NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Passengers boarding Horizon Air flight 2631 from Seattle to Portland early this morning were treated to an in-flight rarity: free food.
The snack boxes were part of a marketing program from Air Advertainment in which marketers sponsor free meals or snack boxes for all passengers. Brands that take part in the program will be allowed to determine the list of snacks passengers receive. The snack boxes for the debut attempt -- on behalf of Creative Labs, a consumer-electronics company -- include Stacy's Pita Chips, pretzels and a Hershey's chocolate.
Flight attendants will alert all those on board that their meals are being sponsored by Creative Labs. Inside the branded box will be messaging directing consumers to text and e-mail a message to the company or visit Creative's website, where they can access a Facebook contest. Those who text or e-mail Creative immediately after landing will have the opportunity to win prizes or a shopping spree on the company's site.
Passengers can also keep the snack boxes, but in some cases they may receive additional rewards by dropping them off at retail locations.
Ryan Matway, president of Air Advertainment, said the program can be used as both a brand-building device targeting a wide range of consumers on a national basis, similar to a TV commercial, or more like a piece of direct mail or e-mail targeting a very specific group of potential customers on a more regional scale.
"We can broadcast in a big way to build a brand image or be really razor sharp with accuracy just like in the Seattle-Portland market," Mr. Matway said. He said the demographic of the Horizon airline passenger flying that route is of a very tech-oriented and sophisticated traveler with an income of more than $100,000. "Marketers have asked if they could control all of the flights into the [consumer-electronics show] or sporting events like the Super Bowl," he said.
Mr. Matway said 25,000 boxes will be distributed during the next 20 days on this route. He expects to be on 25 domestic routes by the end of the year, working with at least four major carriers and at least 25 marketers ranging from automotive manufacturers to smaller brands "that just went public."
An executive in the airline marketing industry said it's a lucrative market and a captive audience but doesn't know if the business model is sustainable. "It has all the positives of that audience, but it's carrying a lot of legacy issues from an advertising perspective that are troublesome and have failed miserably in that space before," the executive said. "If you're giving away free meals, that's going to get expensive fast. There's a reason airlines charge for them now."
Mr. Matway said airlines will also stand to benefit from a customer-relations perspective and in some cases, financially as well.
"Carriers are turning an expense into a potential profit center," he said. "Air Advertainment is covering the cost of that food. And in some situations they may be compensated for giving us the opportunity."