American Airlines & JetBlue Remove COVID-19 References from Ads, United Doesn’t Follow Competitors

Photo: AA

MILAN – The pandemic disappears from American Airlines and JetBlue ads as if to suggest a return to normality. Meanwhile, the total spending on campaigns has dropped significantly and airlines are pushing for a change of the message.

According to advertising company Billups, the U.S. out-of-home market declined by $1.3B in total ad revenues, dropping from $8B in 2019 to $6.7B in 2020. Thus, the global lockdown has accelerated the transition to digital, social platforms, and streaming services that are expected to increase 8-12 percent in 2021 (Jan, 2021).

However, ads in the travel industry, one of the most affected by the pandemic, remain in a regressive phase. Advertising sales intelligence company MediaRadar stated that “airlines and cruise lines spent 54 percent less in advertising in Q2 2021 compared to the same period in 2019” (Muñoz, 2021).

As reported by, in 2019 the budget carrier Southwest Airlines spent $21 million for commercials aired 3016 times on national TV. In comparison, Turkish Airlines spent $10.4 million for 565 airings and Emirates $5.2 million (Statista, 2019; Schaal, 2020).

During Q2 2021, 188 airlines placed advertising, MediaRadar reveals. Qatar, United, Southwest, Delta, and American are at the top of the list spending only between $2 million to $10 million in ads, while airlines with an expenditure below a million dollars include Icelandair, Allegiant, Air France, KLM, Emirates, and Alaska (Muñoz, 2021).

Among U.S. operators, Facebook’s Ad Library shows that American and JetBlue are currently sponsoring persuasive campaigns with no reference to the pandemic (Facebook, 2021).

“By not mentioning the pandemic you no longer are reminding people of something bad. For many, the last year was full of bad memories that they want to put behind them. Additionally, some portion of the population didn’t believe the pandemic was a problem,” said MediaRadar’s co-founder and CEO Todd Krizelman.

United continues to deliver an informative campaign by including content on Covid-19 and showing which countries are open for travel.

A quick mention to Delta, which seems more detached, sponsoring its SkyMiles frequent-flyer program. But the emphasis on the ending -re in the words Refresh, Resume, Revive, Restart, Remember is a nice touch.

There is no cauldron, spell books, or crystal ball that help determine which choice is most effective. It is just important to note how U.S.’s biggest airlines haven’t followed the same way but they’re striving to differentiate each other.

It is not child’s play finding the right advertising campaigns as they are being disseminated in a transitional stage, where the pandemic is still a bad omen, and everyone is trying to get out of the dark as they see fit.

Therefore, what’s the right strategy is a million-dollar question. As Nielsen Ad Intel’s Heather Jordan recommends, a brand should always pursue three key steps, even in difficult times: be flexible and iterative (1), maintain a consistent share of voice (2), and reach consumers where they are (3) (Jordan, 2020).

“You are Why we Fly” is the slogan introduced by American Airlines amid the pandemic after four years of silence for a real advertising campaign. The airline has chosen to encapsulate the reasons why its aircraft continued to fly during 2020 in an effective slogan, emphasizing the virtues of employees (Deighton, 2020).

American Airlines, previously oriented towards onboard experience (Sumers, 2016), has opted for a change of direction. According to the World Economic Forum, over 70 percent of advertising agencies changed pace during the pandemic. Of these, over half have decided to focus more on the brand’s mission, AA included (Li & Hall, 2020).

To recap, on the one hand, there is the illusion to ‘get back to normal’, on the other the informative approach. If persuasion tends to be the method that works, in a time of closed borders and constant change of rules, potential customers may prefer transparent information.

But there is also a strong will to forget the forced home reclusion, which scratches all attempts to inform people. According to Jacob Brogan at The Washington Post, pandemic-themed commercials “erase their advertisers that they ultimately seem to be marketing the one thing we least want to buy: the coronavirus itself.”


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