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Ads for American Airlines Seek ‘Great’ Results

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Years before the phrase “American exceptionalism” became a staple of foreign policy debates, American Airlines proclaimed its exceptionalism in ads with themes like “Something special in the air” and “We’re American Airlines. Doing what we do best.” Now, when many passengers would be skeptical of American — or any airline — declaring how wonderful it is, a campaign acknowledges that superiority is a destination to which American is still flying.

The theme of the new American campaign, “Going for great,” says it all: not great yet, but striving for greatness. The theme invokes a goal voiced many times by W. Douglas Parker, chief executive of the American parent, the American Airlines Group, of restoring American to greatness.


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“Going for great” — which has an accompanying hashtag, #GoingForGreat, in social media like Twitter — is not unlike the approach being taken by an American competitor, Delta Air Lines. Delta has been using the theme “Keep climbing” in its advertising since October 2010.

“Going for great” also echoes a theme used in ads for Pan American World Airways, “Pan Am makes the going great,” but whereas Pan American asserted it was already great, American is asking consumers to come along on its journey to greatness.

The American campaign has been running since last month in three major markets — Chicago, Los Angeles and New York — and is getting underway in Atlanta. The campaign is scheduled to run through mid-December.

The ads promote improvements that American plans to make in coming months as well as changes the airline has already made, among them offering lie-flat seats in first class and business class on every flight between New York and three cities (London, Los Angeles and San Francisco) and between Los Angeles and two cities (London and New York).

The campaign is aimed at what American calls its high-value customers; they fly a lot and buy a lot of first-class and business-class tickets. The campaign is composed of print, digital and outdoor ads along with video clips and rich-media ads appearing on desktop and laptop computers as well as smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.


The campaign is being produced by agencies that are part of the McCann Worldgroup, which is a division of the Interpublic Group of Companies. Other recent campaigns they produced for American included one focused on transcontinental service on new Airbus A321 aircraft and one that used Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” as the voice-over narrator of commercials introducing the airline’s new logo and brand identity.

“Going for great” addresses “the great progress we’ve made” since the merger of American Airlines and US Airways, says Fernand Fernandez, who in December became vice president for global marketing of American in Fort Worth, Tex., after overseeing marketing for US Airways.

The theme also “alludes to the fact we’ve only just started” on the road to greatness, he adds, and that “we’re not necessarily there.”

The improvements the campaign shines a spotlight on include new aircraft, says Mr. Fernandez, who goes by Fern, adding that American “is taking delivery of one new airplane every week.”

The ads also describe “the ways we help our customers stay entertained and productive,” he says, like Wi-Fi, onboard entertainment and those lie-flat seats.

“For us, it’s a bold commitment,” he adds, “a commitment to improve the customer experience.”

The campaign is being concentrated in the three big markets for a number of reasons, Mr. Fernandez says. One reason is that the Los Angeles and New York markets are “highly fragmented and highly competitive,” he adds, and “we want to make sure we have a share of voice.”

Also, “our product is as good as, and in many cases, better” than the offerings of rivals like JetBlue Airways that offer competing transcontinental service, he says.

The Chicago market is a priority, Mr. Fernandez says, because it is “a unique market” in that “two large global airlines” each have a hub at O’Hare International Airport, American and United Airlines.

A challenge in concentrating the campaign in those markets, Mr. Fernandez says, is how cluttered they are with advertising messages, making “breaking through” hard to do.

show we are in tune with those important markets

W. Douglas Parker,
chief executive of the American parent, the American Airlines Group
Etihad Airways

One way to accomplish that, says Jennifer L. Adams, managing director for integrated marketing at American, is to produce “localized creative” content that would “show we are in tune with those important markets” and “hit home” with the intended target audience.

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So the ads for the Chicago market carry headlines like “From Second City to almost any city,” “O’Yeah” and “Da partures,” the latter a play on the “Saturday Night Live” skits about the fanatical Chicago sports fans who root for “Da Bears.”

The ads for the Los Angeles market carry headlines like “ReLAX to New York and London,” invoking the airline code for the Los Angeles airport; “L.A.’s newest star makes its debut in the sky,” referring to the new aircraft American is adding to its fleet; and “Spoiler alert: This is gonna be great,” using the phrase that warns fans of television shows and movies that plot points are about to be revealed.

And the ads for the New York market carry headlines like “Relax your New York state of mind”; “Catch a flight every 10 New York minutes”; “From the Big Apple to Beantown”; and “Take a flight outta the Big Apple.”

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