Delta Air Lines Takes off From 'Project Runway'

Appearance on Bravo Reality Show Marks Start of Larger Entertainment Push

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Delta Air Lines already has started overhauling its planes and outfitting its flight attendants with new uniforms as part of a multimillion-dollar makeover. Now the carrier is turning to some up-and-coming fashion designers for some additional help.


With its new flight attendants' uniforms and signiture cocktails, Delta is thinking fashion foward when it makes an appearance tonight on Bravo's 'Project Runway.'








The Atlanta-based airline has paired up with Bravo's hit reality show "Project Runway" in a deal that will integrate Delta into several episodes, starting tonight, and promote the involvement with the series on and off the airline's planes.





First deal with CAA



The deal is the first major entertainment effort for Delta since the airline hired Creative Artists Agency earlier this year to seek out opportunities for the company in Hollywood. Delta handles product-placement deals in-house.





Executives didn't want to disclose just how Delta will appear in tonight's episode, but the show's contestants won't be designing new uniforms for the company's flight attendants.





That job was recently taken care of by Richard Tyler, who unveiled the new uniforms in May -- they'll be worn by flight attendants, customer-service agents and employees working the Crown Room Club airport lounges.





"It's not a Delta-dedicated task," said one executive close to the deal. "They didn't want to turn it into 'The Apprentice.'"





Instead, the "Project Runway" appearance, which was taped in June, is expected to revolve around Delta's passengers, and show off the airline's new signature drinks and leather seats with built-in seatback screens offering on-demand TV, movies, music and video games. Those amenities will be available to first-class and coach passengers on transcontinental flights starting in September.





Showing off the new products



"We were able to work with 'Project Runway,' their target audience and our customers to see the new uniforms in action and give them an opportunity to experience our new product enhancements," said Jennifer Martin, Delta's general manager of marketing communications.





"Project Runway," produced by the Weinstein Co. and Bravo, has had its share of marketers looking to tie in with the modeling contest, including Banana Republic and Mattel's MyScene Barbie. The current season integrates Macy's, series-regulars L'Oreal Paris and TRESemme. The show's creators even developed a task around Waste Management Recycle America.





Delta's new in-flight offerings were elements adopted from Song Airlines, the low-cost carrier the company launched in 2003 but officially grounded in July. Song was praised for its gourmet food, leather seats with seatback screens showing live TV, as well as Kate Spade-designed uniforms. But the company failed to make money.





"When we had to make the tough decision [to shut down Song], one of the things we promised shareholders was that we would infuse all the elements that worked on Song into the new Delta," Ms. Martin said. Joanne Smith, Delta VP-consumer marketing, is overseeing that effort. She was Song's president.





Song's 48 planes have been turned into Delta jets, and their in-flight entertainment offerings serve as a showcase for the airline's new image as an entertainment-focused company. By 2008, more than 100 Delta planes will be outfitted with the seatback screens and programming.





Entertainment key part of the brand



"Entertainment will be very key for them," said CAA Marketing agent Gabe Kleinman. "This is the first in a long line of announcements from a marketing and programming standpoint. They want to be a leader in entertainment. They see themselves as a network and want to activate and program the Delta experience accordingly."





Technically, "Project Runway" isn't Delta's first major foray into branded entertainment. CAA had also repped Song, and helped integrate the airline into an episode of "The Apprentice."





Delta chose "Project Runway" because the show "felt like it would be a great opportunity to show our product and not only talk about our growth over the past six to eight months, but tie in with our customer base," Ms. Martin said. "We want them to understand that Delta is progressive and doesn't take itself too seriously. We're not trying to be as formal as we once were."





"Project's Runway's" growing fan base also helped. The show averaged 1.7 million total viewers during its second outing, up 59% from its first season. The finale in March pulled in 3.4 million viewers, making it the most-watched show in Bravo's history and "Runway" improved its showing from season one by 102% in the coveted 18- to 34-year-old demographic.





Olympus Fashion Week



As for future episodes of "Project Runway," Mr. Tyler will serve as a guest judge for a task on Sept. 6, and Delta is in talks to appear when the show's finalists show their designs at Olympus Fashion Week Sept. 8-15 (Delta is the event's official airline). Delta's exposure will be no more than a verbal mention, executives said.





Marketing around the appearance include ads in Delta's Sky magazine, as well as a 45-second spot, to start running on flights in September, dedicated to the uniform redesign and tagged with a 15-second promo of its involvement with "Project Runway." Delta is also running online ads on Bravotv.com and Elle.com to promote the airline's new fashion positioning, driving consumers to delta.com/fashion.





It's also launched "Flying in Style," a promotion where flight attendants award "stylish passengers" with SkyMiles certificates, Crown Room Club passes and coupons for the airline's signature cocktails on select transcontinental flights from Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York Aug. 23 to Sept. 6. At Fashion Week, Delta's booth will also showcase the airline's new in-flight offerings and promote its involvement with "Project Runway."





Delta has yet to find its next entertainment project, but is eager to do so, considering that internal research has revealed to executives that consumers look at on-board amenities as a way to make an airline stand apart from its rivals. Just look at JetBlue.





"We know people pick airlines for where they fly," Ms. Martin. "But that makes you a commodity. We wanted to differentiate ourselves among airlines and other brands to be forward thinking. We know entertainment is something our passengers and customers are interested in, follow and aspire toward. So we're infusing a lot of those attributes into the Delta brand. Entertainment and hospitality and graciousness all fit very well together."
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