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Airlines' Napkin Positioning

Following the notion that a business’ marketing strategy is only what the customer sees, I decided to find different airlines’ positioning based on the one thing every airline customer inevitably has to see: that napkin they give you along with your in-flight beverage service.

Here’s what I’ve found so far in terms of napkins and other communications a traveler might see:

United:

Napkin A:

  • Front: United. Thank you for flying United. We’re glad you’re here.
  • Back: Low Fare Guarantee. Find the lowest United fares at http://www.united.com/, plus no booking fees.

Napkin B:

  • Front: United. Thank you for flying United. We’re glad you’re here.
  • Back: More legroom than any other U.S. airline. United Economy Plus.

The front always seems to be a thank you message. Very nice of them; however, I don’t believe this is communicating their positioning to me at all. On the back, they try to sell you a somewhat unique benefit, either a better product (Economy plus, which you pay extra for, or their lowest fare guarantee).

American:

Napkin:

  • Front: AAdvantage 25th Anniversary. Earn AAdvantage Award Travel with the Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage World master Card or the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Card. See our special limited-time offer in American Way magazine! Or visit www.aa.com/city. (Citi logo / AAdvantage logo / Master Card logo)
  • Back: Blank.

Safety Video:

  • American’s safety video begins and ends with the same music they use on their “We know why you fly” TV ad campaign. If you have seen the commercial, you’ll remember it onboard.

American Airlines gave up the opportunity to communicate directly to their customers on their napkin and sold it off to Citibank. Since I’m a fan of their TV ads, I liked them using that signature music on their music videos.

Delta:

Napkin:

  • Front & Back: Delta. SkyTeam. New and expanded service to more cities around the world.

Boarding Pass:

  • The back of the boarding pass reads: Visit a location nowhere near you today. Now flying to more than 400 destinations worldwide.

Keep Delta MY Delta

  • Last December and January I walked through the gates of the Cincinnati Airports to find a number of signs against the US Air merger. Not only where these in the hallways, but on the buttons flight attendants wore and on the screens over the ticketing counter (even after the merger talks were off).

Song’s cups and seat bag:

  • I recently flew aboard a 767 on my way to Honolulu and was greeted with many artifacts suggesting this was an old Song airplane, Delta’s failed attempt at the low cost carrier category. Even when I applaud their effort to not waste these utensils, they only reminded me of exactly that: Delta’s failed attempt at the low-cost carrier category. The plastic cups could’ve been better used at an employee lounge.

I like the fact that Delta center around one positioning (being able to fly to many destinations) throughout. Even while I understand their strategic purpose, the Keep Delta My Delta posters (and website) worry me in terms of how they tie to an overall branding strategy. What will happen if they can’t stop the merger?

Continental:

On my way from NYC to Newark Airport on January 2007 I saw 2 Continental billboards. One read “Flying really is at your finger tips. http://www.continental.com/” and a second reading, “Blankets, Pillows, Meals… y’know, service.” I specially liked the second one, which truly communicates a unique selling proposition.

US Airways:

In November 2006, I boarded a US Airways flight to Miami. When I opened the service table I found that it had turned from the place where I put my laptop and peanuts to a full size ad for Splenda. I guess this eye-sore seemed like a good way to make a few bucks for the airline who’s ticker (LCC) claims it to be a Low-Cost-Carrier.

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