How Japanese airline ANA boosted its recognition among US millennials

VMLYR was highly commended in the Media Planning and Buying Strategy category of The Drum Marketing Awards US 2020 with its ‘Japan Elevated’ campaign for ANA (All Nippon Airways). Here. The team behind the entry reveal the challenges faced and strategies used to deliver this successful project.

The challenge

Because Americans weren’t aware ANA was an airline, they certainly didn’t know it was a Japanese airline transporting passengers throughout Asia, nor a premium airline delivering unprecedented experiences perfect for them.

We wanted our key target prospects to know that ANA is a premium Japanese airline that enjoys No. 1 status in Japan and consistently ranks in the top three among the world’s leading airlines. In the U.S., ANA expanded from three to eleven hubs across North America to accommodate interest in travel to Japan and Asia, yet the brand was largely unknown in America given its limited marketing communications. Meanwhile, the U.S. had been designated as one of ANA’s most important growth markets, especially with the 2020 Olympics quickly approaching.

Primary competitors already had simple recognition baked prominently into their names with the word “airline” – Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines, United Airlines, etc. After a business-specific decision to use the brand name ANA, the airline needed to build recognition with new audiences and existing audiences alike. Knowledge of the ANA brand was 42% below the airline competitive average. With a modest media budget for the year, ANA spending in the U.S. significantly lagged other premium airlines.

Airline marketing creates great impact for a brand but can also be overshadowed by wider market forces such as competitive initiatives and other negative news, (e.g. crashes, airplane malfunctions, legal actions or high-profile customer service issues) which can make marketing in this category an uphill challenge.

The ANA Japan Elevated campaign launched at the end of January 2019 and during that time the airline category had no lack of front-page news. One of our key competitors, Cathay Pacific, launched a new, big budget rebranding campaign. Other big headlines like the Boeing 737 Max airliner groundings after two unexpected crashes and Singapore Airlines entertainment system cameras spying on customers all had an impact on brand perception and customer decision making when booking a flight.

With the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo fast approaching and a commitment to raising their brand profile in North America, ANA embarked on a mission to ensure that as millennials considered their air travel plans to Japan, they knew that ANA was the best and most enjoyable option to get them to their destination.

The strategy

The challenge was clear: increase knowledge/awareness, engagement, and relevance of ANA as a premium airline in a way that reflected ANA core values and benefits.

Our audience was defined as U.S.-based affluent millennials, aged 22-39 who had travelled to a foreign country in the last three years. Our research clearly identified this audience segment to be resistant to advertising and brand messaging they deem inauthentic which made our job very challenging yet motivating!

There was an attitudinal opportunity below the surface to garner real growth potential amongst the millennials. Millennials are known for being experience-driven and are consequently much more comfortable spending their hard-earned money chasing what they perceive to be “genuine experiences.” Many millennials even prioritize saving for their next trip instead of paying off debts or saving to purchase their first home.

For millennials who desire unique, culturally authentic travel experiences, airlines are deemed a necessary evil to get to that destination. Through qualitative interviews, we discovered the desire to seek culturally authentic experiences did not extend to airlines. Authentic Japanese experiences set ANA apart in addition to their commitment to premium service throughout the cabin.

The campaign

We elevated the best of Japan, letting our audience feel the meticulous magic that is the ANA experience. We knew that to grow knowledge and relevance we had to create intrigue. We showcased the great lengths that ANA goes through to bring the best of Japanese culture, cuisine and service aboard every flight.

To engage our audience’s proclivity for cultural experiences, we needed to frame ANA’s offering in the context of the service customers received. So, when it came to storytelling, we focused our key messages on specifics like dining, destinations, hospitality and awards for quality. Eighty-four percent of millennials are skeptical of traditional advertising, but many appreciate when messages are tailored to their interests.

Our media spend was focused on pushing the ANA message across the millennial digital ecosystem. With less than $5 million nationally, we chose to concentrate media dollars in digital and social platforms, carefully optimizing for maximum audience engagement by platform and across devices. Millennials own an average of 7.2 devices per household and maintain an average of nine social networks/messaging app accounts, plus one in three do not have cable or satellite subscriptions. 5

We also worked with our media partners on a highly relevant, no-banner approach. This prioritized personalization and authenticity while aligning with publishers who are trusted by affluent millennials. The campaign also aimed to show a relevant brand fit by testing more focused partnerships such as LGBTQ digital pride network.

We developed a targeted interactive program that illuminated ANA as the go-to airline through a multiplatform custom content program. We deployed content across social, credible publishers, programmatic, and Online Travel Agency including Conde Nast Traveler, Bon Appetit, Matador, Out Traveler, Facebook and Expedia.

We engaged influencers to provide first-hand experiences through custom articles both on and off the flight. Instructional food videos gave audiences the taste of Japan you can get aboard every ANA flight. Custom units crafted personalized experiences where our audience can either explore various cities or develop itineraries based on the type of jet-setter they are. Custom articles provided itinerary ideas for various destinations in Japan. Articles were amplified to drive engagement further. Chatbots encouraged consumers to interact with ANA. All messages were delivered in an organic, inspiring and creative way to connect with our audience.

The results

According to Brand Asset Valuator, VMLY&R’s proprietary consumer brand study, we exceeded goals, increasing knowledge by 5.52 rank points from 38% to 436% (goal was 2%). To further support our awareness/knowledge results, our campaign out-performed Facebook’s travel industry benchmarks for almost every message pillar.

We increased relevance with our audience by 9.27 rank points, from 69% to 79%8. This surpassed our goal set in line with premium Asian airline competitors benchmarked at 72%.

We are also very proud that one of our custom articles written on Matador was the second most shared Matador branded article ever published.

Another great achievement was that every engagement rate of the custom content exceeded benchmarks (between 5% to 86%). The amplified articles exceeded benchmarks for both time spent and engagement rates.

Overall, the results were yelling loudly that the campaign succeeded in its mission to improve awareness/knowledge, relevance and engagement.

This project was highly commended at The Drum Marketing Awards 2020. To find out which Drum Awards are currently open for entries, click here.

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