their content marketing partner,” says Girard. “If you’re doing your work correctly and truly looking at the attributes of an airline brand and matching it with a similarly minded partner you shouldn’t have to go through too many levels of approval. The airline has a brand to be protective of so it’s all about making sure it’s the right fit, the right match, between two like-minded brands. I find that as long as you do that, then the rest of the process is a lot smoother with the airline. You don’t have to convince them. They trust that you know what they’re all about. Trust is key. Some airlines entrust it entirely and others want to be part of the process from A-Z. We’re happy to work with both extremes and everything in between, but the key is to not waste their time by presenting ideas and concepts that they don’t want to start with.”

Defining and refining the brand

This past November, Skift covered the somewhat controversial suggestion by leading industry designers and brand managers that airlines could become lifestyle brands. While the full expression of that branding approach is far from accomplished (principally because of airlines’ conventional approach to onboard product and services), airlines are making progress in defining themselves as lifestyle brands through their content.

Employing a multi-media, multi-platform approach, savvy airlines have built stronger bridges with existing customers, potential customers, premium passengers, and the brand partners which fund these media efforts and contribute to the airlines’ bottom lines.

“We did the research from our target group with the people that are flying with us, the interests they have the other brands they’re attached to and established partnerships,” says Stephan Hedelius, SAS. “Content is actually strengthening our brand and positioning it and content partners.”

It is principally the need to attract those brand sponsors which has driven airlines to carefully position their publications. While certain common elements are present in every in-flight magazine—route maps and airport maps and letters from the chairman—airlines and their publishing partners are increasingly selecting content in keeping with passenger lifestyles and aspirations and complementing that with sponsored content and which travelers are more open to when traveling.

LAN'S 'in' Magazine features stories in blog format online and also allows readers to view the full magazine online in digital format.

LAN’S ‘in’ Magazine features stories in blog format online and also allows readers to view the full magazine online in digital format.

In print, online, and on other platforms, everything about airline content is aspirational. It appeals to a sense of adventure, to a desire to be surrounded by nice things, to visit interesting places, enjoy fine dining, and be part of an exclusive group. Even content targeted at business travelers is a form of differentiation, the assumption that these are executive minds eager to be enriched and stay one step ahead of competitors with those valuable insights.

Those common elements are refined to fit an airline’s brand positioning. The quality and vibrancy of the publishing platforms also reflect the attitude and image of the airline. In the publishing arena, airlines are free to play with their identity and define themselves in ways which the regulatory restrictions and economic challenges airlines contend with do not allow for the onboard and service product.

However, there is always the question of whether content alone is enough to address an airlines otherwise less than ideal image. Can airlines convince customers that they are more comfortable, better treated, and enjoying their travels with content alone?

Perhaps not alone, but some believe that content can do wonders to control the brand story, in the air and on the ground.

“Airlines increasingly realize the power of well produced content to enhance their brand. If you look at a lot of flag carriers and a lot of legacy carriers, they get bad PR and it’s totally unfair, for things airlines don’t control,” says Girard. “As content marketers, we have the opportunity to change that narrative. We have four PR professionals working for us now. They are experts at taking the positive story and amplifying that through social media and through traditional media. We’re helping the airlines create positive stories for themselves.”

Whether the effectiveness of these techniques are enough to counter the barrage of negative press some airlines suffer is questionable, but having the power to print and to share stories which accentuate the positive aspects of the brand, if properly timed and coordinated does redirect the dialogue.

One example is the success of airline advertising videos online, some of which have gone viral. These videos, often humorous, sometimes pulling on our heartstrings, have become stories in themselves, receiving plenty of coverage from the international press in addition to the airline’s own promotion of the story.

We can look to examples like Turkish Airlines famous Kobe versus Messi short videos on YouTube. Capitalizing on the popularity of these two sports figures, the airline captured the world’s imagination. The huge popularity of the videos online generated many positive stories in the press which wanted to remain relevant to readers who were excited about the shorts and sharing them on social media. The press joined the conversation on the brand. The campaign thus became the perfect marriage of advertising and public relations. Two goals in one. Fans of the players became fans of Turkish Airlines. Even those who have never had the opportunity to fly on the airline know of it. By filming some of these advertisements in the cabin, the airline also had an opportunity to showcase the excellence of its cabin products. It is a technique so successful that the airline continues to produce variants and competitors have been inspired to follow that trend. Of course, it helps that Turkish Airlines has an excellent onboard product, but it is more important that these spots and coverage generated an association with quality and with fun which endures.

