Case Study - 2012 American Airlines' Red, White, and Blue Campaign

The American Airlines' Award-Wining "We Know Why You Fly" Re-Brand

American Airlines new logo
A Change Is In the Air. © 2012 American Airlines

America Airlines wants travelers to know that they are not the same airlines that they were before 2011 when they placed 550 new aircraft in the sky. The aging fleet is being replaced and includes two new 770-300 airplanes. To carry this message to consumers, according to Kantar Media, approximately $40 million was spent in 2012 on advertising.

To accomplish the design changes that are the harbingers of the new airlines, American Airlines worked with FutureBrand.

And ad agency Mccann Worldgroup created the first television commercial, a 60-second spot entitled Change is in the air. The commercial is captivating, the voice over by Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame is a strong feature. The sidebar here is that the character Don Draper, who is played by Jon Hamm, has often aspired in the television show to win a big account like American Airlines. Also intriguing is the fact that Jon Hamm is a frequent flyer on American Airlines.

But it is the visuals that compel viewers to watch the commercial, as they should. The cameras pan and close-in on a series of people who are distracted from whatever is occupying them at the moment and look skyward. One after another, a waitress, a guy scraping snow from a vehicle, a practicing football player, a fellow cleaning his swimming pool, and an unforgettable boy on a bicycle react to seeing a new American Airlines jet – with the new re-branded markings - fly overhead.

American Airlines advertising team was determined to bring back the wonder of air travel – and they appear to have successfully conveyed this sense of wonder in their first commercial of the new campaign, as this video clip from FutureBrand shows.

Global chief strategy officer Daryl Lee reportedly told AdvertisingAge that,

"We’re so oblivious to the fact that we can get on a plane and go anywhere in the world anytime we want. We wanted to bring that amazement, that wow factor."

The ad campaign begins with a large emphasis on building awareness of the new look of the logo. From this stunning base, the brand iterations are brought to print, digital, television, social media, and a new tag line.

The familiar AA is gone from the tail wing, a logo that has been American Airlines own since 1968. The new aircraft logos are bolder than ever and they are brashly red, white, and blue, evoking the American flag. The intention of American Airlines is to signal to people, wherever in the world that the airplanes land, that this is an American airplane. The patriotic themes runs strong in the American Airlines presence, and even shows up as an eagle inside a red-blue stripe for the new flight symbol. American Airlines chooses not to attend to any residual anti-American sentiment evident in developing and under-developed countries across the globe.

This advertising campaign is not the first of American Airlines’ marketing efforts to be well received by the public. In the fall of 2004, American Airlines launched the campaign known as We Know Why You Fly.

The ad debut garnered a lot of international and domestic attention and creative awards, including a Cannes Lion from the 55th Cannes International Advertising Festival in 2008. The Cannes is considered to be the most prestigious advertising competition in the world.

In 2011, American Airlines spent roughly $70 million on advertising. A fact that becomes even more interesting when considering that the list of the top 100 Leading National Advertisers created by Ad Age’s Data Center does not contain a single airlines. Never mind what the rest of the flyers are doing, the timing was right for American Airlines to have a remarkable change and strong messaging that it is making a comeback to be better than ever.

The advertising campaign was the harbinger of change for American Airlines and it decisively ended a relationship with a 45-year old brand.

Consumers nearly always protest changes to iconic brands – consider The Gap, FedEx, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and the like – but consumers eventually, almost always come around. This is particularly so when the change is overdue and when the changes that are made tastefully updates the brand. Companies like Starbucks and Coca-Cola have become adept at including consumers early in the change-up plans so that alterations are more gently introduced to the public.