As anyone who travels regularly can tell you, airline marketing often bears little resemblance to the real world of delayed flights, cramped seats and screaming babies. Unless it's first class they're promoting, airlines face a turbulent predicament: how to make an economy carrier look attractive?
Fortunately for JetBlue, Elizabeth Windram has the flight plan.
Prior to joining the carrier as director of brand management and advertising this past February, Windram spent six years putting together marketing campaigns for Barefoot Wine & Bubbly. Targeted to younger drinkers, the E. & J. Gallo brand is known for the playful attitude it takes toward a stuffy product. "I got to be part of democratizing a category," she recalls, guiding work tagged "Get barefoot and have a great time"—designed to demystify a range of Zinfandels, Merlots and Pinot Noirs. For JetBlue, Windram has also employed that humor and lightness to set the brand apart. "In a sea of same," she says, "JetBlue is differentiated, and it has the opportunity to continue to stand apart."
That can mean tackling topics some would rather ignore—like those wailing babies. For Mother's Day, Windram and her team created "FlyBabies," which gave 130 passengers on a flight from New York to Long Beach, Calif., a 25 percent discount on future air travel every time a baby began to cry. "People said, 'We're really going to talk about babies crying on a plane? That is the last thing anybody wants to be reminded of,'" Windram remembers. On the appointed flight, four bundles of joy ultimately sang out, meaning everyone on board got a free round trip. But the real traction came from a video of the stunt, which notched 5.5 million views, generating 640 million impressions and amounting to $1.5 million in paid media.
"FlyBabies" put Windram's special stamp on a long-standing brand tradition that combines such marketing techniques with social awareness and sharing. "Elizabeth is with JetBlue for a reason," says Dave Weist, ecd at MullenLowe, the airline's longtime lead agency. "She believes in the mission of the company. This is not some made-up brand-speak for her; this is about acting upon a set of beliefs and making sure we connect with customers."
Meanwhile, another campaign, "Reach Across the Aisle," was an election-themed initiative that offered 150 passengers on a flight a chance to win free round-trip airfare to one of 20 destinations. The catch: The passengers would have to unanimously agree on the destination before the plane landed. This consensus-building exercise not only served as the perfect counter to a dramatically divided electorate, it went on to generate 50 million social impressions.
Other media placements included an Android-based billboard that informed passersby in cold and drizzly Times Square how quickly they could reach various sunny climes and a send-off to Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who keeps swinging even after he enters retirement by whacking the heck out of piñatas at kids' birthday parties. Such consumer-centric work is paying off. JetBlue's operating revenue climbed 4 percent in the first half of this year versus last.
This year, JetBlue also set a new standard for how a corporation can respond to a national tragedy. After the June massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.—a hub for the carrier—JetBlue flew victims' friends and family members to town for free. The gesture wasn't about marketing but, as Windram says, "about doing the right thing."
In less than a year at the controls, Windram has steered an impressive course, "engaging those who are already flying JetBlue, those who could be flying and, in the case of the families of the victims in the Orlando tragedy, those who should be flying," notes Judy Austin, a marketing professor at Boston University. "Without fail, we're left feeling uplifted. How very appropriate."
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This story first appeared in the October 24, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.