DELTA LAUNCHES 'HUMAN TOUCH' AD CAMPAIGN

Stresses How Flying Connects Families and Businesses

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Even before Sept. 11, airline marketers had significant hurdles to overcome, namely customer focus on price and schedule. Now, overcoming passenger fear and discomfort has been added to the mix.

In a brand effort breaking this week, Delta Air Lines tries the human touch as it seeks to remind customers about how air travel allows people to connect with one another for both business and leisure. The hope is that thoughts of hugs and homework might persuade them to take to the air.

The TV spots feature a series of vignettes in which a woman wants to "see the look on her sister's face" after she gives her a gift; a businessman holds up a document and says "This is not the kind of contract you can fax" and a man heads home to work on a science project with his son. Soft, uplifting music plays in the background as the people state their reasons for flying.

'Person to person'
"Everyone has a reason to see somebody," the screen reads. "That's the reason Delta flies."

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Unlike new campaigns by competitors United and American, Delta's is an evolution of its effort that was launched in early 2000. The principal theme is that the Atlanta-based airline is responsive to customer requests. The campaign's icon is a luggage tag showing the request Delta fulfills in the space where the name and address would appear. This time, it reads "person to person." Past ads have featured themes such as more leg room and electronic ticketing.

"We really wanted to keep what had been our real point of differentiation in advertising for the past year and a half, which is the customers' voice," said Chris Miles, senior vice president and account director at Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett, Chicago. "We've been distinctive with a passenger-centric communications platform, and we wanted to keep the icon of the bag tag."

New York, Boston, Atlanta
Print executions of the initiative break Nov. 6 in USA Today and other papers, while radio will also be employed. Media buying focuses on key markets Atlanta, Boston and New York.

The Delta effort is similar to a campaign launched late last month by American. Under the "Great American Get-Together" theme, American ads conjure up thoughts of warm family connections. The ads detail a back yard waiting to become the site of a family football game; a living room full of toys for children to play with; and an environment where "there are grandchildren and great-grandchildren and aunts and uncles and cousins around every corner."

United had previously tinkered with a theme of bringing people together in a January 2000 effort from Publicis Groupe's Fallon, Minneapolis. In its brand work since Sept. 11, United has used employees standing alone before the camera offering thoughts on a range of subjects. At first, they spoke about their hope for the future and sadness regarding the tragedy of Sept. 11; then, the campaign evolved to include some employees pro-actively inviting consumers to climb aboard. The airline used the patriotic-sounding tagline "We are United."

Post-Sept. 11
After airlines moved to pull creative from circulation following the terror attacks (United even pulled down billboards), Southwest Airlines was the first carrier to return to the airwaves with a patriotic spot featuring Colleen Barrett, the airline's president-chief operating officer. The airline, however, has yet to return in force with the humorous spots that helped build its identity as an enjoyable airline to fly.

It should not be surprising that airlines have arrived at overlapping themes in their recent work. Airline advertising has always been limited because of the similarities between many of the carriers, and now the airlines share a common goal, perhaps more than ever before as they struggle financially.

"It is an extraordinary time really," Burnett's Mr. Miles said. "For the first time all the major carriers are focused on really the same business objective, which is restimulating demand."

Low morale
A key secondary target for airline advertising are the employees, who may be a small reason why United chose to highlight them in its effort. Morale has been low in the industry with so many post-Sept. 11 layoffs, and, additionally, United was rocked by a memo written by Chairman-CEO James Goodwin stating that the airline could go under next year due to financial problems; Mr. Goodwin has since been replaced.

Delta is counting on its "person to person" effort to inspire confidence in its employees.

"It's certainly a rallying cry for our employees that management is backing our efforts and trying to stimulate demand," said Brad Gerdeman, director of Delta's worldwide marketing communications.

One of Delta's next marketing challenges will be to decide how to maximize its involvement with February's 2002 Winter Olympics. The carrier is an official sponsor of the Salt Lake City (a Delta hub) organizing group and has purchased time on NBC broadcasts. Mr. Gerdeman said decisions on the Olympic effort have not been made, including whether to run the new ads.

"The marketplace is more fluid than it's ever been before, and the dynamics are changing a lot faster than they used to, so we haven't gotten to the point where we've started thinking about the early part of next year yet," he said.

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