Despite its well known presence in the GLBT marketplace, American Airlines has barely advertised in gay media over the years due to concentration on sponsorships. But now American has committed to its first major multimedia ad campaign.
Recalling when travel was considered glamorous, new print ads in The Advocate and online look like vintage, 50s-era illustrated posters, but with the twist of two carefree men stepping off the plane together. The tagline is "Fly forward" and was created by American's longtime ad agency, TM Advertising, of Dallas, and Washington, D.C.-based gay marketing firm Witeck-Combs Communications.
"There's a sameness to travel ads, the same faces and couples in stock photography, we thought we'd like to try something more imaginative," explains American Airlines spokesman Tim Kincaid. The illustrations intend to capture a "wanderlust and to show people traveling with someone they care about. It allowed us to invent our own space and time, and subtly remind people that we've been here a long time," meaning same-sex couples.
The ad also boasts American's perfect 100 score from the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, and references the aa.com/rainbow page, launched in Nov. 2006.
A version featuring two women is due early in 2008, an important addition the airline says. "The market is not all white males," Kincaid says, "Exclude women from 'LGBT' at your own peril!"
As part of its new commitment to advertising, American Airlines is the first airline to advertise on LOGO, the two-year-old gay cable channel from MTV Networks. "We watched them from launch," notes Kincaid. "What a terrific medium. But it was a matter of finding the right ads -- TV is new (for us in the gay marketplace) and a matter of budget."
In fact, spending for the airline in gay media is increasing modestly, with TV, online and print all at the same time, something few advertisers do yet in gay media.
American has not yet created dedicated ads for LOGO, as have some other advertisers such as Subaru of America, Levi Strauss & Co., and Key West, but American added a tag to one directing viewers to aa.com/rainbow. One spot it's running is considered gay vague by the airline, in which a man obsessively calls home and leaves messages for his dog via the answering machine's loudspeaker.
"We had a sense this might appeal to the gay and lesbian community, we're pretty fond of our animals," says openly gay Kincaid. "It would resonate with many in our tribe, and gay employees and customers have said they like that one."
Things have come a long way from when American Airlines' logo first appeared in a print ad for the gay cruise line RSVP in 1994 as a booking partner. The first paid advertising didn't come for another six years while it was a major sponsor of national and regional GLBT organizations.
Touting its effort to add leg room to planes as a distinguishing factor, American first tried banners on gay.com with unique drawings in 2000. In one, a guy asks another, "Enjoying my party?" The bitter reply, from the sour-faced guest: "It's a little cramped." The host says, "What??! Ya want more roooom?" Then it shows the two men on a plane with room to spare.
American's online campaign, as well as the added leg room, didn't last long. But last year, American began testing the advertising waters again by creating a print ad for the new gay section on its web site at aa.com/rainbow that appeared in the Human Rights Campaign Equality Magazine as part of its sponsorship, reaching nearly 400,000 HRC members. In the photorealistic ad, set on a plane, alongside the "no smoking" and "fasten seatbelt" indicator lights is a rainbow light.
"For the first ten years, advertising wasn't really necessary," says Kincaid. "We could invest our dollars in sponsorship and our logo would appear in their advertising -- it would be a 'two-fer.' But the cost of doing business in the marketplace is now higher -- other airlines are placing a lot of ads."
Indeed, heavy advertising has come from travel booking website Orbtiz, and some presence from rival Travelocity.
Southwest Airlines is the latest carrier to fly into the hot $65 billion gay travel market, and now runs dedicated gay ads featuring rainbow landing lines on a plane runway, and dedicated web page southwest.com/gaytravel. In recent years there have also been efforts from Jet Blue, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways, Continental, and Hawaiian Airlines, as well as international carriers IcelandAir, Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines, Air Canada, Qantas, KLM Royal Dutch, and Virgin Atlantic.
Outdoing everyone, including Qantas, Air New Zealand is taking gay marketing to a new level with its "Pink Flight" to Mardis Gras, featuring pink cocktails, drag queens and cabaret-like performances by the flight crew, gay-themed movies, along with a "Get-Onboard-Girlfriend!" bash at the departure gate. Its second annual effort will fly Feb. 26.