Vidlund suggests that reflecting a strong, individual brand identity is essential. “You shouldn’t copy any other airlines and make any sort of content if you don’t want to be that brand,” he says. “You have to create your own tone of voice. Maybe you shouldn’t have an in-flight magazine at all, you find other ways to create. There are great examples of interesting in-flight magazines that are different from what we do or what Lufthansa does or Emirates or others. It’s all about finding the right story and the right format and the right channels depending on who you want to be.”

“There are interesting cases of brand building through content. GoPro is one of them. They’ve worked with the product and building a large content audience and created a brand using their own product. They bring millions to their user channels that consume content daily that’s also produced through the product that they’re selling,” Gustav Vidlund, OTW

Girard tells us that airlines recognize the power of content for brand definition. “Airlines increasingly realize the power of well produced content to enhance their brand,” he says. “If you look at a lot of flag carriers, a lot of legacy carriers, they get such bad PR and most of it is massively unfair: it’s snowing out, my flight is late, I hate the airline. When it has absolutely nothing to do with the airline. We, as content marketers, have the opportunity to change that narrative.”

Vidlund confirms that support of the airline brand drives the process at OTW also, though those various functions may depend on a collaboration with outside agencies. “We work together with either their marketing department on the issue of brand identity, or if they have a brand agency we would look at that and propose content and formats that would support building that brand,” he says. “We work closely with ad agencies, and brand agencies and all the other agencies around any brand that we work with and we try to interpret the brand strategy and create content and formats that support that brand.”

Enriching experiences

Lending credence to Girard’s confidence in the collectability of print, LAN’s in Magazine is a rich meal of content and images. LAN puts a unique accent on luxury which appeals to the palate of an international traveler. This quality production helps South American carrier define, refine and maintain an upscale profile at home and abroad, passing on that refinement to passengers through association. In a region where travel is most often the luxury of a select elite, this positioning makes good sense. But it also serves to give passengers abroad an appetite to explore the region and all it has to offer. By making the in-flight magazine itself a high-end product, the airline frames brand partners against the most luxurious backdrop.

We asked Paula Durán, Director of IFE and In-House Media LATAM Group to share insights into the strategy and the management of the magazine and its unique digital and social media identities.

“The main objective of in Magazine is to entertain the passenger and ensure they have an attractive and agreeable travel experience,” Durán tells us. “We also want to communicate and demonstrate everything Latin America has to offer the world. Our in Magazine is a resource where our passengers can find interesting information for their journey, learn about new trends, and enjoy special reports of trending topics and general interest.”

Asked about the artistic presentation and production of the magazine, Durán tells us, “The magazine covers are an integral part of the magazine. Each cover follows the same editorial standard, with the objective to entertain and attract. For this reason we use renown illustrators which are inspired by the cover story and the central theme of each issue when creating their artwork. Some of the illustrators we’ve worked with are established artists such as Pablo Lobato, Isidro Ferrer y Olivier Balez, among others.”

Durán tells us of a selective editorial process which relies on a close partnership with the airline’s media partner Spafax and relies on careful content planning.

“It is a joint editorial process between the Onboard Entertainment Department of LAN and Spafax. We begin the work approximately three months before each monthly issue. We begin by bring together the editorial team, review the proposals for the central theme of each issue and the content criteria. Later, we revise each of the reports together as a team. The objective is that all content is aligned with LAN’s corporate identity and with the objective of entertaining our passengers with interesting and original themes.”

To ensure the high editorial quality of its magazine, LAN eschews sponsored content, but the magazine makes space for select advertisers.

“We try to ensure that advertising in our magazine meet the same quality requirement and ethics which characterize our editorial policy for in Magazine and of the LAN brand,” says Durán. LAN’s in Magazine is also social. It has its own Twitter account, independent of the airline’s account, through which in Magazine shares snippets of stories and features intended to inspire travelers.

“Today’s passengers are always connected to social media networks,” Durán tells us. “We believe that having our magazine content in other platforms and also connecting it through the magazine’s website (in-lan.com), as well as through the Twitter account @Revista_in and Instagram account (revista_in) is an added value offering for our mobile customers. Also many passengers are very interested in the magazine and, through these other media outlets we can effectively interact with them, receive their proposals for stories and their comments. In this way, we engage them, we make our readers part of the magazine.”

