Delta suits up for 'Marathon' during Atlanta Olympic Games

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Struggling carrier readies 10 spots to bolster image as int'l airline

Despite big cuts in ad spending, Delta Air Lines will invest in its Olympics sponsorship with an intense 17-day, $20 million "Delta Marathon" campaign.

The sequential 10-commercial network and spot TV effort from BBDO South, Atlanta, features British actor Nigel Havers from "Chariots of Fire" on a trip around the world. It begins airing during the opening ceremony of the Centennial Olympic Games on July 19 and runs through the final day on Aug. 4.

"The campaign was designed primarily as an event during the Games themselves," said Paul Matsen, Delta VP-corporate planning.

He said some spots will likely air afterward, too, though later in the year "our intention is to develop a new brand campaign."

The spots won't run in Europe, where the airline is handled by Abbott Mead Vickers/BBDO, London, and an evolution of its European campaign is planned for later this year.

INTERNATIONAL FOCUS

"They're focused on enhancing their international carrier status," said Jim O'Donnell, chairman of consultancy Seabrook Marketing.

In an era of increasing alliances, Delta gained an antitrust waiver in late May to link with Swissair, Austrian Airlines and Sabena Belgian World Airlines. The carrier already has an alliance with Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Last week, Virgin ran an ad challenging a controversial new partnership between American Airlines and British Airways in national newspapers.

Virgin Chairman Richard Branson said he plans a $15 million to $20 million campaign to fight approval of that deal, with ads from CMG Communications, New York, running in the U.S. and overseas. That level of spending would double the airline's overall ad budget.

The new Delta spots target frequent business travelers and emphasize the airline's important destinations, as well as distinctions such as showers at London's Gatwick Airport, nonexpiring frequent-flier mileage and smokefree flights worldwide.

Delta is in the midst of a tough cost-cutting plan, intended to slice $400 million from the marketing budget alone through mid-1997.

The carrier's spending for the first three months of 1996 fell 64% to $14 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Its overall 1995 budget was $60 million, down 47.5% from the year earlier.

Meanwhile, Pan American World Airways has pushed its comeback launch to late July from July 4, when it will now make its formal announcement.

One industry observer said that ValuJet's problems are likely to slow down governmental approval and growth of new airlines.

The long-haul, low-fare carrier has cobbled together the Pan Am Alliance, a group of smaller international airlines, such as Taesa of Mexico and Egyptair, for mileage awards and instant sales of up to 20% of its seats.

Contributing: Ira Teinowitz.

Copyright July 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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