Over the years, leading national low-cost carrier AirTran Airways has maintained its student standby flight program even as other airlines’ student standby programs fell by the wayside. But the program, X-Fares, was a fifth-year senior by mid-2006, with recognition and awareness lower than even the worst students’ GPAs, and the airline was looking to replace it with a freshman version. CKPR believed that X-Fares was outdated and did not appeal to the new students of Generation Y, so – armed with ideas worthy of a college fraternity, including a sheep mascot named Eunice and a Spring Break beach trip – CKPR made plans to put the old X-Fares out to pasture.
AirTran Airways asked CKPR to propose a method for re-branding its outdated X-Fares program to attract a new following from college students, supported by a full marketing and PR campaign for the re-launch. CKPR came back with an overall campaign that included ideas allowing students to interact with the brand on their own turf – the Internet.
CKPR set the following goals for its two-month campaign from March to May:
- Generate at least 5 million media impressions for AirTran Airways’ revamped student stand-by program,
- Increase awareness and enrollment in the program by at least 15 percent through PR and marketing efforts on-ground and online.
RESEARCH / PLANNING: Creating EweTube
C-K and CKPR crafted the campaign for AirTran U with an audience of 18- to 22-year-old college students in mind – Gen Y’s future frequent flyers. AirTran Airways’ research showed that people form their loyalties to certain airlines when they are in their twenties, a driving factor in the airline’s decision to pursue a younger generation of airline passengers.
The original X-Fares name was inspired by Generation X, a moniker that no longer applied to the current generation of college-age kids – Gen Y. CKPR’s first move was to come up with a name for the program that would have a longer shelf life, appeal to a younger audience and provide opportunities for quirky, underground marketing and PR efforts.
- Creating AirTran U: CKPR faced the challenge of reaching out with a corporate program to people who display the fickle behavior of youth: they dislike faceless corporate conglomerates but are comfortable interacting with brands on a more personal level. To overcome this obstacle, CKPR packaged the standby program in the form of a fake university: AirTran U, home of the really cheap standby flight.
- Go U AirTran Ewe: Like any university, AirTran U needed a mascot to put a friendly individual face on a larger entity. CKPR used a play on words to create the AirTran Ewe, a female sheep who served as the face of most of our marketing efforts.
- EweTube is Born: Additional research, spurred by another play on the “U” in AirTran U, showed that more than 90 percent of college students watched online videos on YouTube, and that the site ranked third among college students in 2006 for the most frequently visited Web sites.
As a result of our research, YouTube, or rather, "EweTube” emerged as the perfect venue to reach AirTran Airways’ target audience and get students to interact with the AirTran Airways brand in a hip, fun way – an online video contest.
STRATEGY: Cheer Sheepishly for Airline Tickets
Taking advantage of college students’ tendency to live in the online world, CKPR devised the AirTran EweTube contest, encouraging college students with some spirit, a video camera and a female sheep mask to participate. The contest was hosted on YouTube and invited entrants to submit a video of themselves or their friends doing a cheer for AirTran U while wearing a mask of the official AirTran U mascot, Eunice the Ewe.
- The Things Kids Will Do to Win Free Stuff: Participants were instructed to print their Eunice masks at youtube.com/airtranu, the virtual home of the EweTube contest. Directions on the masks instructed students to: “Do a little (or big) dance, sing a fight song, chant or whatever else comes to you.” As incentive, AirTran Airways offered the contest winner a free round-trip flight voucher for anywhere AirTran Airways flies, plus three flights for friends or family members.
- Herding Web Traffic: Fellow classmates and friends of the masked moviemakers were allowed to vote for their favorite videos until May 12 at youtube.com/airtranu, driving traffic to the site not only from students posting videos, but from their friends. The voting encouraged students who wanted to win free airline tickets to spread the news about EweTube, promoting the site, contest and AirTran Airways brand via word of mouth.
EXECUTION: Go Underground to Get Kids Flying
AirTran Airways launched AirTran U in January 2007, and CKPR followed up with its main component of the re-launch, the “EweTube” online contest, in March. CKPR used both traditional and underground methods to encourage students to visit the site to interact with the AirTran Airways brand.
- Traditional Marketing / PR: To promote the contest, CKPR dispatched street teams of cheerleaders and a life-size Eunice the Ewe mascot to college campuses from Harvard to Northwestern to the
during March and April. The campus teams handed out thousands of ewe masks, temporary tattoos and branded T-shirts and directed students to youtube.com/airtranu to create their own video. Universityof Georgia
In addition to the online contest, AirTran U teams flew to popular Spring Break locations like Daytona Beach, where Eunice the Ewe (a CKPR team member in full female sheep costume – see photo on page one) interacted with AirTran U’s target audience by participating in “hot body” contests, playing beach football and hosting AirTran Airways-sponsored beach Twister tournaments for flights.
C-K helped CKPR drive additional traffic to the EweTube contest by creating online ads and sending emails to AirTran Airways promotion subscribers and the airline’s friends from the online community.
In addition, through traditional media and blog outreach, Eunice the Ewe made a cameo appearance on the TODAY Show, landed on the front page of threadless.com and appeared in a full-color photo in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
- Underground Marketing / PR: C-K team members created and posted MySpace and Friendster profiles for the AirTran U mascot, but their biggest success was on Facebook, a social networking site for college students. Eunice the Ewe’s profile on Facebook attracted more than 600 online friends among our 18- to 22-year-old target audience in a forum where the average number of friends amounts to around 250.
While CKPR seeded blogs to keep the conversation flowing about AirTran U, C-K created podcasts and a Wikipedia entry to continue spreading the word online. On-ground, we left stacks of Eunice the Ewe masks inside newspaper street kiosks, hung them on hooks in bathroom stalls, and wedged the masks between library books at on-campus libraries.
The program yielded spectacular results. Between February and April 2007, when promotional efforts were the heaviest, AirTran Airways’ number of standby flights increased by an average of 30 percent when compared to the same months in 2006. Our EweTube contest attracted 24,000 unique visitors, and our media impressions totaled more than 19 million, including an appearance by Eunice on the TODAY Show behind Matt and Meredith.
Through its successful, traditional and untraditional methods, C-K and CKPR emerged with an important key learning: Going underground is a great way of getting kids 30,000 feet in the air.
· Generate at least 5 million media impressions for AirTran Airways’ revamped student stand-by program,
· Increase awareness and enrollment in the program by at least 15 percent through PR and marketing efforts on-ground and online.
• During the two months of the campaign, CKPR generated more than 19 million media impressions, including a brief appearance on the TODAY Show and a full-page article in PRWeek, exceeding our goal by nearly 150 percent
• The number of participants enrolled in AirTran U has increased 30 percent from last year since the program’s re-launch
• AirTran U’s YouTube contest site attracted more than 24,000 unique visitors
• Eunice the Ewe’s Facebook profile has gathered more than 600 online friends, a huge number for that site, where the average number of friends is 250