Six Brand Activation Ideas that Soar

Over my years at American Airlines I was fortunate to be part of some great brand activation campaigns.  The following is a list of my favorite sports and entertainment marketing activations and other moments in general (in no particular order), followed by how partnerships can adopt some of the same ideas.

 1. Up In The Air starring George Clooney (2009)

Since the S3 Report tends to lean more towards sports I wanted to lead with an entertainment example that will always have a special place in my heart. This is the project I use as an example to help educate internal departments and employees about the power of entertainment marketing for customers and employees. From start to finish, this was a total 360 integrated marketing example that included product integration, digital promotions for a variety of internal departments, inflight content, TV advertising, customer and employee engagement.

In the film, George Clooney plays the role of a business traveler that lives on the road. He is a miles junkie that has mastered the art of packing, living out of a suitcase and navigating his way through security and airline lounges. Since we got in on the ground floor of the production, we worked with the filmmakers to ensure American’s brand and messaging were seamlessly woven into the script and on the set. Director Jason Reitman’s aim was to make everything as authentic as possible, so a lot of the items seen in the film were either provided by American or made to look like exact replicas.

As the film prepped for release we executed a number of promotions for AA.com, AAdvantage and the Admirals Clubs. We held special screenings and were also able to get employees engaged by assisting with filming and attending special screenings in a variety of markets.  American received positive publicity around the film and customer engagement was at an all-time high because our best customers could relate to Clooney’s character’s passion for travel. To this day, customers still ask if we will ever create a special card for those that reach 10 million miles, and what better way to get brand association with one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors?

Not every brand can be a part of a feature movie, but what partners can do is take a 360 integrated marketing viewpoint to sponsorships rather than single-event promotions. We supplemented the movie with an integrated promotion beyond the branding play:

2. Disney’s Planes (2013)

When Disney decided to give Planes a theatrical release instead of putting it straight to DVD, we saw an opportunity to create an integrated marketing program for customers and employees. For this project Disney did something groundbreaking – they created a special Planes character for American named Tripp. Tripp makes a cameo in the film and we incorporated Tripp and other Planes characters into a TV spot that was utilized in owned and paid channels throughout the promotional period.  Since the film was airplane specific, activations were created for digital, inflight, airports and at air shows. Customers, employees and aviation buffs (and their families!) were thrilled with the film and excited that American had its own character that showed off the company’s new logo and livery.

The insight here is that we were able to activate the brand among children and their parents interested in the movie.We are so often geared to the short term. What are you doing to build long term brand affinity?

3. Takeoff featuring Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion (2014)

This is a great example of the brand finding a way to align company messaging with a franchise and individual athletes both in and outside of a title deal like we have with the American Airlines Center.

American is in the midst of receiving a large number of new aircraft, and to help promote the new 777-300ER, the team put together a special promotion for Mavs fans featuring top players Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion. Both players were filmed on a set in a real first-class, lie-flat seat, which was used in a special environment featuring videos of the players talking about the new aircraft and a special photo area was installed at American Airlines Center.  In the photo area, fans could be digitally superimposed in a picture showing them fist bumping one of the two players. Fans could immediately email their photo or share to their favorite social networking site.

The name of the game in sponsorship activation is engagement. How are you physically, tangibly engaging customers to interact with your brand in a way that creates user generated content?

4. A321T Campaign and Hologram Activation (2014)

American Airlines Peck HarrisIn early 2014 American took delivery of its first Airbus 321-Transcontinental aircraft to fly transcon routes JFK-LAX-JFK and JFK-SFO-JFK. These new aircraft make American the only airline with three-class service with fully lie-flat seats in both Business and First Class. These routes are heavily traveled by Hollywood’s elite, so in order to help promote the new aircraft, American put together an integrated advertising campaign that feature actors Neil Patrick Harris, Juliana Marguiles, Grace Kelly and Gregory Peck. Since American was the first to invent transcon service in 1953, the campaign focused on its modern-day reinvention.

American incorporated some activations into the campaign. The first was in conjunction with The Hollywood Reporter’s lounge at the Sundance Film Festival and centered around educating Hollywood A-listers about the new product. Another innovative activation was a hologram setup at airports served by the A321T which allowed for customers to take a 3D interactive tour of the new aircraft. American was the first airline to utilize the hologram technology that was well-received by employees and customers alike.

Tapping into the history of the brand often connects with consumers in a deeply emotional way and exploring new technologies connects in a dynamic way that draws attention and engagement.

5. American Airlines Center vs. American Airlines Arena (2006 and 2011)

Who doesn’t love a little publicity? The NBA Finals in 2006 and 2011 featured both of American’s namesake buildings, which in itself became something for everyone to talk about. There were multiple articles that debated the value of coverage American would receive during the Finals, and American’s employees in both cities proudly displayed their colors and entertained a friendly rivalry. In this case American benefited by global publicity and TV coverage as well as an opportunity for employee engagement. The series currently sits at 1-1, and both times the winner closed out the series in Game 6 on the road.

The pros/cons of engaging in title deals are worthwhile, but the real issue is how can you stay top-of-mind and engage a critical segment (upscale frequent flyers) in your primary DMAs? If you think about a place where the majority of your key segments are apt to pay attention every year, that sounds like a good place to be.

6. Great Ticket Giveaway (2006)

This one technically occurred a few months before I started at American but I had the privilege of working on it from the Mavs’ side. This was a coup for American because who doesn’t want a free airline ticket?  American’s intent was to show some love for Dallas by giving everyone in attendance a free flight, and the fans and media ate it up. This is a great example of how a brand can benefit by aligning with a popular sports franchise. Team popularity was at a high and it turned out to be the first season the Mavs advanced to the NBA Finals.

The objective for these types of brand activations is to work hand-in-hand with the property and media to maximize publicity. And, since Mavericks season ticket holders are likely frequent fliers, we reinforced their loyalty to the brand. What are you doing to reward your loyal customers?

Up, Up, and Away!

I consider all of these favorites for a variety of reasons, but the one thing that ties them together is that they are all integrated campaigns based on whatever American’s business objectives were at the time of execution.  Do you remember any of these or see anything missing from my list?  Please feel free to share your comments here!