Picture the scene. It is the year 2017. You are on board a flight from Paris to London.
You have finished your work, put your laptop away, and just checked your smartphone – using the free inflight Wi-Fi – and your connecting flight is on time. The seatbelt light flickers. Then you hear the ‘bing’.
“Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking. Once again, I would like to thank you for flying with British Airways. Please now fasten your seatbelts, as we will shortly be landing at Pepsi Max London Heathrow.”
It may not sound quite right – a major brand tagged onto an airport’s name – but it could soon be a reality. Interest in sponsorship opportunities – and their associated revenues – is growing, and may well be the next big thing in airport advertising.
Sports grounds and big arenas have been doing it for years. In the UK alone, mobile phone network O2 sponsors a range of music venues, including the O2 Arena in London, while a whole host of football clubs have sold the naming rights to their stadia – among them are the Etihad Stadium in Manchester and the Emirates Stadium, again in London.
Indeed, airports are already starting to allow sponsorship of certain assets and areas. At Boston Logan International Airport, for example, Lexus sponsor the preferred parking programme, now known as Lexus Parking PASSport Gold.
A brand is yet to sponsor an entire airport, but John Moyer, vice president at Clear Channel Airports, believes it is a possibility in the future.
“It lifts the total advertising revenue potential and it is attractive to airports because of the dollar amounts they see being produced at other venues, such as arenas and music venues,” he explains.
“There is not a full understanding yet by airport operators of what they need to provide to go after this market. If Lexus is going to sponsor a car parking programme or facility then they are going to need a certain number of parking spaces, for example, or a Lexus Lounge for Lexus drivers.
“There are complicated entitlements surrounding sponsorship. Airports are just now getting their heads around that, and whether they have the will to allow something that’s attractive for a large sponsor.”
The sponsorship package is different for music and sports venues, Moyer notes, because customers are in a “positive state of mind” when they visit these arenas and stadia. The events can also achieve valuable media coverage, adding to the exposure for a brand.
“There are long-term advertisers at many of our airports. If you consider that as sponsorship, then we have been doing it since the early-1990s,” says Moyer.
“But in reality, it is a much more comprehensive product with higher numbers.
“I think you will see some sponsorship that could be considered akin to the sponsorship that you see in other venues. It is going to take a while yet, but airports definitely have it on their radar, as do we as a comprehensive media operator.”
But while sponsorship may be a little way off yet, there are other trends in airport advertising that are very much in the here and now, and are even helping to improve the passenger experience.
The current buzzword, it seems, is interactive. Advertisers are now taking advantage of the modern technology people are carrying around in their pockets to engage with passengers.
QR codes allow users to scan a code and be directed to a website, while NFC (near field communication) allows information to be transferred between an advert and a smartphone. This type of interactivity allows brands to give away content, such a game or a money-off coupon, to passengers.
Another way advertisers are using technology to get their message across is by providing – or indeed sponsoring – free Wi-Fi.
“It is unacceptable to go into an airport and have to pay for Wi-Fi,” says Lee Lawrence, head of business development at PSI Consulting. “It is a facility where people are becoming used to not paying for it.
“So, for example, at London City, we now have one of our clients who sponsors the Wi-Fi. It brings a revenue stream to the airport, it gives passengers free Wi-Fi, and it promotes a brand.”
The latest innovations are taking interaction with signage to the next level. Consumers are able to see their own messages displayed on digital screens, or even change the look of an advert.
There is then the chance that, having changed the appearance of a digital advert, that a passenger will take a picture of their “work” and forward it onto friends via social media, sending the advert viral.
“There is some early adoption around how you can actually interact with the digital signage – such as displaying messages on screens,” adds Moyer.
“There have been tests where the sign asks you something and you can respond to it through text or the web [via your smartphone] and you are able to post information on the screen or affect the advertising yourself. Another option is to play a game interactively with the brand on your phone. It is very engaging.
“Because someone can change the colour of a car or because they have posted a message such as ‘Hi, this is John passing through Chicago O’Hare – I had a great time!’ it can then go viral because people will take a photo and send it to their friends. It is complex but this is the world we live in today.”
At Amsterdam Schiphol, advertising revenue grew by 16.4% to nearly €16 million in 2011. Here, advertising is viewed very much as something that can add to the experience for passengers. It has a ‘less is more’ policy, and is also investigating sponsorship opportunities.
“Advertising in an airport environment not only adds great additional revenues, it also supports retail and F&B sales and adds experience and a level of excitement to an area,” says Gary Mey, sales director for Schiphol Media.
“In some instances, sponsored experiences actually add direct value to the passenger because of the service they offer. The success of 2011 for Schiphol Media is partly attributable to our ‘less is more’ strategy, involving the replacement of smaller advertising surfaces with a number of larger digital surfaces or objects.
“Our ambition is to have more and more digital and bigger statements. Also we see a lot of potential in functional sponsoring, such as branded concepts, services and areas.”
London Heathrow made more than €33 million in advertising and sponsorship revenues in 2011. The figure on the balance sheet is “critical” to Heathrow’s operating model, according to the airport’s head of advertising and sponsorship, Nick Webb.
However, Webb is also quick to point out that the airport strives to ensure advertising does not detract from the passenger experience.
“Heathrow looks to generate commercial income from advertising and sponsorship at the airport at the same time as, where possible, improving the passenger experience by enhancing the airport environment,” he says.
“Commercial revenue from sources such as advertising and sponsorship is critical to Heathrow. Through our regulatory model, additional revenue generated offsets the cost of landing fees for our passengers.”
While we won’t be touching down at Pepsi Max London Heathrow or Emirates Dubai International just yet, we will be seeing a lot more interactivity.
Indeed, JCDecaux has just carried out new research at Frankfurt, Paris, New York JFK, Dubai, and Singapore Changi airports, to find out what people want from advertising.
It seems interactive is set to be huge, as airports continue to play the role of international guinea pig for new advertising concepts.
“Interaction, technology and engagement was what people pointed to in our research,” reveals Steve Cox, marketing director at JCDecaux Airports.
“I think you’ll see it everywhere soon enough. At an airport, people have dwell time and they are actively seeking distraction. It’s a perfect fit.
“We are regularly trying to find new ways of providing commercial messages. The airport is like a shop window. It is an elite and influential group of consumers, passing through there. It’s a real opportunity to work with advertisers to show everything that’s new and engaging.”
Written by @SteveThompsonAM