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Brand alignment a winning strategy for British Airways

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Aligning your brand with another can be a risky proposition; if that brand fails in some way, your brand could, too. British Airways on Sept. 18 debuted a campaign that should safely help it piggyback on other companies' successes yet still get its own message out.

The company, in conjunction with its interactive agency, Agency.com, created a series of banner ads that, using dynamic content and XML feeds, strip news from current headlines and use it to create custom ad content.

The dynamic ads, which are running on Dow Jones CBS MarketWatch and Reuters Web sites, are programmed to scan news headlines for specific keywords and phrases. When the ads see particular words or phrases the content is pulled in and merged with the British Airways tagline.

This was important, said Woody Harford, British Airways' senior VP-commerical-North America, because the company is trying to boost its overall image. "In all candor, we had some difficult issues around operational performance and Heathrow's operational performance, so we wanted to go out and communicate to the loyal customers and potential customers that we are exceptionally confident and bullish about what we deliver as a business-class product," Harford said.

"The British Airways campaign is all about exceeding expectations," agreed Michael Winter, director of media, at New York-based Agency.com. "On the Reuters site, there's a leader board unit and a wraparound unit around the content. When a company exceeds its [financial] expectations, the ad reflects that and explains how that is similar to what British Airways is always trying to do. The ads let us align ourselves with greatness."

It's also a better way to get site integration, said Mat Zucker, executive creative director at Agency.com. "It's taking a campaign idea and letting it manifest itself in its media. The old way to do this was content integration deals, but so often those just ended up butchering your message."

Although ads on only the two sites use the dynamically generated content, the ads running on 18 other sites are also making use of emerging advertising strategies.

For example, British Airways is remarketing to all its customers and prospects with sequenced messages. This allows the company to blanket a prospect with ads and show them additional content without repetition.

"The user sees a lead ad that introduces the Club World program. Then [in] the next ad, they see the Club World bed, and then the shower and then the wine," Winter said.

Though the ads target businesspeople, they are running on consumer-oriented sites, such as the NYTimes.com's wine blog or the Forbes.com lifestyle section. Previously, all British Airways ad placements were on finance-related sites.

"They are still within a business context, but we're playing off the lifestyle side of things," he said.

Results have been strong, Winter said. "Preliminary results show that online click-through rates are up to two to three times higher than average and, in some cases where we have sponsorships running, we have seen as high as 20 times the click-through rate of previous campaigns," he said.

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