Air Canada exports its patriotic message

As part of its ongoing Fly the Flag initiative, the airline created a basketball experience for young players in Mumbai.

Having launched its “Fly the Flag” initiative during the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Air Canada has evolved the platform and is now looking to export its patriotic message to popular foreign destinations.

While the platform previously focused on promoting Canadian values of diversity and inclusivity here at home (as in the work for the PyeongChang Winter Games earlier this year), the airline has turned to highlighting the ways Canadians are “making their mark all over the world,” says Andy Shibata, managing brand director at Air Canada. “It’s a much deeper storytelling angle that we’re taking to really showcase and highlight all the good people and organizations that are doing great things.”

A recent basketball activation in Mumbai is the latest work to come out of that approach. One the surface, it’s reminiscent of something a sports or apparel brand might do – such as Nike with its recent “Just Do it HQ at the Church.”

Last month, more than 200 people gathered at a previously abandoned basketball court in the Indian city to participate in a sporting clinic put on by India’s Dribble Academy and a pair of locally renowned basketball players.

The court had recently been refurbished with the help of artist Sajid Wahid, whose hand-painted motifs represented the community’s vibrant culture. Those who participated in the event, hosted by Indo-Canadian singer-songwriter Raghav Mathur, received jerseys from Norblack Norwhite, a fashion house founded by a pair of Indo-Canadians. And with support from Wasserman and Weber Shandwick’s Toronto and Mumbai offices, content creation shop Beautiful Destinations captured the activation on film, turning it into branded content that continues to roll out on social media.

According to Shibata, using local influencers and partners in the Mumbai activation allowed Air Canada to go deeper into the community, resulting in more authenticity by allowing viewers to experience the country from a less commercial point of view. The goal was also to avoid “gratuitous corporate storytelling,” he says, by limiting the overt presence of the Air Canada brand in the marketing assets. The idea, rather, is to “enable others to tell the story for us.”

Air Canada recently began offering more flights to India, but the campaign was meant to celebrate the company’s growth in that market more generally. With many Canadians travelling more frequently between the countries, India has become an important destination for the airline, according to Shibata.

The basketball activation in Mumbai followed a similar program in Paris on Canada Day. That program featured a Canadian dancer, foodie and designer making their mark on the French city. Shibata says the airline continues to explore the possibility of future stories.