Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Sponsorship dollars versus traditional advertising - are airlines getting it right?

The worldwide battle for a shrinking tourist market is testing even those airlines who have spent millions in advertising.
Virgin knows it can haul out Richard Branson for instant marketing impact but what are other airlines doing to get the edge over the competition?
While the obvious answer is TV, billboard and magazine advertising, UAE-based airline Emirates seems to have made considerable ground with little ad spend thanks to their sponsorship of a wide array of high-profile sports teams and events.
Having Arsenal FC players of the calibre of Arshavin, Fabregas and Adebayor wearing an Emirates-branded shirt on the pitch or the high street is among the best celebrity endorsements money can buy. It works on a conscious and subliminal level – fans begin to associate the brand with class, success and reliability.
Likewise, a perpetually struggling team or one dogged by controversy would find it hard to retain a big-spending sponsor – no company wants to be associated with failure or a negative profile. Emirates appears to have picked its sports and events carefully, laying down upwards of US$200 million on more than 50 clubs and sporting competitions.
Emirates chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum has said sponsorship is vital in the airline’s marketing strategy.
“We believe sponsorships are one of the best ways to connect with our passengers. They allow us to share and support their interests and to build a closer relationship with them,” he says on the airline’s sponsorship site.
Of course the UAE air carrier didn’t come up with the idea of sports sponsorship equalling increased passengers: Australian airline Qantas has followed this policy for many years and has run successful campaigns in the lead-up to several Olympics, trumpeting their financial support of Games athletes.
Qantas is also respected in this arena for sponsoring the rejuvenated Australian national soccer (football) competition, Australian Rules and the national tennis scene.
A newer player on the scene is Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, which is using a mixture of traditional advertising and sponsorship in the hope of bumping up passenger numbers in 2009 by 15 per cent to a total of seven million.
Etihad has put their name on Chelsea FC, Ferrari’s F1 team and also targeted the grassroots market with a junior rugby union festival in Abu Dhabi last year.
Australian airline Qantas has played on its sporting affiliations for many years, running successful campaigns prior to recent Olympic Games' trumpeting its support for gold medal hopefuls.
Having the company branding on a sports team could become as important as corporate social responsibilities or charitable donations. It will be telling how the level of sponsorship dollars rises or falls during the global financial crisis and whether airlines continue to see long-term benefits for supporting top-level teams.

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