For Premium Business passengers, LAN prints a separate in-wines magazine. “The objective of that magazine is to inform our passengers about our wine card on board and introduce them to the latest trends in the world of wine.”

While the LATAM Group has not yet established an app version of its magazine, Durán tells us the group has a strong commitment to multiple mobile platforms and intends to continue incorporating features attractive to its mobile passengers. “The LATAM group is one of the most mobile-friendly airlines in Latin America, offering passenger solutions and services on smartphones and tablet devices. Our objective is to continue to evolve along those lines, incorporating more applications and digital solutions. We’re evaluating various projects along these lines,” she says.

Variation, integration and cross-over

To maintain year-round contact with flyers, airline content must be a mixed-media effort. These various channels are ravenous for content. Keeping them updated requires a multi-channel approach.

“From the minute you start researching where you want to go, through to the airport experience, to flying, to back at the airport, to back home, the airline wants to connect with that customer every single step of the way,” says Girard. “They want to be relevant to the entire journey. They’re using more and more means to do it. With one of our clients we say we have 175 ways of connecting that brand with the customers throughout the entire journey, and that was three years ago. So that 175 ways is like 300 right now, because due to digital media those means of connecting to the customer are just exploding.”

Vidlund points out the importance of multi-channel content funnels to make those multiple connections. “If you’re a brand, a corporation or an organization and you have certain things that you want to communicate, or you want to build your brand through marketing, content is a valuable part of that mix,” he says. “It will give you more time with your audience. You will build a better relationship with them because you’re going to solve their problems and answer questions that they have. The traditional way of doing this used to be printed magazines. They’ve been part of marketing for 100 years, but with the internet and social media it’s become more effective and also necessary to leave the boundaries of the printed magazine and look at content as a valuable asset that you can use in many channels.“

OTW emphasizes the importance of this multi-channel approach to its customers. “We produce lots of printed magazines but we also advise them and help them with using that content in relevant contexts, channels and platforms,” says Vidlund. “It could be using that content on email marketing to video to YouTube and Social Media. Anywhere your potential clients would look for either inspiration or answers and help them solve a problem or learn more about certain products.”

Girard strongly agrees, and sees this as a lasting trend, part of a new reality for airline content marketing. He also believes that stories can travel through the various platforms, leading that active audience from one channel to the other to find what is relevant to them at different points in time.

“It’s impossible to think of anyone being interested in communicating on one platform only,” he says. “It’s got to be across the entire journey experience. That’s what really smart airlines are doing and they’re doing it consistently. It requires a consistency of story. If the story is the best restaurants for South America, where does that story live best for an airline? In the in-flight magazine that story is a long form with sumptuous photography. Online it’s another thing. On the airline’s website is used to drive engagement with a destination or used to sell a destination. On an app, it’s a guide.”

Print and digital

Because of the unique nature of the flying experience—with a large part of the journey mostly disconnected—to airlines print and digital are more partner than rival content channels. The media companies which advise airlines emphasize maintaining with a high standard of quality. But, despite the versatility of the digital channels, print is enjoying a renaissance.

“Smart brands are still investing in print, but production standards are doing the opposite of what we thought they’d do,” says Girard. “We thought print would get cheap and follow the web trend, get it out there fast, cheapen the production, make it as low-cost as you can, but some brands are making big investments in print.The power of print is on the coffee table. What airline wouldn’t want to be a part of a customers living room?”

The difference today, Girard explains, is that today’s in-flight magazine is not the whole of the story. “It’s got to absolutely be seen as part of the storytelling, but it’s only one tool,” he says. “It’s a great platform for the end story. It’s the last thing the customer sees of a campaign, the summary of a campaign.

Social media content distribution

Social media distribution of airline content is essential, but Girard tells us that Instagram is quickly becoming the channel of choice for airlines.

“Instagram is so smart in the way they’re structuring their community interactions,” Girard tells us. “They have a team of editors who do nothing but crawl Instagram all day long and essentially anoint or bless—they call it an ‘Instablessing’—and feature them on the Instagram blog. It’s so transactional, and fascinating how they manage it. Airlines love Instagram because it’s mostly positive commentary. It’s not a platform where people go on and gripe. And it’s words and pictures. It’s real storytelling. Some airlines are getting Instagram right, and that’s the big content play of 2015/2016. You’re going to see that take-off for airlines in a way that Twitter never did. Twitter became an extension of the customer service team, customer care. Instagram is the opportunity to truly engage.”

