Source: SAS – The Arrivals (YouTube), accesses 2019.
Ever since the opening scene of the movie Love Actually, I have been amazed that airlines do not use the arrivals hall as a basis for a great advert. We see lots of adverts about planes, and seats, and smiling cabin crew, and happy travellers in flight. What we don’t see is the end of the journey – the reason why people are travelling in the first place. We should remember that the demand for air travel is a derived demand – people don’t fly for the pleasure of the flight itself but for the transportation to the new location. At the very heart of what airlines do is to provide transport to bring people together. Yes, some 40% of the passenger market is people travelling to do business, but the other 60% are people who are travelling to go on holiday, to visit family and friends and to see new places and experience new things. Therefore if you spend ten minutes in any arrivals hall, anywhere in the world, along with grumpy business travellers looking for their names on drivers tablets and clipboard signs, you will see parents re-united with kids, grandparents seeing their grandchildren, perhaps for the first time, sweet-hearts reunited after time and distance apart, and families and friends coming together. You see all the world: you see rich people with designer luggage, poor people with boxes tied up with string and held together with packing tape, you see young travellers with rucksacks, and families carrying children and struggling with buggies, you see muslims, jews, christians, and buddhists, all manoeuvring their luggage towards along the line of “meeters and greeters” lined up behind the barrier looking for a face they know. It can be a bitter-sweet scene with tears and joy. It is what we as an airline industry do – we bring people together – ALL PEOPLE. It has a powerful and emotional jolt to everyone who experiences it, and it is likely that most of our customers have experienced a life-affirming reunion at an airport. They understand the airport reunion in visceral terms. And yet, airline have tended to rarely show an airport arrivals hall scene in their branding or marketing communications. To associate an airline’s brand with bringing people together would have universal power and understood by all travellers. Coca Cola has for decades successfully promoted their product as the soda associated with bringing people together. If a company that sells sugary water can do it, why doesn’t an airline, any airline, use this universal truth (that air travel brings people together) as a powerful tool to drive a strong association between their brand and the joy that people experience when they are brought together? SAS in the autumn of 2018 launched a new advert that used footage (shot cheaply, probably on a phone) in an arrival hall to attempt to make that association. There was no footage of airplanes, SAS was only mentioned right at the end of the advert, and the voice-over was quite close to the voice-over used in Love Actually’s opening scene. Consistency of message over a long period of time is required to drive such an association, and it remains to be seen whether this is a first attempt by the airline to begin to associate their brand to bringing people together.
Going out to the world is a common theme in airline adverts. ‘From our hub to X number of destinations’ has been used in various mar-comm executions by lots of airlines. Turkish Airlines advertising from the mid 2010s has been promoting the fact that they fly to more countries than any other airline. ‘We fly to more places that our competitors’ style competitive advertising shows that size of the airline and its network, but not a reason for consumers to choose the airline other than the destinations it goes to – of course, if you do not go to a destination you are not in the market for people who want to go there, but beyond that, you must give a reason for why a traveller should choose your airline. A brand is a combination of rational and emotional values. Destinations and hard product elements like seat, and food provide the rational reasons for picking an airline, the emotional side is one that airlines need to concentrate on to drive customer preference.
Missing home has been used in some advertising with emotional heft. Scenes of business travellers (usually men) sitting in posh and expensive hotel rooms, but looking sad thinking about home has been used by airlines occasionally to remind people that airlines not only take people away from families, but provide the means in which people can come home.
The success of the SAS advert is that if focuses on the reunion, and harnesses the emotional power of bringing people together.