Are heartwarming holiday campaigns killing creativity in airline marketing?

Every month, we sift through hundreds of airline social media pages for innovative marketing initiatives. It forms the backbone of our research and consulting, enabling us to build a comprehensive database of airline marketing campaigns — currently clocking in at over 1000 case studies.

It was during this process, while scrutinising last month’s holiday campaigns, that we observed a common theme for all holiday initiatives: almost all were focused on heartwarming gestures and homecomings, replete with tears and smiles. While these initiatives appeared novel a couple of years ago, when video marketing was relatively new, and only a few airlines had caught on to the trend, it seems repetitive now.

This left us pondering over two things: first, are “heartwarming” campaigns the antithesis of creative marketing? And second, have airlines become too reliant on established formulas and forgotten to adapt with the times?

This was also the reason why we chose not to go ahead with our usual round-up of the best holiday season campaigns at the beginning of the year. If every airline attempts to strike an emotional chord using established tropes, is anyone truly standing out?

Checking the boxes against social media metrics like reach, likes, views, shares et al is all very fine to show off to senior management, but we now know that there’s a carefully established process behind increasing these numbers. Are airline marketers interested in meaningful impact and brand differentiation, or winning a war of numbers that can be increased through ad spends and seeding agencies?

The inextricable link between holidays and travel makes it a crucial time for airline brands to establish and differentiate themselves by directly connecting with target customers. There is a shift in the way consumers assimilate information now — they are bombarded with information and cues, and decide in an instant whether it has value. Messages that are not immediately identified with are lost in a sea of irrelevance leading to blurred brand association.

In contrast, occasions such as April Fool’s Day have been consistently setting the bar for fun and innovative campaigns. Compare the following campaigns: WestJet’s Kargo Kids vs Mini Miracles; Air New Zealand’s safety video vs Santa Stop Here (see below).

If drinks were a standard of classification for campaigns, the ones run during the holiday season would be green tea with honey — homely, sweet, but sleep inducing. The ones curated for April Fool’s Day would be shock coffee triple latte — invigorating and memorable.

What kind of marketer do you want to be?

Sumati Joshi

Sumati Joshi

Sumati Joshi was SimpliFlying's intern in 2015.
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