Captive Environment: Airplanes Are Becoming Experiential Marketing Pods

by Chris Dong

In marketing, the power of a captive audience is incredibly valuable. Distractions on-the-ground abound, and capturing shorter attention spans are becoming increasingly difficult. Having a product next to, or on, a potential customer who has no choice but to sit in a seat for hours is a golden opportunity.

Cozy up with a branded Westin blanket on Delta flights. Image by Delta

Cozy up with a branded Westin blanket on Delta flights. Image by Delta

The Five Senses Onboard

Let’s break it down by the senses:

  • Sight (NBCUniversal entertainment)
  • Sound (Bose headsets)
  • Taste (Starbucks coffee)
  • Smell (Virgin Atlantic’s cabin scent is made and sold in collaboration with designer Rachel Vosper). 

That leads us to the last sense—touch. This one is usually only encountered by the highest paying customers onboard (handing out branded down comforters to an entire 777 can be pricey and ineffective. And there is no better way to experience this than through branded amenity kits and bedding in premium cabins. These days, airlines work with brands that are more targeted than ever to reach the desired clientele.

Air New Zealand is getting into the fray with touch-first experiential marketing with their latest collaboration.

Air New Zealand + Allbirds

Air New Zealand has collaborated with San Francisco-based Allbirds, a buzzy company of late that become the go-to shoe for Silicon Valley and SF techies.

Allbirds proclaims themselves as the “world’s most comfortable shoe” made from New Zealand merino wool and sustainable materials. (As an aside, I have them and they are indeed amazingly comfortable but boy, do they get smelly.)

A soaring collab between Allbirds and Air New Zealand. Image by Air New Zealand

A “soaring” collab between Allbirds and Air New Zealand. Image by Air New Zealand

Alrighty then, so Air New Zealand is working with a trendy wool-footwear brand to make slippers onboard? Socks? Oddly, neither. Their collab is for an eye mask (“Bird Mask”).

According to the airline, the mask is made from the same natural wool found in the shoe and castor-bean oil foam (whatever that does). It’s intended for business class passengers on select long-haul routes to make sleep more comfortable.

The attention to design detail includes clever moulded eye indentations which allow for natural eye movement, while the quirky birdlike beak provides a comfortable seal against the face to completely block out light.

Why This Is Interesting

Allbirds original Wool Runner shoes. Image by Allbirds

Allbirds original Wool Runner shoes. Image by Allbirds

On paper, the product collab might not be the most exciting, but I think this partnership between Air New Zealand and Allbirds is fascinating. And it’s not just because Allbirds has the New Zealand sheep and wool connection — that’s obvious.

It’s intriguing because of who the demographic of Allbirds customers are and who Air New Zealand is likely looking to attract. Allbirds has spread like wildfire to younger, urban professionals on the US west coast and cities like Chicago and New York.

New Zealand Business Class

Air New Zealand’s transpacific business class.

Air New Zealand has service to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and soon, Chicago. That’s not to say that millennials will start booking tickets in droves because of a branding initiative, but positive brand associations are a huge component of consumer behavior that, down the line, could eventually drive purchase decisions. It also helps portrays Air New Zealand as a brand that’s in-the-know that puts comfort and functionality ahead of pure luxury. These are things that a press release wouldn’t tell you.

Many airlines do focus on the luxuriousness or high-end nature of their partnerships and it makes sense in the upper classes. Saks Fifth Avenue is targeting affluent, older Americans who fly United Polaris Business Class.

Casper bedding on American. Image by American Airlines

Casper bedding on American. Image by American Airlines

Younger brands have been making it into the forward cabins, however. See: American Airlines partnership with Casper, a bedding startup that delivers foam mattresses and bed accessories on-demand to 20 and 30-somethings living in places like Manhattan and San Francisco. The company has built a recognized brand value among millennials, so it’s interesting to see them putting their products in American Airlines’ priciest seats. Just maybe, it’s (us) travel hackers they are after.

A few years ago, Qantas partnered with Samsung with virtual reality headsets for first class passengers. And just this past summer, Delta worked with millennial-favorite fitness company Equinox to create experiences to combat the effects of jet lag in Los Angeles. These types of brand experiences are the future.

Qantas partnered with Samsung back in 2015 with VR experiences for First Class. Image by Qantas

Qantas partnered with Samsung back in 2015 with onboard VR experiences in first class.

What The Future Holds

Customers that touch, feel, and use your product in a captive environment is a marketer’s dream come true. But will brands eventually get their return on investment? Only time will tell. However, expect to see more targeted co-branding with unique brands that trigger all five senses. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised to eventually see curated amenity kits for each customer’s needs based on their online shopping cart.

While Allbirds eye masks will be onboard select Air New Zealand international flights, I recommend going out and actually buying a pair of their super-comfy shoes. I guess their marketing is working exactly as intended. 😉


The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

1 comment

Related Articles

1 comment

Prama September 22, 2018 - 11:55 am

So informative! I’ve never paid much attention to amenities while traveling, but will definitely be on the lookout for targeted marketing next time I fly!


Leave a Comment