DM campaign out of this world

Wunderman WorldwideDateline: March 8, 2013, Moonbase AlphaToday, coinciding with its 20th anniversary, Executive Airlines announced the establishment of a regular commuter service between Earth and Moonbase Alpha.Airline President Beverly Picard explained the details of the new service at a press conference...

Wunderman Worldwide

Dateline: March 8, 2013, Moonbase Alpha

Today, coinciding with its 20th anniversary, Executive Airlines announced the establishment of a regular commuter service between Earth and Moonbase Alpha.

Airline President Beverly Picard explained the details of the new service at a press conference held on board the space station.

It was the first time civilians and the press had been granted access to this spectacular engineering feat, hanging just outside the moon’s gravitational pull.

Picard credited this latest accomplishment for Executive Airlines to the company’s heritage of making the ‘impossible’ happen.

This reporter obtained a private interview with the venerable Picard, president since making her mark as director of marketing for the launch of the airline in 1993.

In a reflective mood, she looked back on the textbook campaign of ’93, when the fledgling Executive Airlines had the gall to take on the majors.

The following account of that memorable program is told in her own words.

‘Some said we were crazy, launching with all the cards stacked against us. The obstacles looked insurmountable:

- The economy was in the tenuous first stages of recovery from the ’91 recession.

- The worldwide airline industry was in deep trouble, with customers flying less and airlines competing vigorously for every dollar.

- Canada could barely support the two established airlines, let alone a new and unknown entry.

- We had negotiated routes between only four cities and were unable to offer exotic locales for our frequent flyer program.

- We were premium-priced in a price-war market.

- We were prestige-positioned in the early ’90s, supposedly the decade of ‘inconspicuous consumption.’

- We had one-fifth of the advertising budget of the nearest competitor.

Our one big advantage was the quality of our service, from the time the business client left his door and stepped into our limos, through the check-in and waiting facilities, to the ‘office in the sky’ flight experience.

And, of course, once we delivered on our ‘private club’ concept and the business community heard about the contacts being made on our flights, we were off and running.

But I get ahead of myself. We teamed up with the Wunderman agency, selected because they were preaching an evolved form of direct marketing.

They called it ‘action marketing,’ and it applied image + action advertising to all important and leverageable target audiences – in our case, the 400,000 or so universe of frequent business travellers (only a fraction of whom were candidates to pay our premium prices), their secretaries/travel bookers and travel agents.

Our marketing efforts were intensely focussed in three areas:

- Obtaining trial from qualified frequent business travellers.

- Making their travelling experience as memorable and enjoyable as possible.

- Providing them with appropriate rewards for flying with us regularly.

The bulk of our budget in Year One was allocated to trial.

We ran a fully-integrated campaign, including direct mail – a video about our service – to 10,000 key prospects from lists we compiled, rented and qualified by phone.

But video mail was not enough, as many lists of frequent business travellers were not available.

So we went with oversized inserts in newspapers and magazines to offer members of our competitors’ Elite, Prestige, President’s Club and President’s Club Gold clubs a special (50% off) offer to try us.

What an uproar that caused.

But we had nothing to lose, and those airlines had already set precedents for competitive advertising.

They then exerted so much effort to dispel the value of our offer, we got a ton of free advertising – something we did not predict, but which certainly added to our success.

With our necessary prestige positioning (and pricing), we needed to communicate the benefits of our service to all audiences.

Secretaries and travel bookers were reached by mail, by which we could get their names, and by print media to supplement.

In fact, we made our dollars do double duty by adding a ‘for secretaries and travel planners only’ box on our media inserts.

We offered them gifts for getting their bosses to try Executive Airlines.

Travel agents were yet another audience. This group was jaded and needed special attention.

We were able to sell them by positioning ourselves as exclusive – for only their most discerning clients – and communicated by mail, video and where potential volume warranted, by one-on-one selling.

With these offers and high impact advertising, we were getting lots of trial.

Our pr campaign was tremendously effective, as the press was highly ‘co-operative’ in providing coverage for yet another blow to the mainstream airlines.

We knew our pre- during- and post-flight experience was markedly superior to the competition, so that any frequent business flyer who could justify premium pricing for premier service would want to try us.

To push this candidate over the edge, we needed a frequent flyer program, but we could not compete with the exotic, international locales of our competitors.

So we worked with the assumption the last thing our target audience really wanted was more travel (and if they did, they could afford to pay for it, or could still get it from their international travel points.)

Our club provided a cornucopia of redemption options – unique merchandise, spectacular events (for example, a tennis lesson with Jimmy Connors, a roundtable lunch with Lee Iacocca, an image makeover with the Canadian designer of choice, etc.) and financial services, all designed to reinforce our exclusivity positioning.

The rest is history.

By using a lot of targetted direct mail and limited frequency (but high-impact) print media, we were able to stretch our budget to more than cover the target audiences.

Our advertising messages and promotional offers created a buzz in the marketplace.

Our ambitions were realized – we bucked the trend and proved that a highly targetted, superb quality air service to limited routes could fly at 85%+ capacity.

Executive Airlines hit big with that launch in 1993.

We were profitable in eight months, expanded our routes to New York and Los Angeles in two years and were able to acquire British Airways six years later.

And now, 20 years after that first, crazy gamble, we sit in orbit around the moon, setting our sights on the solar system beyond.’

Wunderman Worldwide is a Toronto-based direct marketing agency.