Air Canada brings Canadian values to global travellers

The airline enlists Sandra Oh as part of its first major push to build awareness among international audiences.

Air Canada is leaning in to Canadian values of multiculturalism, diversity and openness through new spokesperson Sandra Oh as it targets major international markets for the first time.

Its new digital campaign, “Travel Like a Canadian,” finds Oh acting as a friendly, courteous peacemaker and fellow traveller, introducing an international audience to the wonders of over-apologies, poutine and Caesars.

Andy Shibata, managing director of brand at Air Canada, says the airline’s strategy is to expand its network beyond North America and internationally. It felt “steeping a campaign in Canadian values” would resonate just as well abroad as it does with domestic audiences.

“We want to represent the very best of Canada and bringing the best of Canada to the world, and vice versa,” he says, adding that using Oh as the face of the campaign wasn’t a case of gratuitous celebrity, but that the Grey’s Anatomy star is known for representing Canada and its values with pride. More celebrity partnerships will be part of future “Travel Like a Canadian” executions.

Shibata says this is the airline’s first “big” international push. The airline has previously run some experiential pushes in London and India, but this digital campaign is supported by what Shibata calls a more robust social effort, going after both leisure and business travellers in the U.S., U.K., France, Australia and parts of Asia (in particular, Japan). Air Canada flies through 220 airports globally, and the campaign aims to position Air Canada as an alternative choice to domestic airlines when flying through hubs like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

The goal for the campaign is broader awareness, Shibata says: “If you think about the nature of our business in Canada, a lot of people say, ‘you guys have a duopoly, it’s so easy.’” But he says there are hundreds of international domestic airlines flying out of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver in a very heated competitive global environment. Price is a factor in that competition, Shibata says, but loyalty is key: if there isn’t an amazing customer journey (like the one Oh takes in the spot), it doesn’t matter what kind of price or loyalty points are offered (though loyalty programs are still a priority for the airline, which ran an integrated campaign and contest for the Aeroplan loyalty program in the summer to ensure members stay engaged until it is relaunched as new, Air Canada-specific program next year).

Past campaigns like “Fly the Flag” fueled Canadian pride with gravitas and more dramatic means, but Shibata felt that as the brand aimed at an international audience, it wanted to show off a bit of its lighthearted and humorous side as well.

This summer, Transat agreed to Air Canada’s takeover offer, though it is still under review by the Competition Bureau and Transport Canada. Combined, the two airlines control roughly 60% of the share of cross-Atlantic travel from Canada.

FCB Canada handled creative elements, while Weber Shandwick is tapping its international network of offices to provide global PR support.