Few airlines get engagement as well as well as KLM does. The airline leads the industry in social, but its social platform, which effectively builds the brand’s good character and responsiveness to customer needs, is only one part of its comprehensive high-quality media collection.

In addition to the Holland Herald KLM has introduced the multimedia iFly publication which serves up travel inspiration, and features personal stories of travelers in rich video mini documentaries.

In addition to the Holland Herald KLM has introduced the multimedia iFly publication which serves up travel inspiration, and features personal stories of travelers in rich video mini documentaries.

The airline’s well regarded Holland Herald publication is managed by G+J Media, the Netherlands branch of Hamburg-based Gruner + Jahr AG & Co, Europe’s largest printing and publishing firm, which also produces local variations of Vogue and National Geographic, among other lifestyle publications. This particular expertise could account for the variety of readers the magazine appeals to. Unlike other in-flight magazines, the demographic profile of the 2.2 million monthly readers of the Holland Herald os diverse in gender and age, and evenly distributed. Though this could also speak to the demographic profile of KLM’s own passenger mix, the magazine points to the elements these men and women of every age, business and leisure travelers alike, have in common: affluence.

“Holland Herald readers are up-market, affluent business and leisure travelers. Because they are innovative and on the move, they are interested in new technology and high-quality and design products,” G+J states in Holland Herald’s advertising page.

The magazine effectively balances content which would appeal to these varied demographics, but the online digital edition of this publication is only one way in which the airline appeals to travelers on the ground.

The airline’s iFly online magazine, produced by the Dutch creative agency Born05, Utrecht, gives KLM’s present and future passengers travel inspiration in a rich multimedia platform which encourages following and sharing. The content is principally composed of vignettes and videos which feature destinations, cities and adventures, all designed to appeal to the traveler mindset.

KLM also maintains the colorful and engaging blog Meanwhile at KLM, which shares stories with fans of the airline focused around travel and lifestyle with special features “behind the scenes” at the airline which appeal to a growing base of aviophiles around the world.

KLM’s various platforms form an exceptional interactive media cross-over content platform. Natascha Van Roode, Brand Communications Manager at KLM tells how these various platforms of content sharing help KLM seamlessly integrate a connection with the airline and with the allure of travel from dreaming up the trip, to the journey itself and beyond.

“We have identified all touch-points throughout our customer journey,” she says. “Our customer journey starts with a potential customer who is dreaming about traveling. He then wants to be inspired, makes a booking, actually travels and in the end relives his trip. After that the journey starts all over again. An average customer only flies max two times a year. This means that in order to keep this customer engaged with the brand we also need to focus on the dreaming and inspirational part of our customer journey. This where for instance the blog and our iFly magazine play an important role.”

Of producing the large and varied content required to support these various platforms, Van Roode tells us: “Most platforms are managed directly in house except for the Holland Herald and the iFly. However, KLM is directly involved in magazine formulas and as such content production beforehand and approves all content before taken into production.

“Content is created by different departments throughout KLM. In order to integrate all content we have different alignment platforms (meetings) in which we manage an overall calendar and discuss all subsequent content which will be produced. We closely manage timing and formats so that content is made available for multiple channels.

“At this point in time our overall calendar is driven mainly by our commercial calendar. We are in the process of adopting a method called “customer journey mapping” to better understand the customer needs at different touch-points throughout the customer journey. This means that we are working towards a more integrated customer-focused content strategy free.

“We set different targets on different platforms, ranging from brand awareness, engagement to direct sales. However, we learn more and more on the effectiveness of different channels so it is really interesting to see how we can make better choices in selecting the right channels, target customers better and even adjust content based on customer behavior.”

Van Roode also credits enthusiasm for this content-based connection with customers for the success of the airlines media properties.

“All people involved are really enthusiastic about this domain and eager to learn as much as possible in order to make the right decisions for both our potential customers and the company and to create fantastic content,” she tells us.

In addition to commercial support for the media properties through brand partnerships, Van Roode tells us that KLM invests in content as part of its marketing budget. KLM is also selective of the brands it pursues as potential sponsors of its publications.

“All approached brands should preferably match the KLM brand based on brand values,” Van Roode says. “Our brand values are Dutch, Open, Inspirational and Reliable. We have done a brand match study to identify brands matching the KLM brand.”

