Wizz Air hopes new agency of record can be its wingman in Ryanair dogfight
As the airline charts a course back to growth, can its newly appointed agency partner Liberty Guild help it find unexplored marketing angles?
Wizz Air hopes to significantly increase the size of its fleet in coming years / Wizz Air
European airline brand Wizz Air plans to expand its business rapidly over the coming decade. To meet that goal, it has hired Liberty Guild as its agency of record and tasked it with raising brand awareness across both core and emerging markets.
Wizz, a Hungary-based airline, has expanded aggressively in recent years. In two decades it has gone from a regional concern covering central and south-east Europe to a continent-spanning rival to Ryanair. But the pandemic’s restrictions on travel hit many air operators, while the oil price spikes caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ate into its margins.
Now, the firm is on a path back to profitability in 2023, planning to significantly expand its fleet to enable it to take more passengers and fly to more destinations.
Wizz has moved on from using only local and regional agency partners to a global AOR model that matches its centralized marketing strategy. Head of marketing Eva Passmore says it chose London-based Liberty Guild – which is run by former Grey CCO Jon Williams and relies on hundreds of freelance creative directors across the globe to fuel its model – in part because its black book of creatives gives it a presence in each of its key markets, saving Wizz from having to employ more than one agency supplier.
“Instead of setting up with a brand agency and separate creative agencies in key regions, we thought we can just put all of that under one umbrella – it creates better consistency,” says Passmore. “Because of the business model, we can create bespoke regional teams and still find the best expertise in each region. But we don’t have to contract with five different agencies.”
Wizz operated 660 average daily flights last year to Ryanair’s 2,800, but it’s one of the few airlines increasing its share – and number of journeys – relative to competitors, according to aviation group Eurocontrol.
Wizz hopes to accelerate that momentum. The company expects its fleet will number over 200 aircraft by next year and 500 by the end of the decade, based out of the UK, UAE, Hungary and Malta. That would put it on parity with Ryanair, and beyond Easyjet, and allow it to offer more routes.
Its marketing strategy will have to keep up with that growth – and be able to speak to passengers across hundreds of potential territories, from western Europe to emerging ex-Soviet central Asian markets (“all the ‘Stans”). “The last time we had a deliberate brand review was before Covid,” says Passmore. “Since then the company has changed enormously.”
She wants the company to be able to emphasize its low-price proposition and communicate with a more consistent tone of voice. “The biggest challenge is to communicate in a way that’s authentic to us, but at the same time resonate in all these different regions,” she says.
“Our biggest superpower is cost – reducing cost and keeping ticket prices low. So when we are looking at marketing and how we want to utilize our budget, we want to work smart rather than throwing money at things. We’re always looking for creative solutions.”
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Williams says Liberty Guild’s model suits that approach. “With us, it’s about getting the best strategic and creative talent in the world, getting rid of all the fluff that's around it and delivering that to clients. We have to be very reactive.”
Nodding to the impact of oil price highs on Wizz’s business, she adds: “We know the world can change in two weeks, that’s there’s a different challenge every six months.” The capacity to communicate how the brand is adapting to those challenges, she says, is a priority too.
As such, though the company is pursuing a balanced media mix, out-of-home is a favorite channel. It’s a medium suited to helping the airline stand out from the competition, she says. “We’re very, very lucky to have the best color: pink. It’s our most valuable asset. When we’ve run OOH campaigns in London, the feedback was that because of the color, even though we had the same media budget we have had a bigger impact than other brands.”
So many competitors opt for a shade of blue for their livery, she says, that Wizz’s pink tailfins and typography can’t help but stick out. The contrast already inspired a PR campaign launched last year, ‘The future is pink.’ The team now wants to build on that foundation. “It’s my mission now to have everything painted pink.”
There are other potential points of difference for Liberty and Wizz to play on, says Passmore, such as the fact that it uses aircraft under 10 years of service, meaning its fleet is more fuel-efficient, cheaper and less polluting than competitors. “We have the youngest fleet in Europe. And because we use the latest technology, it’s more sustainable.
“Stepping away from the traditional approach is always a good direction for us.”
Previously this article listed as Austria and Italy among Wizz’s regional bases; this has been amended to Malta and Hungary (26 June).