My reports will appear here on AdAge.com during the next three weeks and in two large special reports in the weekly print edition of Advertising Age after that.
Airworld is the name we have given to the invisible country that begins on the other side of the x-ray machines and extends in all directions beyond the concourses as the air corridors through which our airplanes fly. Among other things, this closed system of terminals and shuttling aircraft is its own vast media and retail ecosystem. Taken as a whole, it is one of the largest coherent stand-alone marketing venues on earth.
Airworld is a nation populated by nearly 100 million travelers in the U.S. alone, and passenger traffic -- even after 9/11 -- is expected to double in 15 years. The airports at the center of Airworld are the hubs of our economy, circulating the people and consumer goods that can’t be reduced to digital bits. They already generate tens of billions of revenues on their own, more than half of which has nothing to do with aviation. They’ve also evolved into giant hubs for the consumption of media -- billboards, magazines, duty-free and CNN Airport news -- key to the continued success of advertising and media giants like Clear Channel, JC Decaux and Time Warner.
|Greg Lindsay heads out for three weeks of living in airport terminals and the skies.
A petri dish for brands
Airworld is also a petri dish in which to test the ongoing evolution of brands. The domestic airline industry is facing the greatest shakeout in recent history, with Delta and Northwest mulling chapter 11. By the end of this year, nearly a quarter of all domestic flights might be flying under bankruptcy protection. With oil at $70 per barrel or higher, can airlines persuade passengers to turn away from the lowest possible price they found online and opt for a more expensive ticket? And how will they do that without superior branding, marketing and customer relations -- the skill set that enabled Southwest and JetBlue to succeed where so many low-fare carriers have failed.
I will be spending the next three weeks living the story in airports, watching this retail universe at work, and meeting with airline executives, passengers and grizzled road warriors.
'The Terminal' movie
|The 2004 movie 'The Terminal' was a story set in the enclosed social ecosystem of an airport.
Stop by AdAge.com every day to read my latest reports and if you have ideas or questions about the project, don't hesitate to drop me an e-mail.
That's it for this first dispatch -- I have to run because for me, Airworld is now boarding.