Cookie consent

We use cookies to improve your experience on this website. By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies. Tell me more | Cookie preferences

Yawn for a free coffee and other ways advertisers are getting smart at airports

Douwe Egberts marketing campaign used 'yawn recognition' technology.

Story highlights

  • Big brands like Microsoft and Heineken, roll out innovative campaigns at airports.
  • Airports have a captive audience of customers with a disposable income.
  • It's important that airport marketing be experiential -- to match travelers' frame of mind.
  • Airports are in position to introduce local products to a wider, global audience.

As media outlets flourish, and attention spans shrink to hashtag-sized dimensions, advertisers have had to get increasingly creative with how they deliver messages to the masses.

Many brand ambassadors have found salvation in an unexpected source: the airport.

"The individuals that are passing through generally will have an above-average income, they're disproportionally more likely to be carrying a smart phone or tablet, and they're very much in a captive environment. They're basically the sort of people advertisers are striving to get a hold of," explains Steve Cox, the managing director of JCDecaux's UK airport division.

In July, Heineken utilized John F. Kennedy Airport in New York as part of their wider, ongoing "Dropped" campaign. A "Departure Roulette" board was set up at Terminal 8, and passengers were invited to drop their current travel plans to be shipped off to an unknown, more exotic destination instead.

The stunt, conceived by Wieden + Kennedy, coincided with TV ads and a Heineken-branded YouTube series.

Video: Is sharing the new way to travel?

"The airport really lent itself to this campaign," says Erik Norin, creative director at Wieden + Kennedy.

Heineken's 'Change of Plans' campaign at JFK airport

"People are more stressed out at the airport than at any other time, and they're about to totally surrender to an airline. They're looking for a distraction. For us, it's really the perfect storm."

Departure Roulette not only attracted the attention of the national and international media, but footage from the installation garnered over 2.5 million hits on YouTube.

Norin notes that airports are a gateway to travel, and for that reason seem to capture the public imagination like few other venues. It is for this reason, perhaps, that airport marketing campaigns are apt to go viral, adding an extra element of success.

"When people are traveling, whether for business or leisure, they will share their experiences -- especially if it's a memorable experience that touches them or wows them," explains Henry Mason, the global head of research and a managing partner at TrendWatching.com.

"For that reason, campaigns that center around the airport can reach a much wider audience, one that goes beyond the physical reach of the airport itself."

Read more: Place your bids for an upgrade

Another campaign that was particularly adept at wowing passengers this year was a Douwe Egberts-branded coffee vending machine placed in South Africa's OR Tambo International Airport.

Yawning for a coffee in OR Tambo gained plenty of social buzz.

The machine was yawn-activated, and rewarded passengers who could figure out its mechanism with a free cup of coffee. Like Departure Roulette, the campaign garnered thousands of YouTube hits and Twitter buzz.

Pepe Marais, the chief creative officer at Joe Public, the firm that came up with the install, notes that the one-day interaction was relatively inexpensive, but had a big payoff.

"Douwe Egberts don't have a big budget. We spent about $22,000 on development of the machine, and the seeding costs on Twitter. It went out to about six million followers, and just went mad," he recalls.

      Business Traveller

    • Don't surprise Germans and stick to the agenda in Japan. What international road warriors need to know.
    • Japan is set to make its mark in the skies with its first new commercial jet for over 50 years, the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, aka the MRJ.
    • Think hotels are deliberately blocking your personal Wi-Fi networks so you'll buy theirs?
    • How would you like to trim three hours off the current commercial jet flight time between Paris and Washington, D.C.?
    • It's been a big week for makeovers in the world of aviation.
    • Aviation isn't known as the most eco-friendly industry; running an airline produces an incredible amount of waste. But some are doing something about it.
    • EasyJet announced in May 2014 that it would start trialing the use of drones as inspectors on their planes.

      Airports aren't exactly stress-free zones, but drones, tracking and virtual reality could help make them better places.