Turkish Airlines launches Istanbul to San Francisco route with creative marketing

When Turkish Airlines decided to launch Istanbul to San Francisco flights, its seventh destination in the United States, marketing the route effectively and driving awareness were key goals. Especially since SFO is one of the most competitive long-haul markets in the world.

Thanks to the growth in the city of San Francisco, and Silicon Valley, the passenger traffic and the number of airlines San Francisco International Airport serves has risen rapidly. In the recent years, the likes of Emirates, Etihad and Air New Zealand have launched new flights to the city. Though the Turkish Airlines hub at Istanbul is technically in Europe, it is close to the Gulf hubs of the Middle East. Hence, the competition for passengers is intense.

For launching the Turkish Airlines Istanbul San Francisco route, the airline had a couple of options: Stick to the usual, or do something different. In our opinion, it chose the third option, going with “holistic”. Their efforts were driven by three key initiatives.

Launch Istanbul to San Francisco with a special livery

Turkish Airlines commissioned a Boeing 777-300 to sport an exclusive livery signifying the link between Istanbul and San Francisco, with a beautiful artistic design, showcasing Istanbul on one side, and San Francisco icons on the other. This helped generate interest in the close-knit and vocal community of Aviation Geeks and Plane Spotters about the route, which in turn was amplified on social media. Turkish Airlines’ official presence on social channels helped to drive the reach even further.

Importantly, anyone who sees this aircraft at any airport around the world will be able to draw the link between Istanbul and San Francisco. That in itself drives awareness of the route.

Turkish Airlines Boeing 777-300 at San Francisco International Airport. Credit: Vitaliy Lobanov, Airplane Pictures

Turkish Airlines Boeing 777 at San Francisco International Airport. Credit: Vitaliy Lobanov, Airplane Pictures

Creative content marketing

Turkish Airlines also had to position Istanbul as a great destination for traffic out of San Francisco. Although Turkish Airlines carries a lot of connecting traffic, it also has the great advantage of having a distinguished cultural capital like Istanbul as their hub. Hence, O&D (Origin & Destination) traffic is of great significance too.

To promote Istanbul, Turkish Airlines smartly partnered with BuzzFeed to co-create listicles, highlighting the city, and the connections with San Francsico. For example the post, “How San Francisco and Istanbul are Long-Lost Sister Cities“, was visual and received a lot of traffic from both the cities.

Given BuzzFeed’s tremendous reach and popularity, especially in the US, this helped in driving awareness, which would not have come from typical advertising.

As an extension of this initiative, Turkish Airlines also created a funny video, highlighting one of their initiatives called “Startup Class”, and relating it to start up companies in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. Though the service is not yet available on flights to San Francisco, the video imagined a funny and engaging situation, involving a whole host of imaginary yet relatable characters. As of the writing of this article, the video had surpassed 1.6 million views in less than a month.


Experiential Marketing

The third piece of the strategy involved encouraging locals and tourists in San Francisco to experience their favourite destinations around the world in engrossing 360-degree video and photo formats. A beautiful city binocular was custom made in aircraft aluminium. The wide-angle views were in perfect sync with Turkish Airlines slogan of “Widen Your World”. As a testament to its success, more than 6000 people experienced it in just 4 days.


(Note: Efabrika, an Istanbul-based creative agency, designed and produced the Widen Your World Binocular experience and  produced the Startup Class video for Turkish Airlines.)

The expansion of Turkish Airlines in the past few years has been remarkable. They serve more destinations in the world than any other airline. The marketing department has done an apt job of complementing the airline’s tremendous growth. Adding San Francisco to their global network has been a case study on doing route launch marketing right.

Full Disclosure: While Turkish Airlines is a current SimpliFlying client, our team did not specifically work on this launch.

Vishal Mehra

Vishal Mehra

Vishal Mehra was leading Social and Digital marketing efforts at SimpliFlying from January 2015 to January 2016. A self-confessed commercial aviation geek, Vishal had led digital marketing campaigns at leading global agencies for 9 years, before finding his dream job at the intersection of aviation and digital marketing. His interests include Travelling, Technology, Podcasts (long before Serial arrived) and Beer.
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