United Airlines Starts Selling Campaigns to Marketers

United Airlines quietly created a new in-house media operation a few months back that’s designed to sell potential marketers integrated, multiplatform ad campaigns throughout its fleet of planes and terminal locations.
The effort is similar to what Walmart and other giant retailers have done with the use of TV monitors and aisle displays to convert their stores into media outlets for hawking products and providing consumers with some content as they shop.
United has sold a number of multiplatform campaigns to marketers, such as the Wrigley unit of Mars and the credit card division of Chase, which has just kicked off a three-month in-flight ad campaign. Chase has taken a three-pronged approach that combines images on tray table covers—including postcard quality shots of potential getaways like ski resorts and tropical locales—with print ads in the airline’s in-house magazine, and video spots from overhead monitors.

Peter Hammer has been appointed to run the operation as managing director of United media and business development.
According to Hammer, United can customize campaigns by slicing and dicing the fleet for customers by geographic location, type of aircraft or class of seat within planes. Chase, for example, is using one type of plane, the A319, which comprises about 20 percent of United’s fleet. It’s only putting messages on tray tables in economy and economy-plus classes of service. The tray table messages can be stripped in and out of planes in an hour or less, Hammer said.
The whole idea is to create a supplemental revenue stream for UAL in a way that passengers and advertisers also benefit. “We want to take advantage of their downtime in a way that delivers valuable messages” about nonairline products, said Hammer.
In the summer, a campaign for Wrigley’s Altoids Smalls provided passengers with free sample tins of the breath freshening mints, along with a card that described the product. A video spot overhead reinforced the message. According to postcampaign testing, preference for the brand shot up 200 percent among UAL flyers, Hammer said. That makes sense, since it’s pretty bad being stuck on a plane next to someone with bad coffee breath.