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For three years, a European ad campaign has focused on distilling the secret of Air Canada's stress-free style of service and raising awareness of the Canadian flag carrier's growing global network.

That campaign, masterminded by McCann-Erickson in London, uses TV as the lead medium to build high-yield, business traveler traffic for the airline, said Louise McKenven, Air Canada's advertis-ing manager-Europe and Asia.

The account team has developed the "breath of fresh air" campaign that is now in three primary markets (the U.K., France and Germany) with media spill-over into several more European countries.


Targeting trans-Atlantic com-muters who were likely to travel to Canada, the McCann-Erickson team focused its marketing strategy on emerging values meaningful to European business travelers. Those "new values" included individualism, freedom, and an increasingly relaxed, casual approach to travel.

"Focus groups revealed that European business travelers do not like to be hurried and harried," Ms. McKenven said. "The campaign illustrates that they have a choice of being relaxed or being harried . . . but it becomes their choice."

The team based the brand strategy on the "perceived characteristics" of Canadians-namely their naturally relaxed attitudes and tolerance of in-dividualism. From that came the proposition: "Air Canada-we never forget you're human."

Kate Bolwell, international account director at McCann-Erickson, said the consumer "pitch" was that Air Canada travelers would be treated as individuals, that they would be happier for the experience and that the "necessary evil" of business travel could be assuaged because the traveler would have more control.

The first campaign, in 1993, highlighted the airline's menu and pre-booking of seats. A year later, when Air Canada wanted to promote its new Executive First combination of first and business classes, it focused on perks.

U.S. comedian Mike McShane was hired to become the human identity of the airline. In the ads, Mr. McShane, a sizable and jovial man, generally misuses the products and services to his advantage.


Playing all the roles in each ad, Mr. McShane talks about why his "people" like Air Canada's Executive First. Each character is seen either cooing on the phone; watching a movie cowboy character (Mr. McShane) on the seat back video; or faxing. And all the while Mr. McShane-the "chairperson"-is reclining in his seat thinking of Canadian cities and their various attributes. As a punch line, an ice hockey player is seen making a slapshot. The puck lands in the seated Mr. McShane's mouth.

"Now that's what I call an after-dinner mint," he concludes after removing it.

That :40 commercial spun off a :20 spot on the telephone service and :10 versions on seat comfort and faxing, among others.

"He is seen being big, humorous, a character and Canadian," Ms. McKenven said of Mr. McShane. "Each of his characteristics was a metaphor for certain aspects of Air Canada."


Equally as important, Mr. McShane's image has translated well to Europe-reinforcing McCann-Erickson's belief that a humorous-rather than superior-campaign stance would get the European message across most effectively.

"People believe him and like his good-natured approach," Ms. McKenven said.

Ms. McKenven and Ms. Bolwell decline to detail Air Canada's ad spending, however, Ms. McKen-ven insists that it is "significantly lower" than that of national carriers British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa German Airlines. That TV spending includes advertising, sponsorship and interactive media, though newspaper/magazine advertising is being utilized increasingly.

"The impact of our advertising vs. the media investment is very impressive," Ms. McKenven said. The ad spending "is a very low Air Canada

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investment in terms of media-a borderline second-to-third tier advertising category."

Ms. Bolwell believes the campaign has had "dramatic" results. She cites research indicating that more than 50% of those who have seen the campaign say the ads make them want to try the airline as compared to 35% who want to try competitive airlines after seeing their rival advertisements.


A tracking study last May by Canadian researcher Tandemar indicated Air Canada's campaign awareness has approached and even overtaken awareness levels for target countries' flag carriers. Impact in the U.K. has been greatest, but Mr. McShane is better known there (he has appeared on the comedy show "Whose Line Is It, Anyway?"), and the ads have been aired on more of a regular basis on ITV and Channel 4.

Ms. McKenven said that, while Air Canada ranks seventh overall among airlines for share of voice in Europe, it has the second highest advertising awareness, trailing Singapore Airlines. "We're seeing high [passenger seating] in our overseas market," she said about the practical benefit to the airline. "It's difficult to get a seat from London/Toronto or London/Montreal in Executive First."


Ms. McKenven and Ms. Bolwell see no major holes in the ad strategy, but say they will continue to use focus groups to keep from getting complacent. Meanwhile, they will roll out a new campaign featuring Mr. McShane in early 1997. Filming has just finished in the Canadian Rockies.

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