Blogs and apps

While airlines are digitizing their in-flight magazines and posting them online for customers to read, the airline blog is emerging as a more lively and engaging content channel. On these blogs, airlines like KLM, Iberia, and SAS share news and travel inspiration, as well as behind-the-scenes information that appeals to fans of aviation.

The airline app also has a role to play as a content channel. A number of airlines, including American Airlines’ American Way, Finnair’s Blue Wings, Malaysia Airlines’ Going Places, and Qantas Australian Way have released app versions of their in-flight magazines. These digital versions which fit nicely on mobile passenger’s iPads aren’t set to replace the print version of those in-flight magazines, only to give passengers another method to access that content.

Unlike traditional consumer travel magazines, airlines can afford to give this content away for free, as its purpose is to deepen a relationship with the brand, not drive subscriptions or newsstand sales. By having a footprint in the app store, the airline also reinforces its brand, demonstrating that it’s with the times, even if fleeting times and changing technologies ultimately mean those apps won’t endure like their print versions do. Once the content is produced, the effort to digitize and transfer that onto an app is minimal. And just the mention of the introduction of an app magazine is bound to get an airline positive mention in the press.

Gaming content

Skift recently featured Air Canada’s new Altitude platform which encourages select passengers to participate in the content generation process by creating short lists of travel tips and destination guides.

This is another way in which Air Canada experiments with Content Marketing beyond the limits of traditional aviation channels, creating its own social platform to do so and introducing an element of gaming. Contributing members compete with each other to posts lists and show-off their expertise. Participating frequent flyers have an opportunity to earn badges and win prizes.

As Girard explains, this unique platform was borne of a lost connection. “Air Canada spun off their loyalty program in 2005, launched IPO, which allowed them the funds to invest in the fleet and cabins. Then they understood that selling off the loyalty program means you’re selling off the conversation with your best customers,” he says. “They’ve gently been repatriating that conversation.”

The top-tier Altitude platform is the airline’s opportunity to connect with those passengers again, on a more personal level. “It’s entirely managed in-house at the airline,” Girard says. “Altitude is for 35,000 miles and more per year per customers. It’s in BETA, launching in March. It’s a content community that is essentially Altitude premium customers creating lists—like the five best jogging routes in North America, the five best Dim Sum restaurants in Hong Kong, etc.. It’s the kind of information that you would trust coming from a peer, someone who travels as much as you do far more than you would a guide book. It’s up-to-date and a real content community. It’s ad-funded but the advertising has to be carefully matched to the profile because these are the airline’s best customers.

The logic behind the success of gaming platforms, like Air Canada’s Altitude Listicles platform, Girard suggests, is the changing demographic of today’s travel audience.

The psychology behind Air Canada's new Altitude Community is to appeal to competitve nature of the frequent flyer.

The psychology behind Air Canada’s new Altitude Community is to appeal to competitve nature of the frequent flyer.

“It’s all about badges. Members compete to become the best listers. They have contributed a great deal of content. We thought that we would have to feed the site with more content, but that’s not the case. Consider that’s while it’s in beta, by invitation only. When it officially launches, I think that thing is going to catch fire. It taps into that travel mindset. The traveler is very competitive. It goes back to that George Clooney in Up In the Air dynamic, tapping into that. We’ve had levels of engagement on this platform that are through the roof. What’s really interesting is that the higher rank of the passenger, the more the miles they have, the more they contribute. To them its like sport.”

This approach is so different from what we’re used to that it’s difficult to believe that busy professionals would want to spend time compiling lists of things to do for others. Of course, it is still in beta and time will prove whether its current popularity continues after the program is open to more members, but Girard insists it has a future. The psychology behind it is an ideal melding of the same impulses which drive us to spend time online sharing the details of our adventures with colleagues in Social Media, and besting each other on other contest and gaming platforms.

“It’s such a vanguard content marketing project,” Girard says. “Designing it was almost like designing a new Facebook. You wouldn’t think that that level of consumer would like the platform, because when you look at the 100Ks they travel a lot, but they’re incredibly competitive in everything they do. Talk about tapping into the core characteristic of that traveler!”

The vibrancy of video

The permanence of print aside, today the vibrancy of video attracts audiences more effectively than ever before. Films have been popular for well over a century, but videos have become an essential element of airline content marketing strategy, our experts say.

