30K Feet OOH! Targeted Airline Advertising Street Fight

30K Feet OOH! Targeted Airline Advertising

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United Airlines just announced a new advertising program, targeting personalized ads to flyers based on demographics.

Advertising to a captive audience on planes is nothing new. The original airline magazines and catalogs were popular back in the day. Pre-wi-fi, all we had to do was read paper media and watch and listen to whatever was available in flight. (Or, perhaps, we chatted with a friendly and willing seatmate.)

An American Airlines flyer, this editor is now accustomed to hearing a premium credit card pitch as part of the announcements and see whatever ads happen to pop-up on my screen when I sign-in for inflight wi-fi.

After all, OOH (out-of-home) advertising is booming. From retail store signage to movie theaters and restrooms, any square inch that can hold an ad campaign or product promo seems to be fair game.

With the proliferation of AI, we can expect those messages to become even more specific and based on age, income, prior purchase history, and even how we move outside and inside a store or restaurant. Waze often encourages us to stop at an exit and eat a burger. When we wander the aisles at Walmart or Target (or try on an outfit), we may be alerted to more things we should buy.

The OOH advertising industry is expected to grow to nearly $40B in 2024. More than half of this spend remains in “traditional” media (although that definition is likely to evolve over time).

What else do we think we’ll see in the OOH sector over the next few years:

  • More specific personalization (see above) and attribution tracking.
  • A growth in “plan-it-yourself” and buy-it-yourself” alternatives, which is already fairly commonplace for media planners. In other words, agencies and other media buyers can zoom in on specific regions (or sub-regions) and craft real-time media plans based on available advertising “real estate” in a market. Again, AI will impact the process, and the media planner will ultimately be a human prompter, assisted by the superpowers of automation and predictive analysis.
  • The trend from small screens to big screens is alive and well. TikTok is leveraging user-generated content as ads.
  • Interactive features and augmented reality (AR) will prompt consumers to stop, stare, and touch.
  • Many companies and consumers today are concerned about sustainability. Advertisers will seek planet-friendly digital solutions. Sustainable materials, LED lights, and solar power will be part of the manufacturing and production mix.

Although we may be able to opt out of certain forms of advertising, we may not be able to totally avoid that sales pitch on a cross-country flight.

United’s new strategy may simply result in a boost in eye mask and noise-cancelling earbud sales!



Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in Inc.com, the New York Times and Forbes.