Aeroplan’s passion play

VP of marketing David Klein welcomes travellers to the club with a new positioning platform that taps into their desires for unique experiences and for doing good.

Considering that the average household participates in nine different reward programs, recent consumer research from Aeroplan should come as no surprise: Canadians are feeling overwhelmed by all the loyalty cards in their wallets.
“They feel there are too many programs [and] they don’t really understand what makes them different from one another,” says David Klein, VP, marketing, a five-year Aeroplan vet who assumed his current role a year ago.
In a market this crowded, it’s tough to stand out. An independent survey of Canadian loyalty program members conducted by Maritz Canada recently found that only 60% of respondents were aware of Aeroplan, while 81% were aware of its competitor Air Miles. And both programs may be facing even bigger competition from the banks: Rob Daniel, Maritz Canada’s managing director, loyalty and research, says that loyalty programs run by financial institutions have higher member satisfaction rates than coalition programs. 
With shiny new offerings like the American Express Gold Rewards Card wooing consumers with the promise of restriction-free redemption, it’s no surprise that Klein has been taking a close look at what matters most to members and what sets Aeroplan apart. In fact, market research conducted by the brand last fall provided the foundation for the company’s new positioning platform, launched in April with the new tagline “Welcome to the club” (which replaced “Rewarding life”). The campaign by Cossette Montreal – which took over the brand’s creative, media and digital last fall – focuses on what Aeroplan’s members have in common: a passion for travel.
In the beginning, air travel was Aeroplan’s only focus. The program launched in 1984 as a promotional tool for Air Canada’s business travellers, and within a year, 100,000 frequent flyers had enrolled. In 2002, it was spun off as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Air Canada, and in 2004, a new brand identity launched, positioning Aeroplan as its own entity.
These days, Aeroplan has more than 4.5 million members, a number that Klein says is growing year over year. With over 175 partners representing brands in the financial, retail and travel sectors, members can earn miles whether they’re pumping gas, buying orange juice or sending flowers.
It’s been five years since Aeroplan’s last rebranding exercise, and as Klein points out, a lot has changed in that time. In addition to a more competitive market, consumer expectations have shifted and the program itself has evolved.
“Aeroplan has expanded beyond a frequent flyer program,” he says. “We’re offering our members more ways to engage and redeem.”
But while Aeroplan’s offerings have broadened to include merchandise rewards, the brand’s consumer study found that the program is still perceived as being deeply rooted in travel – something Klein has no intention of changing.
“We remain defined by travel at our core, with experiential, merchandise and gift card rewards on the periphery,” he says.
Klein says the new creative is an evolution of Aeroplan’s 2010 campaign, which saw the company return to mass communications for the first time in several years.  Led by the message “We put more people in more reward seats than any other Canadian reward program,” that campaign focused on tangible strengths. 
“Last year was really about reaching people’s minds,” Klein says. “This year is about reaching people’s hearts.”
“Our members have a passion for travelling,” he says. “[But] it’s not about going to the Bahamas, it’s about going scuba diving when you’re in the Bahamas. At the root of the positioning is that notion of exploring your passions.”

For instance, if a member wants to visit Las Vegas, they can redeem their miles to fly there, but they can also use them for a helicopter tour of the city, Klein says. One ad plays on this notion, showing a helicopter’s view of the city with the line “Our members get to see Vegas from a different angle.”
While Aeroplan’s merchandise rewards are also touted in the new creative, travel remains the anchor. “The obvious example is ‘I’m redeeming for a digital camera today because I’m planning to travel to Africa tomorrow,’” Klein says.
Travel photography is also the hook for a contest Aeroplan is currently running with The Walrus, which will see the winner receive 100,000 Aeroplan miles and have their image published in the magazine.
“This partnership builds on our commitment to be a large supporter of Canadian arts and culture,” Klein says. Aeroplan is also a sponsor of the Juno Awards, Toronto’s Luminato festival and most recently La Pietà, a 12-woman string ensemble. Since 2008, it’s partnered with the Art Gallery of Ontario to offer the $65,000 Grange Prize, recognizing the best in Canadian and international photography.
“We’ve been trying to raise the profile of photography in Canada and around the world,” Klein says. “Since [the Walrus contest] has a travel angle, it fits with our brand and also provides members with a way to share their own travel experiences.”
Travel is also a key component of Aeroplan’s CSR program, Beyond Miles. Celebrating its fifth anniversary this month, the program lets members donate miles to nine major charitable organizations that work abroad, including Athletes for Africa, Engineers Without Borders and the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
“It tends to be organizations with travel needs, so there’s a strong relationship between what we can deliver to them and how they can use it,” Klein says.
He adds that internal engagement with the Beyond Miles program is strong, with employees periodically joining a charity in the field to learn more about what they do and then sharing their experiences with co-workers. This spring, several staff members travelled to Lao People’s Democratic Republic with Veterinarians Without Borders.
Aeroplan engages with charitable organizations on a grassroots level, too, allowing local groups to create a pooled account to which supporters can contribute miles. The organizations can use the miles for travel or for merchandise. As of 2010, members had pooled more than 57 million miles into more than 430 accounts.
Aeroplan is also thinking green with a rewards category that spotlights eco-friendly housewares, fashion and travel accessories. And in a loyalty industry first, it’s introduced a carbon offset program that lets members use miles to offset flight rewards or everyday carbon emissions, with Aeroplan matching these miles by 20%. As of Jan. 1, 67 million miles had been redeemed in this way.
Of course, members aren’t giving away all their miles. Last year, over two million rewards were issued, including 1.3 million flights. And this March, just in time for spring break, Aeroplan gave members a new way to redeem, introducing four chartered flights from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale.
“It was a way during the busy travel season to offer our members a unique experience and some additional access to the flights most members want, so access tends to be a little more difficult,” says Klein.
For the charter flights, two Air Canada check-in counters were made over as Aeroplan counters and the gate area was decorated with branded signage. Specialized experiences like these ultimately drive member engagement, Klein says.
“We’re hoping as the year progresses that we’ll be able to do more of those,” he says.
The airport environment is also a main focus for the new brand campaign, which launched with in-airport OOH as well as print, digital, social media and direct.
“It’s important for us to be where our members are,” Klein says. “That’s our home.”

Born: Montreal, QC. May 9, 1960
Education: Chemistry undergrad, followed by
an MBA, McGill University.
Career: Klein’s first job in the industry was as a junior media buyer at Montreal-based Wunderman in 1985. “Direct marketing was something that really interested me coming out of school,” he recalls. “It was a great match up of quantitative, which is sort of the science part of me, and qualitative, the communications and advertising side.” In 1991, he joined FCB Direct, where he rose through the ranks from account director to VP, strategic services. In 2006, he joined Aeroplan as general manager, marketing planning. He took on his current position
of VP, marketing, one year ago.
Size of marketing team: 75