“That’s definitely a big part of the strategy to produce video,” Vidlund tells us. “It’s a very effective format, very emotional, brand building. It’s a big trend on the internet definitely through social channels it’s a very effective way of reaching people and telling a story that is interesting.”

Girard agrees and believes it is a very compatible format to reach the mobile traveler.

“Video is just yet another means of storytelling, but one that’s highly suited to the mobile customer,” he says. “Everybody is on a smartphone and has a mobile-enabled device. With a short-form video, we’re producing one minute long city guides and distributing via various social media channels. That’s key.”

Once the content is produced, both Girard and Vidlund believe, it should be shared in other appropriate channels. While the word might need to vary to avoid becoming boring and repetitive, few mind viewing an amusing video on more than one channel. Video is popular, shareable and engaging.

IFE Content

Another appropriate space video content, unique to airlines is the in-flight entertainment system, often embedded on seat back screens sometimes also distributed via an app and onboard Wi-Fi. These distribution channels allow for longer format videos, appropriate to either the airline’s own content or sponsored content. Airlines can use these channels for destination marketing, to highlight partner brands, to provide additional helpful traveler information, whatever they choose.

As Vidlund explains: “On any plane that there’s a Wi-Fi connection we would be feeding passengers with our content through that Wi-Fi portal as well, so there would be possibilities to consume video and stories and that are filtered for the destination that you are traveling to. We can serve passengers relevant and up-to-date destination stories, and video and also aviation related stories and video on the services that are available on the flight. ”

Recently, JetBlue took advantage of its popular high-speed in-flight connectivity Fly-Fi service to make valuable partnerships with a variety of media companies and publishers, like HarperCollins, to give passengers samples of what they have to offer, as leads to generate business for those media brands. This is a case of branded content generation leading to branded content consumption which ideally demonstrates just how reciprocal these content partnerships can become.

Live events

As Girard has told us, “live” content is en vogue and airline brand partners are eager to sponsor special events. Air Canada’s successful enRoute film festival, which recognizes the short films of emerging Canadian filmmakers, is an excellent example of using live events to build relationships with travelers and with the local community, as well as appealing to brand sponsors and refining its brand as one which supports youth in their contributions to the arts.

“Air Canada’s enRoute film festival is Canada’s richest film festival for that level of filmmaker,” says Girard. “These young filmmakers are just out of school, some still in school and they’re getting an audience in the millions for their short films. It’s in its eighth year. It exists online, and in print. Every month there are be drivers in the magazine to the in-flight screens. It’s also a heavily sponsored content marketing exercise for the airline and great PR. How often do airlines get fifty million media impressions that are entirely positive?”

This popular event is not the only way in which Air Canada expands the possibilities of its Content Marketing platform, as we’ll see. “Air Canada is probably one of the most advanced with their approach to their media,” Girard tells us. “They’re probably the most 360 about it. We have the opportunity to change the narrative in that market. As a legacy carrier, they’ve been, I think, unfairly treated by the media. Content marketing can change that narrative. We get good stuff out there, like the En-Route film festival, and Canada’s best new restaurant campaign. They get a hundred million positive references for the airline.”

Quick case studies

American Airlines

While not officially the national carrier of the US, American Airlines has long represented its brand as an emblem of the American lifestyle. More so, with its merger with US Airways. Now the largest airline in the world has expanded its content platform in a complete overhaul suited to match the airline’s ambitious new livery and aircraft interiors programs.

American Way magazine, the airline’s in-flight publication, is with passengers and always characterized by blend of travel stories, lifestyle stories, popular timely topics and humor, but the limits of that in-flight edition are not enough for the new airline’s grander ambitions to fly the flag, serving as ambassador of the American lifestyle around the world.

With assistance from its media partners at Ink, which took over all publishing for American Air in August of last year, the airline now has three magazines in its publications mix: American Way, which, Ink states, reaches 193 million people annually, Celebrated Living, aimed at First and Business class passengers, and Nexos aimed at Spanish and Portuguese-speaking passengers on routes to Latin America and Spain.

“We’ve partnered with Ink to expand the global reach of our award-winning publications,” said Fernand Fernandez, vice president Global Marketing, American Airlines of the announcement. “We believe Ink brings added resources, coupled with a strong global reputation which will help strengthen our three award winning titles going forward.”

