American Airlines Starts Video Mag

By Staff Published on .

Situation: American Airlines’ main Internet site carries mostly text information so fliers can check flight information and buy tickets. To supplement that information with marketing punch, it has launched an electronic magazine targeting its frequent fliers that offers video of destinations they may want to visit using their Advantage bonus miles.

The carrier fired up the Milestones Web site and via e-mail invited the 56 million members of American’s Advantage program to check it out.

Billy Sanez, director of advertising, promotions and corporate communications, says that other than a few online advertising efforts, it’s the first time the airline has used Web video.

“The Milestone e-magazine is the first sort of push for us to do more than just text information,” he said. “This is the first step. It’s actually a wave of other things that we’ll be doing, especially on and our other promotional micro sites, where we’ll use a lot more video.”

Each video is a two-minute tour hosted by Regan Burns of Comedy Central. The clips are designed to present a lighter side of brand marketing for the airline.

Mr. Sanez declined to share the exact numbers of videos that have been served as a result of the program, but said the figure was in the tens of thousands. Some people have come back to the magazine for a second look, and other are referring it to friends, giving it a viral component. Mr. Sanez also declined to be specific about the cost of the effort, saying it was a significant investment.

“We’re very happy with it. We started it as a roll out to first put our toes in the water in this area, but we’ve gotten an overwhelming response for it, both in views and indirect comments from the consumer,” he said. “It is going literally from zero to 60. It has allowed us to go into the space very quickly and get great absorption from the consumer. And we think it’s because of the way the content had been created, where it’s more fun and it’s more about the great places people want to go and use their miles than just straight out information.”

The video program isn’t in itself designed to generate revenue. It’s is more of a sales and education tool. The company has done Web advertising, some of which was connected to third parties’ content, in the past. But this is the first time American has produced its own programming.

Much of the work on the Web magazine was done by American Airlines’ advertising agency of record, TM Advertising, including production of the video and creation of the micro site.

Mr. Sanez is in charge of American Airline’s Web video effort and within his Advantage group at American, four people have been working on the project. Other are working on content creation with TM and independent production companies, doing everything from evaluating the scenery on shoots to conducting interviews with American Airlines executives. Advantage marketing managers go out on the shoot and analyze what kind of content and video needs to be created.

Mr. Sanez’s group works closely with the company’s information technology group to make sure its computers have enough bandwidth and that they’re using the right video-serving platform.

American Airlines’ own travel videos are hosted by VitalStream, which has worked with TM in the past. TM hosts the videos on the magazine site that are produced by partners such as hotel chains.

“Originally we thought we would simply have TM host the videos, along with the site on their server,” Mr. Sanez said. ”We decided to move the travel videos to VitalStream because they have the bandwidth to ensure the best possible user experience.”

TM did the research and identified Vital Stream as the most efficient and cost-effective solution for serving up videos. At first the videos were streamed, but there were problems with certain proxy servers. Then the airline turned to a downloadable format. The change provide successful in shortening the amount of time required to buffer the video, providing smoother plays.

American Airlines is using Web video to tell the company’s story in a way its customers value, Mr. Sanez said.

“The video allows us to be very flexible because we can produce something quickly that is flexible enough to go online and at the same time, it allows us to go worldwide.
Web video also is relatively inexpensive compared to creating content for national television spots, he said.

Creative control, the ability to target audiences and metrics are other advantages to Web video, he said.

“This is something that you’re able to create and send to the customers that we want and we’re able to control it a little more and measure it a lot better,” he said.

Web video is also a lot less expensive than producing brochures or direct mail pieces to 52 million people.

Problem: The main concern American Airlines had before jumping into Web video was that it had the proper infrastructure assembled.

Solution: TM, the ad agency, had experts to help make sure that the airline had the right partners to maintain servers and bandwidth so that it was able to deliver content when it was needed.

“I know that we chose the right folks because we’ve been up and running, and it’s been pretty well received by the customers,” Mr. Sanez said.

It’s also been well received within the company.

“Any step forward is looked at very favorably here at American, especially when our customers tell us, ‘Hey, we want more video content,’ He said. It’s not that we thought video content is just cool. Our customers are asking for it,” he said.

American Airline is also considering syndicating the video programming it produces.

“We’re exploring all that and we’re exploring the utilization of this kind of video for a social Web site and offering it to people to put on their Web sites,” Mr. Sanez said. “But that’s our next step. We just want to make sure that we have the right kind of content for people and that we’re able to deliver it as often as they want.

Evaluation: Mr. Sanez said the first lesson that that the company learned is that quality is king. That goes for the equipment used to produce the video, the talent that participates in it and the locations that you use.

Another key is establishing the relevance to the consumer.

“Online, the demographics are a little bit different, so there are a lot of considerations you have to take into account before you’re going to be utilizing video and there’s got to be a purpose for using it, not just because it’s cool, or everybody else is doing it,” he said.

Finally, he said working with a partner that has experience in this area helps. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
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