Marketing to a Captive Audience

Capture the attention of airport travelers with strategically placed ads.

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By Carol Tice

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Want to catch the eye of high-income customers? Your best chance may come while they wait to board airplanes.

For instance, travelers strolling through Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay, Wis., see a large, backlit poster of the team at Cornerstone Business Services, a business broker based in town. There are two of the luminous, 3 feet by 4 feet posters, one in each airport terminal, so visitors see the ad no matter which airline they fly.

Cornerstone president Scott Bushkie says the company got a good deal, paying $300 a month for the two posters, in part because they signed a multi-year agreement. Since putting up the signs four years ago, Cornerstone's brokered the sale of at least one business whose owner discovered them through the posters and he has heard from many other interested prospects looking to either sell or buy a company.

"It's paid for itself," he says. "A couple of other business owners in my networking group are doing [airport advertisements] as well now."

Airport Advertising's a Worthy Investment
As Bushkie discovered, airports offer a unique opportunity to advertisers looking to reach a wealthy demographic. A study of major airport visitors conducted in 2007 by Arbitron, a media and marketing research firm, showed three-quarters of commercial plane flights are taken by frequent fliers, and those passengers are much more likely to have annual incomes of more than $100,000.

Even better, airport denizens are often idling in the terminal without much to do once they've passed security, says ad agency managing partner Jeff Eberlein of Strata-G Communications in Cincinnati, Ohio.

"It costs less, particularly in smaller-market airports, and it's a captive audience," he says. "It's better than a billboard, where there's the distraction of driving down the interstate, or a magazine, where you're competing with editorial."

Strata-G has placed numerous clients in airport media, from financial firms to local franchisor Gold Star Chili. Gold Star's experience in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport shows that airports can offer marketing benefits other venues can't.

Cincinnati is famous for its chili. Gold Star's large wall-wrap ad in the airport doesn't just acquaint newcomers with the brand--it serves as a handy spot for passengers to snap a picture that tells friends they've arrived. These photos are often posted on social media sites, Eberlein notes, adding free viral-marketing for the brand. The airport campaign has been so successful Gold Star has extended its contract twice paying about $12,000 for a year.

Consider an Agency
Navigating airport marketing can be complicated. Each airport contains dozens of advertising opportunities both in the airport and on airplanes, and often, different vendors control each opportunity. Helping to bridge the gap are major players such as Clear Channel, as well as a couple of small ad agencies that have found great success specializing in airport media.

InterAir Media in West Palm Beach, Fla., helps companies present multiple, coordinated ad images travelers see as they walk through major airports and sit on planes. Company CEO Drew Stoddard says ad opportunities include sponsoring in-flight Wi-Fi, video ads that precede in-flight movies, napkins served with meals and free sample handouts.

While InterAir Media adorns the hallways and jets of O'Hare, LAX and JFK with its clients' advertising, New Jersey-based Roaring Thunder Media has more than 100 exclusive contracts to place advertising in the private airports favored by CEOs and wealthy jet-setters.

One of Roaring Thunder co-owner Amanda Dyer's methods to find clients is to approach local businesses when a trade show or other major event is happening near a particular airport. She recalls a particularly effective campaign she created at a private New Jersey airport during the Superbowl. A local Bentley dealer parked a sedan outside the airport, accompanied by a large banner promoting a contest to win a free weekend Bentley rental. Visitors to the airport had to leave a business card to be included in the drawing.

"This was a great way to get the contact information of private jet travelers," Dyer says. "And the winner bought the car at the end of the weekend, too."

For upscale retailers, the combination of Roaring Thunder's private airport connections and their policy of only allowing one or two advertisers at a time in each venue makes for a compelling opportunity.

Thierry Chaunu, president and chief operating officer of ultra-luxury jeweler Leviev--which has offices in London, Moscow, Dubai and New York--says his company has placed posters in private airport lobbies through Roaring Thunder and hopes to diversity its campaign, possibly hand-delivering company catalogs to passengers. The company specializes in offering very large and unusual diamonds to wealthy collectors, and has found private airports a good place to market their gems.

"These airport lobbies typically have a fireplace, they're very posh," Chaunu says. "And there are not a lot of ads. We started in a few private terminals and immediately started hearing positive feedback from customers."

Carol Tice

Owner of Make a Living Writing

Longtime Seattle business writer Carol Tice has written for Entrepreneur, Forbes, Delta Sky and many more. She writes the award-winning Make a Living Writing blog. Her new ebook for Oberlo is Crowdfunding for Entrepreneurs.

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