B2B social media strategy gets sky-high results for world's largest passenger plane

This case study outlines how Publicis implemented a strategy, through the 'Love A380' campaign for client Airbus, driving sales of the most expensive civil aircraft in the world.

Executive SummaryMost products that agencies advertise are short-term items that cost a few pounds. Some, like cars, can cost a few thousand. This case is different. An A380 aircraft is a 20 year plus commitment that costs over £200m, making it the most expensive mass-produced product of all time. The purchase decision is therefore a complicated one for airlines and financiers and involves years of detailed technical analysis and hard bargaining. But advertising can play an important part in driving the conversation and influencing key decision makers. Our challenge was to convince this audience that, even in tough financial times, the largest and most expensive civil aircraft in the world makes perfect business sense. Through our ‘Love A380’ campaign, we broke the rules of the category by focussing on passengers (our customers’ customers), rather than talking about efficiency and economics. We used advertising and social media to gather thousands of passengers’ comments about their love for the aircraft.
“Inspirational, feels like you are floating, just magnificent! Will always aim to fly A380 before anything else. Just loved it!” Paul, Australia
We then presented this love to the aviation industry – making the link between passenger appeal and airline profits. The results have exceeded all our expectations. In just a few weeks we gathered thousands of positive passenger comments about the aircraft and have been able to use this evidence to create impactful advertising and merchandise, as well as giving Airbus an impressive quantity of proof for their direct discussions with the airlines. Background and Client BriefThe A380 first entered into service in 2007, with Singapore Airlines. At the time of the briefing there were five airlines flying A380s and several more with firm orders. The ambition for Airbus was to secure orders from existing airline partners and new ones. Having successfully established the A380’s environmental and financial credentials in previous campaigns, we were asked by Airbus to demonstrate the ‘A380 Effect’. They believed that, for airlines, the only thing that can compete with an A380 is another A380. Technically, it is more fuel efficient than its main rival the Boeing 747, it carries more passengers, generates more revenue and burns less CO2 per seat. StrategyWe started with a theory: Most people don’t know or care what aircraft they are flying on. They know the airline and the class, but not the aircraft model itself. But we suspected that the A380 was different. For the first time since Concorde entered into service in the 1970s, it seemed that an aircraft had captured the public’s imagination. Our analysis of social media activity over the previous 12 months supported this theory. There were several unofficial Facebook fan pages for the A380 – one with over 80,000 likes. ‘A380’ was getting hundreds of mentions a day on Twitter, from excited passengers as well as industry commentators. Almost everyone who had flown on an A380, it seemed, was talking about the unique experience on board (quieter, wider seats, reduced turbulence etc.). To get their airlines’ attention, we wanted to prove that this excitement translated into a preference for A380 flights over those of its rivals. Deciding to focus on the passenger appeal of the aircraft was an unusual approach, because passengers are not Airbus’s key audience. Most aircraft advertising uses simple photography of the aircraft and rather dull copy about efficiency and economics. By making the conversation about airlines’ key audience – passengers – we could not only develop a more emotional and engaging campaign, but also build a business argument that the airlines couldn’t ignore. There were two initial challenges. Firstly, we needed robust data to support our claim about passenger appeal. Secondly, we couldn’t use any of the positive comments that already existed online without the permission of the authors. So we would have to gather sizable and credible proof of this passenger appeal ourselves, from scratch, a matter of weeks before the new campaign was to launch at Le Bourget air show – the most important industry event of the year. Working closely with the Airbus communications team and the media agency PHD, we developed a two phase campaign strategy:
  • Phase 1: Gather comments from passengers about their experiences of flying on an A380To understand the aircraft’s real strengths and weaknesses. To prove that passengers actively choose A380 flights over those of its rivals.
  • Phase 2: Use this content to make a clear business case to the airlines.

