What do the Gangnam Style, Angry Birds and street cooking have in common? They are part of successful marketing strategies that airlines have put forward to win the hearts and loyalty of their customers. Let them inspire us….

In April 2013, and SimpliFlying published a report on the main marketing strategies used by airlines to respond to changing consumer behaviour. These two research and consulting agencies on trends in the air transport industry have identified about 100 innovative initiatives and extracted eight trends.


This type of marketing aims to “bring the product to life” through an experience focused on pleasure, emotion, mystery, unforgettable or surprise. It includes a set of techniques, among others:

  1. Branded “spaces” allow the company to create interactions with the consumer in a different setting. For example, Delta’s Sky360 dressing room can accommodate up to 450 Yankee supporters, and Air France’s street food truck travels the streets to distribute free meals.
  2. Surprise events on board are used to add an extra dimension to the flight. When the initiative is successful, the news spreads quickly on social media and generates high visibility for the carrier. Think of the airBaltic magician, the live concerts from Southwest Airlines or Finnair’s Angry Birds flight.
  3. Flash gatherings (flashmobs) attract attention. The viral nature of the videos generated by consumers is enormous: a flash mobilization aboard a Finnair flight to New Delhi celebrating National Indian Republic Day has been viewed five million times.
  4. Surprise gifts. To generate sympathy, carriers no longer hesitate to be generous (see also: How to adapt to Generation G? Some marketing strategies). We have seen airlines such as Virgin America, Delta and SAS use the baggage claim area to surprise their passengers with gifts to celebrate Christmas, Easter or Valentine’s Day. LAN, for its part, satisfied nearly 200 customers from a New York restaurant by giving them a free round-trip ticket to a South American destination.


The advent of social networks has forced airlines to offer real-time customer service. Consumers expect to receive information and answers to their questions about social networks. If these expectations are not met, companies’ reputations may suffer significantly (see also: Customer Service 2.0).

The example of Delta and its “social platform” on Twitter is interesting. Delta Assist promises 24/7 support and a response within 9 minutes on average, a benchmark that the rest of the industry is catching up on. A pioneer, Delta has inspired more than one airline, including KLM. The latter now has a multidisciplinary team of about forty members, which manages its customer relations in real time.


Many companies use geolocation to reach their customers instantly, where they are. Turkish Airlines, for example, has focused on Olympic fever with a campaign based on a QR code (see also: “Genetic mutations” in the traditional bar code open up horizons for tourism) at strategic bus stops in London. After digitizing the code, the consumer had a chance to win a trip to a destination served by the carrier.

American Airlines organized a treasure hunt to promote the arrival of a new Boeing 737 in its fleet. Using clues provided on Twitter with the clickword #Hello737, players had to find the four Boeing models scattered throughout the city for a chance to win 50,000 AAdvantage miles.


There is currently a trend towards searching for user-generated content or creating stories with which the user can identify (see also: The power of storytelling in a marketing approach). It is in this spirit that American Airlines has invited its employees to share their daily lives with customers in a series of online videos showing what goes on behind the scenes at the company. This tool aims to give customers a realistic view of the company’s internal operations and to connect them with it.

To thank its customers, Vueling transformed one of its aircraft into a photographic gallery. The Vueling Air Gallery consists of a large mosaic of the best photos taken by the passengers who participated in the initiative and posted on Instagram at #vuelingairgallery, as well as a selection of images of employees who also took part.


Crowdsourcing consists in calling on the creativity, intelligence, knowledge and know-how of Internet users. Carriers have used this tool to create new products, develop mobile applications or improve their loyalty programs. This is the case with AirBaltic, which called on its BalticMiles program members to help it design the content of promotions that would eventually be part of its loyalty program to better meet their needs.

In November 2012, JetBlue launched ThinkUp, a platform that gives its customers a voice on a multitude of products and services. For the launch, the company asked them to submit their ideas on the features to be included in its new tablet application.

Viral marketing in the YouTube era

Internet users are video enthusiasts; the proof: nearly 4 billion are viewed every day on YouTube. The most imaginative companies are rewarded for their creativity by seeing their work spread very quickly around the world, even if they are relatively unknown. YouTube video ads are therefore widely seen and make a lasting impression when they are well made.


Airlines, like other organizations, rely on geolocation services to track customer loyalty. By offering real rewards to fans who promote their brand online, airlines add an element of sophistication to their marketing. Several carriers have launched initiatives that integrate social components into their frequent flyer programs, including Virgin America with TopGuest, JetBlue with Facebook and Estonian Air with AirScore.


A meme is simply a concept, behaviour or idea that spreads en masse, most often through social networks and other web services. It occurs mainly in a visual format, such as an image or video, but it can also take the form of a link, a click-word, a simple word or a sentence (for example, a deliberate misspelling). The popularity of the same Internet makes it an effective marketing tool to create a buzz around the company. However, as it generally has a short lifespan, timing is essential for it to be effective.

Several airlines boarded this moving train: Lufthansa, for example, took advantage of the planking trend to promote its new horizontal reclining seats in business class; Air Malta flight attendants went to the Gangnam Style to announce a ban on the use of in-flight phones.

All these original marketing techniques can be applied to any type of business. Just let your imagination speak for itself… And you, do you have any original examples to share with our readers?