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Vice Tries to Give Delta Air Lines Its Groove Back

By Published on .

A Delta Launchpad event by Vice Media.
A Delta Launchpad event by Vice Media. Credit: Vice Media/Delta
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Delta Air Lines' playbook to bring young entrepreneurs on board: indie movie screenings, hipster-approved musical performances and foodie-focused demos.

The airline has hired Vice Media to create the Delta Launchpad, an entrepreneur-geared series of free public events in Los Angeles, New York and Seattle and a collection of videos with content from those events, which focus on film, music and food.

The effort comes on the heels of a few recent PR nightmares for airlines, including Delta, which took a brand beating in January when travelers were left stranded after a computer glitch cancelled flights, then again in the coming months when passengers said they were kicked off flights for using the bathroom or refusing to give up a toddler's seat.

Any airline trying to build brand loyalty is not only pushing against the tide of PR catastrophes but also consumers' tendency to pick flights by price or corporate preference.

Other airlines are trying similar feel-good events, said Robert Mann, a Port Washington, New York-based airline industry analyst. Recently, for example, Southwest Airlines sponsored an outdoor entertainment area in New York City's Bryant Park, and JetBlue hosted concerts at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Younger business travelers working for smaller companies are considered particularly worthy targets. Employees of smaller companies are referred to as "unmanaged travel," because their employers often don't have corporate travel policies requiring them to use a particular airline.

Some airlines are going so far as to back entrepreneurial ventures, like JetBlue Technology Ventures, which backs and partners with early-stage startups focused on tech, travel and hospitality. "This is a sought-after demographic. ...It's hard to reach," Mann said. Airline marketers "are looking to rope them in through some sort of sticky affiliation with the airline."

The Vice campaign for Delta began with an event in Los Angeles last month featuring the first videos going live this week. Its New York leg starts Thursday night with four days of workshops and musical performances from talent like Brooklyn-based duo Sofi Tukker and choreographer Tanisha Scott. The food-themed event in Seattle will take place in July.

Vice will promote the content on its video channels, the Viceland cable network, through Snapchat Discover takeovers and on other social networks. The videos may also eventually appear on Delta's in-flight entertainment.

The partnership is the latest to come out of the "Final front," an annual content showcase organized by Omnicom Media Group's Content Collective. The Content Collective group worked with PHD, Delta's Omnicom-owned media agency, to create the Launchpad.

Delta sees the partnership as a way of going after the "emerging high value customer," who might be on the younger end but travels for business frequently.

"We found in our research that loyalty to an airline is secured quite early in someone's career, so it's important for us to break through early," Delta general manager of brand communications Amy Harry said.

But the videos needed to be something that particular audience would actually sit through.

"Our challenge was to create an event where we can actually capture content to run on Vice's channels for that audience that actually has value," Harry said. "The challenge is always to go way beyond the 'Brought to you by X brand.' In this case, we used Vice's contacts, their expertise in film and food and music … to really bring in experts and create value not just for the attendee, but that became valuable content for all of Vice's audience."