Microsite lovea380.com - used to capture and display passenger quotes

Phase 1 The first thing we did was to create a microsite – lovea380.com – where people could enter comments about the A380. The site captured people’s comments, names, emails and locations and granted us permission to use their quotations in advertising. The site also displayed the comments we had received on the site, once they had been approved by Airbus, so that visitors could start to see the passenger appeal of the aircraft for themselves. We directed people to lovea380.com through digital advertising (online, mobile and tablet ads) and social media. On Twitter, for example, we identified key influencers and A380 advocates using analytical software and sent them short messages and links to the microsite. On Facebook, we used the existing A380 fan pages to invite people to leave a comment on the microsite. We rated every comment we received in terms of sentiment (positive, negative or neutral) and tagged them with various categories (‘comfortable’, ‘safe’, ‘cramped’ etc.). Phase 2 We analysed the comments received and presented the data to various departments at Airbus. The best passenger comments were then used in a variety of ways, from large billboards and digital display boards at Le Bourget air show, to digital and print ads in business and aviation publications and websites, to presentations from the Airbus sales teams to key airline executives. Dominating Le Bourget Air Show Le Bourget air show happens every two years and is an incredibly important event within the aviation industry. It’s where billion dollar contracts are signed and the future of the industry is discussed. This year’s show featured:
  • 2,000 international exhibitors
  • 138,000 trade visitors
  • 193,000 general public visitors
  • 130,000 sqm total area (for halls, villages, chalets and ourdoor space)
  • 192,000 sqm aircraft display areas
  • Over 140 aircraft including 42 in flying displays
  • 3,000 accredited journalists Working with PHD, we developed a media strategy to ensure our A380 campaign had the greatest possible impact at Le Bourget. In particular, we looked at using new impactful formats and multiple touchpoints to reach delegates throughout their day at the show.
This included the following:
  • 1,800 copies of the FT with A380 ‘onserts’ were available at key hotels
  • 4,500 copies of A380 coverwrapped copies of the WSJ were distributed each day and available to delegates arriving by private limousine

Billboards and sponsorship at Le Bourget air show

  • Large static and digital A380 billboards showcased the passenger appeal quotations around the show
  • Copies of Flight International’s Show Daily were distributed at key locations, containing an A380 DPS

Aviation Week mobile app sponsorship

  • The Aviation Week mobile app, sponsored by Airbus, could be downloaded to navigate around the show grounds
  • At the EADS (Airbus’s holding company) chalet, ‘Love A380’ pin badges were handed out to delegates

Airbus advertising on news and business websites

Bloomberg terminal login screen

  • Online and mobile formats on key news, business and trade sites throughout the week of the show, including CNN, BBC, Bloomberg AirFinanceJournal and FlightGlobal.
ResultsThe campaign exceeded all our expectations in terms of the volume and reach of passenger responses, the impact within Airbus and the response from the industry. Some specific results:
  • In a month, we received over 5,000 submissions on lovea380.com from passengers in over 150 countries.
  • Hundreds of people retweeted our messages and linked to the site. The language of our campaign was adopted in the industry press and in social media. Nielsen data shows that mentions of ‘A380’ and ‘love’ on Twitter went up by 292% in the campaign period.
  • 92% of the comments received were positive; a clear endorsement of the passenger appeal claim. This content has given Airbus compelling and robust evidence to take to the airlines as well as being adopted by the company’s sales, PR, events and merchandise departments.
  • Over 4,000 people clicked through to airbus.com after submitting a comment. Most were new visitors to airbus.com (over 80%) and spent 10% longer there than the average user (3m 26s).
  • Our online ads achieved over 280,000 clicks, with an average CTR for the five trade sites we used of 0.39% - over 3 times the industry benchmark for a B2B campaign.
  • The Aviation Week app that we sponsored was downloaded 3,100 times, nearly 3 times initial estimates.
  • Analysis of the passenger comments has given us a rich understanding of the issues that really matter to passengers (noise, comfort, space etc.) and will help inform future communications strategy for the A380.
  • Our ads that showcase the passenger appeal achieved clear stand-out and delivered our campaign message effectively. For example, the magazine Flight International conducted a survey of its readers about 53 ads in its 14th June issue. Our ad achieved the highest recall (98%) and scored well above average on all key measures (27% above for ‘Memorable’, 21% above for ‘Easy to understand’ and 18% above for ‘Persuasive’).
  • Since we started the campaign, Airbus has launched an official Twitter account (@Airbus), a YouTube channel (youtube.com/airbus) and several Facebook pages. Proving the longer-term RoI in such an expensive, long-term and complicated category is impossible to do at this stage. What we can say is that Le Bourget 2011, where our campaign launched, was the most successful air show in the company’s history. 12 A380s were ordered at the show, worth a staggering US$4.5 billion to Airbus.

ATW - Sponsorship of Paris airshow guide for Mobile and iPad

Economist iPad Edition

Flight Interactive daily news online - virtual magazine inside front cover

A380 Merchandise

Advertising on the aircraft itself

This case study has been nominated in the category of B2B social media strategy for the 2011 Social Buzz Awards

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