The M-Line in the NY Times

As a creative marketing agency in San Francisco, any time you can get your clients in the New York Times, you're doing something right.

When San Francisco International Airport began losing passengers to Oakland's airport, they looked to us for help. Through a combination of targeted marketing research, creative work and strategic media planning, the new "SFO. Good to go." campaign was born.

Through radio, print and outdoor transit advertising, year over year passenger levels increased by XX%.

And, with us continuing on as their marketing agency of record, we're proud to see San Francisco International Airport still standing as the leader in air travel in the Bay Area.

An Airport Hopes to Become a Destination (from The New York Times)

A new campaign to promote a big West Coast airport rewrites the title of a classic Frank Sinatra song by asking potential passengers to "Come fly with us."


The campaign is intended to burnish the image of San Francisco International Airport, which has faced increasing competition from its neighbor across the bay, Oakland International Airport. Oakland has grown in popularity as low-fare carriers like America West Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines schedule flights there.

The campaign, created by a San Francisco agency called the M-Line, refers to San Francisco International by its jaunty aviation abbreviation, SFO - the better to rhyme with the theme, which is "Good to go." The campaign includes radio commercials, advertisements in magazines and newspapers, posters, ads atop taxi cabs, billboards and banner ads online.

The budget for the campaign, which began last month and runs through the end of June, is estimated at $250,000. The spending is being amplified by partnerships with other municipal agencies like Bay Area Rapid Transit, the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Muni, as the San Francisco Municipal Railway is known. They are trading ad space with the airport, and vice versa, under a barter program.

Also, there are co-operative deals between the airport and two airlines that use San Francisco International, Air New Zealand and Icelandair. The airlines feature the "Good to go" message in their ads and the airport includes the airlines' logos in its ads.

The campaign is indicative of the rise in advertising by so-called quasi-governmental bodies that include port authorities, transit agencies and operators of airports. To attract the attention of busy, distracted consumers who face myriad choices in everything they buy and do, the campaigns for airports and transit systems are being infused with the sort of lures used in ads for cars, soft drinks and such.

"The airport has not done any kind of marketing or advertising in six years," says Kandace Bender, deputy airport director for communications and marketing at San Francisco International. During that time, airport traffic rose with the dot-com boom, but then fell with the dot-com bust; travel declined after 9/11, hitting San Francisco hard; and passengers looking for lower fares defected to the Oakland airport.

"When your business is increasing year after year after year, you don't need to market yourself," Ms. Bender says, but that is not the case "if you experience what we did, a precipitous drop in passengers of about 30 percent, especially after opening a new facility." She was referring to an international terminal that has been operating since 2000. "Our passenger traffic is up, about 12 percent year to date versus the national average of 6 percent," Ms. Bender says, "but we're not up to where it was before."

"And as the travel market began to build back up," she adds, "we found people were battling traffic and going across the bridge to Oakland."

To better understand the problems, the airport conducted focus groups with consumers in which "we found people operating under the old assumptions about the airport, that it had no parking, that it was expensive, that it was crowded," Ms. Bender says.

The research also discovered there is a need to communicate that the established airlines that serve San Francisco International "have begun to lower fares," she adds, and the airport has recently attracted low-cost carriers, too, like AirTran Airways, Independence Air and WestJet. Song, the low-cost division of Delta Airlines, is scheduled to start service to and from SFO on July 4.

So the campaign has "two primary messages," Ms. Bender says, which are "low fares and superior facilities."

"We have a spa, Wi-Fi, fabulous restaurants, state-of-the-art security systems and a museum," she adds, referring to the Aviation Library and Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum, in the international terminal. "We need to tell people."

The radio commercials use the element of surprise to convey the features of the airport by listing attractions like fine dining, wireless Internet access, shopping, and the Bay Area Rapid Transit service, then concluding, "And this is just the airport" or "You haven't even left the airport."

The posters, billboards and other print ads feature humorous plays on words associated with San Francisco. Among the headlines: "We leave the sour experience to the bread," "We leave the toll-taking to the bridge," "We leave the prison experience to Alcatraz," "We leave the high costs to the housing market," "We leave the shakedown to the Fault" and "We leave the standing to the Opera."

The text underneath the headlines touts qualities like "direct, affordable flights," "low fares you can count on" and "a drink served in a glass & and food cooked by a chef."

After The M-Line was named the airport's agency, says Jef Loyola, principal and creative director at The M-Line, "we did a lot of research, and it became very apparent that people don't buy airports, they buy plane tickets."

Still, people consider the airport they choose to be responsible for their experience from "when they leave the front door to when they get on the plane," he adds, so "we saw an opportunity" - particularly with "the time people are spending at airports these days with the security situation."

From that premise grew the campaign's "positioning that because we have a better facility we're just a better airport to spend your time in," Mr. Loyola says, "with great food, shopping, BART coming right into the terminal."

And the local references in the ads - like sourdough bread - are "about connecting the airport with the community," he adds, "using icons we here are proud of."

Referring to the airport as "SFO" rather than by its full, formal name is no accident, Mr. Loyola says: "We want to keep SFO top of mind so when people are on Travelocity, on Orbitz, they'll type in SFO to see what the fares are."

"And if the fares are comparable, they'll come to our airport," he adds, "instead of crossing that bridge."

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