Why Should I?

As airlines continue to grow into the social media age, there seems to be a common, clumsy mistake that will likely become a major point of contention in this space:  a call to action without a communicated incentive.

Halfway through my flight from Washington (IAD) to Seattle last week, I received a special surprise along with my ginger ale…a napkin that doubled as the most useless piece of marketing communication I’d ever received:

Umm…well, I don’t really need any more friends, thanks.

It must have been my lucky day, because after I spilled my drink and grabbed my napkin to clean up, I found the second most useless piece of marketing communication I’d ever received on the back!

Why? Are you going to help me play the stock market?

Innocent though it may be, this United napkin is a classic example of communication without a point. Without making any effort to communicate a single benefit the passenger will receive in exchange for following the call to action, it goes beyond my reason why any passenger would rush to turn on their smart phones upon landing and become a UA Facebook fan, or start tweeting UA (which, I might add, they may not even be able to find since this doesn’t specify United’s Twitter handle). To that last point, could you imagine the potential PR disaster that could happen if a passenger tried to “stay in touch” on Twitter, and ended up communicating with a United detractor (or someone who was simply unresponsive) instead? While UA has @UnitedAirlines, think of how many alternatives are out there (@United, @UnitedAir, @UAOfficial, etc.) that United has NO control over. At least this napkin may have added a few followers to Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand’s Twitter stream (which, for the record, is the first handle that shows up when you search for “United” in Twitter).

Keep in mind, United flew 145 million passengers last year. That’s nearly 400,000 impressions these simple napkins can make every single day. If you had a simple message to convey to that many people, wouldn’t you go to painstaking lengths to make sure you got the message spot-on right?

There are two simple lessons this awful napkin brings to light:

If you are going to make a call to action, 1)  at least make an attempt to communicate a user benefit for answering that call, and 2) make sure to provide clear instructions of exactly how to follow the call to action.

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One Comment to "Why Should I?"

  1. Matt says:

    Sorry, but this analysis is off the mark.

    First of all, not all advertising needs to necessarily be a call to action. Branding is an important marketing tool, which is why television networks like CNN constantly run advertisements for CNN…when we’re already watching CNN. They simply want us to keep watching CNN.

    Second, this actually IS a call to action, namely an effort to get us to “like” their Facebook page, a highly effective marketing channel where people will voluntarily sign up to be exposed to advertising that costs United little-to-nothing to operate.

    Also keep in mind that airline cocktail napkins have rarely been used to advertise anything other than the airline itself. United frequently uses them to promote new destinations or features such as Economy Plus. Yes, theoretically they could sell that advertising space to other companies, but does the airline really want to have ads for Chevrolet or some other miscellaneous brand floating around their cabin? If they did, then why not also sell the space on the back of the tray tables or the overhead compartments like Ryanair does? They reason they don’t is because it looks cheap, and United doesn’t want the same brand image that Ryanair does.

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Customer Engagement Strategy for the Airline Industry