March 24, 2014

New ads for American aim to revive an era of glamour

The airline is using photos of famous actors from the 1950s and contemporary stars to highlight its first-class, cross-country service from New York to California.

As competition in the U.S. transcontinental aviation market heats up, American Airlines is running a new advertising campaign highlighting its decades of service on these routes.

Ads that began appearing on the websites of consumer publications earlier this month, and on those of entertainment trade publications in January, highlight American’s legacy as the first U.S. airline to offer both eastbound and westbound nonstop transcontinental flights, in 1953. The campaign, by the New York and Dallas offices of McCann Erickson, part of Interpublic Group, features glamorous actors who were and are the carrier’s passengers on these routes, including Grace Kelly, Gregory Peck, Julianna Margulies and Neil Patrick Harris.

Since January, American has introduced flights on new Airbus A321 aircraft from Kennedy International Airport in New York to both Los Angeles and San Francisco; its summer schedule will include 13 flights daily on the Los Angeles route and five to San Francisco.

The new flights all feature three classes of service. Of the five airlines serving these transcontinental routes — the others are Delta, United, JetBlue and Virgin America — American is the only carrier to do so. The first-class cabin on A321 transcontinental flights has 10 fully lie-flat seats, while the business-class cabin has 20 fully lie-flat seats; there is also in-flight Wi-Fi and in-seat entertainment throughout the entire aircraft.

JetBlue, which has not offered premium-class service on transcontinental flights since its startup in 2000, will introduce new “Mint” service in June on these routes featuring a 22.3-inch-wide seat that will convert into a fully lie-flat bed, with rates far below those of its competitors.

Michael Derchin, an airline analyst for CRT Capital, said in an email that the transcontinental routes are two of American’s “most important.”

“American is battling with Delta and United over capturing as large a share of corporate travelers as possible, and these are key road-warrior routes, along with New York-London, New York-Chicago, etc.,” he said. “These are big premium travel flights. Folks are more than willing to pay extra for a bigger seat and more comfortable experience. JetBlue and Virgin America are battling as well for the premium market. So it is a five-way dogfight, no prisoners taken.”

Vann Graves, executive creative director of the New York office of McCann Erickson, said the concept for the new campaign was inspired by research that found American flew the first eastbound and westbound nonstop transcontinental service, on DC-7 aircraft, in 1953, and that its “most famous customers” on these routes included, beside Peck and Kelly, Walt Disney, Sophia Loren, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn and Nat King Cole.

“The way we could connect the glamour of the past with the new product was amazing,” he said.

The print campaign was introduced in mid-February, during the height of the film award season, in trade publications like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, and will also run through June in newspapers like The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Fern Fernandez, vice president of global marketing for American, said Margulies and Harris were chosen to appear in the campaign because they are “active travelers on American. It’s a great opportunity to be the face of the reinvention, and they are the customers we are trying to attract.”

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