Ink will support the publications on multiple media channels including print, online, mobile and tablet formats, and American Airlines entrusts Ink with the production of the content and the sales of advertising for the publications.

“Winning the largest airline in the world in our twentieth year of business is the ultimate accolade,” said Michael Keating, EVP Product and Business Development, Ink. “We’re really looking forward to re-imagining and re-launching the magazines to create titles that will set new media standards in the travel industry. What’s exciting is the multi-platform reach for our content which can be read in print versions onboard and throughout the global network of lounges, but also via online, tablets, and mobile. We really will be reaching passengers at every point of their journey.”

The Air Mauritius Blog promotes Mauritius destinations which appeal to various favorite travel experiences promoting local tourism.

The Air Mauritius Blog promotes Mauritius destinations which appeal to various favorite travel experiences promoting local tourism.

Air Mauritius

Under the guidance of its media partner, Qube Media, UK, Air Mauritius has developed a successful social media and online platform to promote Mauritius as a destination. The airline’s website features a dedicated Destination Mauritius page which features information on the ‘Mauritius Lifestyle’ including festivals and cuisine, helpful traveller information about the airport, then focuses on traveller interests in the natural beauty of the destination, and activities including sports and shopping.

Qube has also helped the airline encourage inspire love of Mauritius, with a ‘Romance Made in Mauritius’ social media campaign, the name of which is an association to ‘Made in Mauritius’ the airline’s new destination blog. The blog is managed by Qube for Air Mauritius with content created in English and French.

“We developed a strategy and roadmap for the airline’s success. Our first campaign grew their Facebook fans from less than 4,000 to over 130,000 fans in a matter of weeks to become the leading page in Mauritius,” says a representative of Qube. Though Qube manages Air Mauritius’ digital and social media platforms for them, it also helps the airline further develop its platform management capabilities with in-house training and workshops.

British Airways

British Airways has appropriately focused a great deal of its online content on promoting Great Britain on various of its media properties.

It’s recently brought this national destination marketing onboard on its in-flight entertainment system (IFE). In conjunction with its media partner Spafax, the airline developed What’s On UK. This program gives passengers up-to-date information on key happenings in the UK which might be of interest to them in the days and weeks after their arrival.

Ed Oppe, Head of Production at Spafax said of the program during its introduction in September of last year: “The goal of What’s On UK is to ensure that a passenger’s first taste of the UK leaves a good impression.”

What’s On UK segments feature special events and suggest interesting places for passengers to visit.

Turning requirements into opportunities

Turning requirements into opportunities

Who would have thought that compliance with a regulatory requirement could help airlines engage with customers and a general audience, while also generating an interesting source of revenue and partner brand collaboration. Yet, that’s exactly what viral safety videos have done.

Not only have airline safety videos become a popular share on social media, they’ve generated positive press for airlines—with perhaps the notable exception of Air New Zealand’s controversial Sports Illustrated safety video which was deemed sexist. Even that, however kept Air New Zealand’s name in the press and generated a conversation about other videos the airline has produced.

Indeed, while other airlines have made their own entertaining safety videos, Air New Zealand has invested heavily in this platform, turning out high-quality productions which satisfy regulators and entertain customers on the ground and in the air.

“Our first quirky safety video was our Bare Essentials of Safety video released in 2009 which featured body painted staff from across our business.We wanted to do something different that would create interest and attention,” says Kelly Kilgour, Corporate Communications Executive at Air New Zealand. “Air New Zealand’s inflight safety videos are an impactful way for us to share safety messages in a way that is also entertaining. In addition to this our safety videos have collectively been viewed more than 50 million times online and have featured in coverage by global media outlets such as CNN, BBC, and the New York Times – helping us gain significant brand presence on a crowded global stage.”

The public relations reach and brand differentiation brought about by Air New Zealand’s partnership with the Hobbit franchise has been considerable, Kilgore tells us, as has the project itself been ambitious and comprehensive.

“Our Hobbit-inspired videos were created as part of a three-year partnership with The Hobbit Trilogy, which included marketing and sales campaigns in the markets we operate to leverage our partnership and drive demand for Middle-earth as a destination,” says Kilgore. “This activity included two Hobbit-inspired safety videos, two aircraft liveries, themed merchandise, competitions and unique fan opportunities. It’s safe to say that our Hobbit-inspired safety videos have been one of the most successful parts of our marketing strategy. Our first video An Unexpected Briefing was released in 2012 to celebrate the then release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The video received more than 12 million online views and significant global media attention. Our latest Hobbit-inspired safety video The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made was released in December last year, to coincide with the release of the final film in the Trilogy, and has already eclipsed the first video with more than 20 million online views. As you will appreciate, the financial details of this partnership are commercially sensitive.

