JetBlue Explores Fresh Marketing for a Post-Pandemic World

JetBlue Airways Corp.

is considering switching advertising agencies after more than a decade as part of an effort to revive its marketing and cut costs, the company said.

“Our agency RFI will help us evaluate which resources can most efficiently address changing customer preferences and the new travel landscape as we emerge from this crisis,” a JetBlue spokeswoman said in an email, referring to a request for information that the company sent agencies last month.

Many industries have suffered revenue shortfalls, reduced budgets including marketing and changed their ads’ tone during the pandemic. The air travel industry in particular is struggling as many of its usual customers stay close to home and fly far less often. Airlines are offering deals and promotions including 2-for-1 specials to try to get passengers flying again.

Southwest Airlines Co.

ran a series of ads showing the downside of helping kids do elaborate school projects at home, ending with the kicker, “Wanna get away? We’ve got you covered…”

United Airlines Inc. also recently released an ad promoting its flexibility and the removal of its change fees.

U.S. airline passenger volume is 65% below year-ago levels, according to data from trade group Airlines for America. The four biggest U.S. carriers together lost about $11 billion in the third quarter.

Airlines spent $92 million on U.S. ads in the first half of 2020, a 42% decrease from the $159 million they spent in the first half of 2019, according to market research company Kantar.

JetBlue is looking for both cost savings to soften the blow of a challenging year during the pandemic and a strategy that will resonate with customers who have been hesitant to fly.

“As JetBlue looks to continue to bring humanity to air travel and figure out how to bring customers back to flying, we need to modernize and future-proof the JetBlue marketing model to help us drive JetBlue’s business objectives with holistic, efficient and integrated solutions that are culturally (and when appropriate locally) relevant,” the company wrote in the document it sent to ad agencies. “And unsurprisingly, the brand needs to find ways to do smarter marketing with smaller budgets due to the current travel environment.”

“Scrappy brand-led activations and a fun and unconventional brand personality helped JetBlue truly stand out in the category,” the company added in its document. “However, over time, the brand has lost a bit of its personality and has shifted more towards launching one-off tactics.”

In 2013, JetBlue began an ad campaign starring a “frequent flier” pigeon frustrated with customer service in air travel. The effort was followed by a new campaign in 2019 with the theme, “Just Alright Doesn’t Fly Here,” again suggesting that its customer service is superior to its rivals. Ads showed the fictional “Alright brothers” doing everything they can to make flying uncomfortable, from skimping on legroom to avoiding customer communication.

JetBlue has worked with

Interpublic Group of

Cos.’ MullenLowe Group for 11 years. The agency was asked to participate in the review, it said. It declined to say whether it will take part.

Before the pandemic, airlines’ marketing challenge was peeling customers off their competitors’ frequent flier programs. Many focused on touting their bells and whistles such as bigger screens, the option to order food preflight, larger beds and enhanced mood lighting, said Peter Knapp, chairman and chief creative officer at Landor & Fitch, a branding agency.

Now and after the pandemic, consumers will be attracted to airline brands that are trustworthy and make them feel safe, partly by communicating measures such as cleaning systems that use ultraviolet light, he said.

“This is almost the era for being dull and boring and trustworthy,” he said. “People won’t be looking for innovation.”

Write to Alexandra Bruell at [email protected]

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