London’s Heathrow Airport is a hotbed for brands

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Updated: Apr 11, 2017 3:25 AM

There’s more than just vanilla advertising at play at London's primary international airport. A captive audience is every marketer's dream and here's how an airport can give it that little nudge

Come December, with Coming Home for Christmas, Heathrow joined the ranks of festive advertising with a hugely popular campaign, that too hailing from an airport.

LONDON HEATHROW, one of the top three busiest international airports of the world in terms of passenger traffic, celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2016. The airport got on board Havas Worldwide and Havas Helia for integrated advertising and CRM businesses in March 2016. Soon after in July, Heathrow’s first ever TV ad titled The First Flight was rolled out as part of an integrated campaign. Come December, with Coming Home for Christmas, Heathrow joined the ranks of festive advertising with a hugely popular campaign, that too hailing from an airport.

Heathrow, like many other airports, poses an opportunity for brands to target a specific set of consumers. Think about it: here’s an audience that is literally trapped at a brand’s disposal for hours before boarding a flight. The potential of ambient media and advertising at airports is huge.

It is, after all, the era of check-ins on social media, where you have not really travelled unless you have shared a post or a picture of how you are spending your time at the airport, whether it is either enjoying a gourmet meal, indulging in shopping at a duty-free store or enjoying the facilities at the luxurious airport lounges.

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It takes more than an experimental spirit to allow oneself to participate in an airport experience like this. Most times, these are experiences of which travellers have been made aware of by bright, glowing displays in the airport premises that vie for your attention.

A 2016 Nielsen study1, commissioned by Clear Channel Outdoor provides that 60% of leisure and business travellers feel that advertising seen within airport premises is an indicator of the advertised brands or products being of high quality. Over three quarters of these travellers also indicated to have noticed airport digital ads. Over one-third confirmed to have visited a website or an app to find out more about the product or service they noticed being advertised at the airport.

A sign of encouragement for brands wanting to run experiential campaigns at the airport, the report finds that 73% of business and consumer travellers seem to be keen on physically engaging with laptops, tablets and smartphones through experiential opportunities at the airport.

It is no wonder then, that Heathrow is currently both a ‘brand’ and an airport. The nuanced distinction is important to note as on one hand it remains the service provider to travellers — which is the airport’s day job, if you will. On the other hand, it is the platform where other brands wish to go beyond having a transactional relationship with travellers — an ambition the airport harbours too.

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Beyond the terminals

Heathrow currently has traditional sites and digital sites displaying dynamic content that can be programmed to be destination or audience specific.

There are also sponsorship opportunities at the airport (charging stations called ‘Power Poles’ and the Heathrow ‘Pods’ that take passengers from the business parking area to departures in terminals), in addition to experiential opportunities for the brands.

Steve Cox, marketing director, JCDecaux Airport (OOH media company with Heathrow as one of its clients), notes that OOH ads in an airport environment tends to attract more attention than those in another environment.

“We see very high levels of engagement and high dwell times (165 minutes on an average) at the airport as people are very alert, receptive and engaged with the advertising,” he shares.

“Brands advertising at the airport are also thought of as more valuable in comparison to when they appear on other outdoor media environments.” Heathrow’s retail revenue grew 7.7% to reach £612 million2 in its full year results in December 2016.

The airport’s annual revenue was £2.8 billion3, up 1.5%.

Simon Chatfield, head of e-business and CRM, Heathrow, says there is a lot of ambition in what the airport wants to achieve. “We have invested a lot in Terminal 2 and Terminal 5 which are the older terminals to provide a great shopping experience with real service. That experience helps push the passengers to have a satisfied experience at the airport.” Heathrow airport has everything from Starbucks to Gordon Ramsey, Zara, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Harrods, Burberry, Gucci and more.

Taxi-ing ahead

The ambition for Heathrow comes from imagining what airports need to be like in the future to provide a holistic experience. This experience will be a combination of the retail environment the airport provides to travellers and services that make flying easy. The way forward then is via digital.

“We need to harness digital opportunities now and at least have the capability,” agrees Chatfield. “It may drastically change how we use it but there is definitely a segment of frequent travellers who find it particularly useful.”

The reassurance that the airport can provide via email or push messaging or over free WiFi asking passengers to relax, are some things that Heathrow is excited about. “We are looking to treat your time at the airport as an event itself,” adds Chatfield.

From the big data perspective, Heathrow is looking to get as close as possible to having a single view on every traveller that passes through it to be able to serve them better with an experience most suited to them.

Chatfield shares, “We currently have about 32 million passengers on our database which we have arrived at from having really no information about our passengers. We want to touch every passenger, whether that means that you consume the information from say, an American Airlines app or whether it is directly from us.”

But it is about having a single version of the truth when it comes to passengers.

Sure, this is about the passengers that have booked from the sites Heathrow can gather data from, things get a bit hazy when it comes to bookings coming in via third party websites. This is something that Heathrow plans to get better at and build a database for in the next few years. The airport needs this data to combine it with its digital channels to inform passengers of many things like security recommendations, informative details about certain destinations or spaces where brands can step in, presenting passengers with offers.

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