Air Canada focuses on selflessness over being ‘home for the holidays’

On top of lifting morale for staff and community heroes, the airline's holiday campaign looks to boost its fundraising efforts.

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The holidays are typically one of the biggest travel occasions of the year, but with that being of less interest to Canadians in 2020, Air Canada has shifted the approach of its holiday campaign, looking to instead recognize “local heroes” and get others to think about giving back while they wait to travel again.

The airline’s “Gift of Travel” campaign is highlighting the commitment of different community heroes like Jaime (pictured), a Doctors Without Borders COVID-19 medical response lead. After getting talked up by the friend or family member who nominated them, the airline rewards them with a donation to a charity of her choice, as well as the titular travel, which can be redeemed whenever they feel it is safe to do so.

John Xydous, director of brand strategy and content marketing at Air Canada, says the airline is primarily focusing on rewarding those who’ve gone above and beyond.

However, the “Gift of Travel” spot also features Air Canada employees as gift presenters, meant to inspire them during a difficult period of route cuts, furloughs and further uncertainty, with morale already getting a boost after the campaign was shared internally following this week’s public launch.

Employees are key part of getting the word out, and the campaign will include stories on Air Canada’s social media platforms about the work its employees are doing to make a difference in their own communities in a digital push set to begin in the coming weeks.

Viewers will also notice that compared with previous “surprise and delight” efforts and campaigns that have focused on the emotional impact of being “home for the holidays,” there are no kids featured in the creative, and the idea of travelling to meet families is not reference. This is a reflection on the seriousness of COVID’s impact, and the fact that more of us have already been home for most of the year as a result – and will likely not be eager to fly to their home towns for the safety of themselves and their families.

The stars of the campaign were identified by the Air Canada Foundation, which provides financial, fundraising and travel support to children’s charities. Even though the Foundation set fundraising records last year, it’s facing the same uncertainty as other fundraisers and non-profits this year amidst challenges caused by the pandemic. However, the brand is hoping its first ever online Gift of Travel auction, launching Dec, 1, will be a “fun and easy way to get members and customers involved [in the cause],” Xydous says.

The online auction features aviation-related items like the opportunity to test out a flight simulator or experience a private dinner event with one of the airline’s chefs, an effort to appeal to both aviation enthusiasts, as well as foodies and travel fans who may be looking for extra entertainment or things to look forward to amidst social distancing. All of the proceeds will be distributed by the Air Canada Foundation.

COVID, Xydous says, has made the Foundation rethink some of the things it’s doing, and finding new and creative alternatives to get across the “every bit helps” message, an especially important tactic when it comes to things like donations at ticket purchase, currency exchange counters or Aeroplan points donations.

The creative is developed by FCB, supported with media buys done in-house and PR efforts by Weber Shandwick. Ad spend is lower compared with previous holiday efforts, Xydous says, reflective of the challenging circumstances the airline sector faces.

Air Canada is also in-market with a campaign supporting the relaunch of Aeroplan, which also looked beyond travel and showed the loyalty program as being rewarding for everyday purchases as well.