AirTran Caters to College Crowd | Adweek AirTran Caters to College Crowd | Adweek
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AirTran Caters to College Crowd

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CHICAGO While most airlines target business travelers and adult consumers, AirTran Airways is going after the college crowd to foster customer loyalty.

AirTran this week will start airing one 30-second and two 15-second videos on Web sites such as collegehumor.com and ESPN.com as part of an ad campaign for its "Fly free 'til you're 23" promotion. The media buy includes several large markets: New York, Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Orlando, Fla. Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago, handles.

AirTran's measured media expenditure in the U.S. was $15 million last year (not including online), unchanged from 2006, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. 

Spots already began appearing in college town movie theaters, with print augmenting in campus newspapers. The campaign will incorporate NBC on Campus, a partnership between NBC and the Memphis, Tenn.-based University Network, a digital out-of-home company that narrowcasts programming to 283 screens on 181 campuses.

The ads carry the tagline, "Everyone will want to be college age," and feature senior citizens posing as college kids -- from a trash-talking grandpa playing a videogame to a grandma who uses a fake ID at the movies to get the student discount. Viewers are directed to www.airtranu.com for a chance to win two round trips per calendar quarter, until the winner turns 23. Anyone between the ages of 18 and 22 can enter by registering for A+ Rewards, AirTran's frequent flyer program. The promotion ends June 9.

Going after younger travelers is a smart approach, since most of them haven't formed brand loyalty yet, said Henry Harteveldt, an airline/travel analyst at Forrester Research. "The promotion requires everyone to join AirTran's rewards program and it's a good way to build loyalty with customers," he said.

AirTran has steadily increased its usage of digital campaigns since 2004. Today about half its annual marketing budget is spent online, said Tad Hutcheson, vp, marketing at the low-fare airline. According to the company, about 70 percent of AirTran's operating passenger revenue last year was booked online, which helped passenger revenue grow 21 percent over 2006 to $2.2 million. "This online approach doesn't require a lot of marketing dollars because it lends itself to viral marketing," said Harteveldt. "The AirTran name gets passed around by college students through Twitter and other social networks and it's very effective."

AirTran, Orlando, launched a program in January called AirTravel U, also for travelers in the 18-22 age group. The program allows them to fly standby to any AirTran destination for $69 per segment (defined as one takeoff and one landing) or $99 for long-haul flights. "Airlines have a love-hate relationship with college students. And AirTran hopes to have an edge over JetBlue and Southwest, which cater to business travelers," Harteveldt said. "I don't expect other airlines to match what AirTran is doing."