“Air New Zealand’s partnership with The Hobbit films has proven to be a way to excite and engage our customers and we have also seen a commercial return. Our safety videos in particular have been a creative platform to not only drive awareness and engagement with the brand but also sales. While we don’t disclose specific figures, we do know that on the days we launched our Hobbit-inspired safety videos we saw a significant spike in traffic to our websites and subsequently an increase in ticket sales. The Hobbit films have also had a significant impact on New Zealand’s tourism industry. Tourism New Zealand data has shown that The Hobbit films and campaigns to support them have increased interest in New Zealand.”

“For the period July 2013 to June 2014, 13 percent of international holiday visitors cited The Hobbit films were a factor in stimulating their interest in New Zealand as a destination.”—Kelly Kilgour, Air New Zealand.

Girard tells us that these videos, and similar videos which airlines may introduce to address passenger’s concern for safety, are attractive to brand partners and present airlines with interesting opportunities for revenue from carefully positioned brand partners.

“If you look at a service video, or fear of flying videos, for example, airlines can do that entirely on their own, but there are about fifty brands that would be willing to support that activity with a sponsorship slate or something of that sort,” says Girard. “It’s really hard to think of anything an advertiser wouldn’t want to support because the in-flight customer, the airline customer, is such an attractive target audience.”

Not all video projects need to be so ambitious as Air New Zealand’s The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made to be successful, and all can include clever product placement Girard says. “Because of the frequent need to update safety videos, it’s fairly easy to change out certain brands. For example when you say ‘put away your mobile phones’ you can feature a device that’s actually paid for. Of course, that depends on the market. Some markets are more tolerant of product placement than others.”

Air New Zealand has told us that there is no product placement in the airline’s inflight videos, but the videos form an important part of its unique brand identity.

“In a highly competitive and commoditized market, it is increasingly important to make customers feel warmly welcomed, and to try and build excitement and anticipation for a trip,” says Kilgour. “In many cases our marketing campaigns, including our safety videos, serve as the first time people engage with our brand so it’s important to us that we showcase our personality and warm open nature. It’s all about making genuine connections and the safety videos help us achieve this”

5 key strategies for airline content marketers

A long life for your content assets. Unique content can have many lives in different formats of varying duration. By compiling and maintaining a content database, and sourcing from that database selections appropriate to different platforms, the full value of the assets are recovered and the message becomes unified, consistent and memorable.

Align content with brand identity. Communicate the ethos of the brand effectively by ensuring consistent tone, attitude, and appearance. A central message should be threaded through all media properties on every medium. The content itself should be varied and interesting, but it should all meet a standard consistent with the brand. If capitalizing on opportunities for branded content, or featuring advertisers, it’s best to make this an exclusive placement and maintain control during the collaborative process.

All content streams lead to bookings. Using content to drive bookings is just good business for airlines. When featuring destinations, take advantage of the opportunity to drive the reader directly to the primary site to book a trip, or advertise any special promotion to that destination. This can be a very small unobtrusive link, something that encourages clicking through without interfering with the enjoyment of the content experience.

Understand the customer. Not all customers are created equal nor are all traveler. Using metrics to understand the interests and lifestyle preferences of an airline’s unique passenger demographics is essential. The airline’s branding and content theme and tone should reflect a deep understanding of passengers’ interests and passions. To remain interesting and relevant, the publications must genuinely connect with followers on a deep emotional and psychological level and appeal to their tastes.

Rule your empire. Effective content marketing, especially that intended to define and refine a brand, cannot be handed off and forgotten. Today’s expert media companies are there to manage a wide range of platforms and the production of a wide variety of content, but an airline’s marketing and identity management should take part in the process, ensuring that the message remains consistent with the brand identity and the growth aims of the corporation. That said, every good ruler listens to wise advisors. There’s no need to micromanage the process. Remaining open to new ideas, new technologies and and new approaches is the secret to eternal relevance. Partners whose business it is to follow these trends and who are media experts can help fill any gaps in the airline’s knowledge base and capabilities.