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MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS Last modified on July 21, 2014

It all ads up

Charles Hugill takes a closer look at the current trends and innovation in the global airport advertising market.

The world of airport advertising ebbs and flows as much as the sectors it straddles, namely ‘Aviation’ and ‘Out of Home’.


Change has been a constant feature of this part of the international media landscape for years, and against this background it is possible to detect the following trends and patterns emerging.

Regional versus global

On the supply side of the equation, airport media owners – or vendors – invest considerable time and effort improving their offerings (more of this later).


On the buying side, there is a shift towards planning and booking more regionally, as opposed to globally.


In Asian international airports, for instance, it is estimated that more than 70% of advertising campaigns are now being bought within the region, up from less than 60% five years ago, and nearer 50% in the five years before that.


Gone are the days of brands queuing up to build long-term airport media holdings spanning the top 50 or so international airports simultaneously. Over the last 10-15 years, it has become the norm for advertisers to buy their airport campaigns tactically, market by market, or region by region, and typically for shorter (cheaper) periods.


This pattern is now well established, and will increase as more airport-based media formats are converted to digital and shorter booking cycles become more feasible. Exceptions remain, HSBC’s well-known global jetbridge holding for instance, but they are relatively few and far between.

New buildings = new opportunities

For significant improvements in airport media inventory, any major new building project involving passenger facilities provides a key impetus. New terminals and piers bring with them new opportunities.


In Europe, Frankfurt’s Pier A in Terminal 1; Terminal 2’s S4 Satellite at Paris CDG; Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and its forthcoming Terminal 2 – opening in June 2014 – have all involved the introduction of significant amounts of media inventory in to the market.


The futuristic pods linking Heathrow’s T5 Business Car Park with the terminal are one such example that effectively combines a media first with a new passenger service asset.


Another good example of a gateway to benefit from new advertising opportunities offered by the opening of a new facility is Los Angeles International Airport, courtesy of its new Tom Bradley International Terminal.


Elsewhere, changes of ownership at London’s Gatwick and Stansted airports have led to the re-building of airside departure and retail areas that have created new opportunities for improved advertising displays.


In China, where digital formats account for 35% of Out of Home spend, recent airport building projects all include digital kit. And in Brazil, the new Terminal 3 at São Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport benefits from the efforts of a newly-appointed concessionaire with expertise in digital Out of Home in other non-airport environments.


These infrastructure projects all produce a quantum leap in the range and quality of the media formats available. In the Middle East, for example, some of the best digital airport media inventory has recently been installed in Dubai, while 60% of the media opportunities at Qatar’s Hamad International Airport – due to open Spring 2014 – will be digital. These will include some of the largest airport interior displays yet built, each measuring more than 280sqm.

Airlines as media owners

At Hamad International Airport, the growing trend of airline involvement in media ownership is evident. Qatar Airways, the national carrier and operator of the airport, will also sell the media opportunities therein via its own in-house team.


In the US, United Airlines’ tie-up with Out of Home vendor Titan Air can now offer advertising displays in 40 airports, many of which have existing primary concessions with other rivals.


Elsewhere in the US, RMG Networks sells media both inflight and on the ground with many of its partner airlines, and in Australia, oOh! Media are now delivering advertising solutions in Qantas Business Lounges across the country.


Increasingly, airlines are seeing the benefit of media ownership both on the ground and in the air as they enhance their relationship with the customer, and this looks set to be the focus of their attention in future, with the opportunities for customer interaction provided by booking online.

The joint approach

Most airport media concessions are traditional third-party agreements between a landlord/airport and the sales house responsible for selling the advertising space. However, in recent years some groundbreaking joint ventures have been formed.


One such example can be found in India where Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport and Times Innovative Media have joined forces to manage the airport media there. A similar tactic was adopted in France back in 2011 by Media Aéroports de Paris and JCDecaux.


This type of co-operative approach is still rare, but is more likely to succeed by encouraging a more collaborative way of working. Time will tell if it is to become more widespread.


However, the in-house media sales operation, long-favoured at Amsterdam Schiphol and London City Airport, still generates some of the best and most innovative airport media campaigns.


One thinks of the Bombay Sapphire East brand/retailer/media collaboration and its rickshaw rides for passengers between duty free outlets and their gates.


Who could forget the reptile’s tail poking out of the suitcase on the carousel at Schiphol? Unexpectedly, the client for this particular stunt was none other than the Dutch Customs Authority.


At London City, the Bloomberg Hub, a newly launched groundbreaking immersive brand experience for the airport environment, deserves mention for its vision and its direct relevance to a business audience.


In such cases, intelligent execution is critical for the concept to succeed when implemented, a task sometimes made easier when the media sales are handled by an in-house media team.

The future

Based on the last 25 years, it seems almost inevitable that the passenger audience will continue to grow. New airports and terminals will be built. Media channels will both proliferate and consolidate (albeit with regional variations).


With this growth will come more demands for improved services and connectivity across all parts of the consumer travel experience.


Digital media placements, with their tactical flexibilities, undoubtedly have a part to play in that area as they allow advertisers and brands to target their campaigns more intuitively, thereby engaging more effectively with their audiences.


However, few marketeers have fully grasped the opportunity to communicate with the passenger with a consistent message at every stage of the travel trail, from the moment the flight is booked right through to arrival at journey’s end.


One or two possibilities currently exist but there is no critical mass as yet. The onus for this nirvana to become a reality, rests squarely on the shoulders of the disparate group of vendors involved, and on the rather less numerous major buying points for this type of media activity.


Implementing an integrated aviation media campaign from the beginning to the end of the travel process is not straightforward, but, nor is it impossible. With the right approach, and the improvements networked digital displays now offer, this could and should become a regular occurrence.


Another potential development is for a commercial sponsor to take the plunge and sign a long-term naming rights deal for an entire terminal, or even an entire airport.


One or two have come close in recent years, but not quite close enough to get over the line. For a single brand to undertake such an enterprise would signal the ultimate airport campaign.


As someone once said, watch this space!

About the author
Charles Hugill has worked in the Out of Home and airport advertising sectors for over 30 years as both a media owner, and as a planner/buyer of international campaigns.

He runs his own independent consultancy, CHMedia Associates.

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