American Airlines Chooses Walton Isaacson as Its Creative AOR | Inclusion on All Areas
Amid Covid-19 curveballs in the winter and a turbulent summer in the skies, airlines have a lot of noise drowning out their day-to-day details and long-term plans.
As the travel industry dealt with an encroaching omicron variant during the 2021 holiday travel season, American Airlines named Walton Isaacson its multicultural agency of record. Attempting to “better connect with Black travelers,” the airline asked WI to develop campaigns, harness social influencers and create video content specifically for that purpose.
Yesterday, during an interview about the airline’s performance during a summer teeming with delays and cancellations, chief customer officer Alison Taylor revealed that Walton Isaacson was recently elevated to the airline’s creative agency of record. This decision ended a nearly seven-year relationship with previous creative agency of record Crispin Porter + Bogusky—and gave American its second creative AOR since completing a nearly 25-year relationship with McCann affiliate TM Advertising. According to research and data consultancy COMvergence, American Airlines spent $33.3 million on media in 2021—including $23.3 million on digital/online alone.
American first reached out to Walton Isaacson in 2021 to see what the agency was about and if it could help the airline reach and understand a more diverse base of travelers. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and ensuing social justice protests in 2020, the airline formed a Community Council of seven Black business and community leaders. In one of their first acts, council members referred American to Walton Isaacson.
Walton Isaacson CEO Aaron Walton founded his agency with Cory Isaacson and Earvin “Magic” Johnson in 2005 and built a portfolio of brand partners including Lexus, McDonald’s and Bristol-Meyers Squibb. During its initial work with American, Walton Isaacson began establishing connections with one of the brand’s most underrepresented traveler demographics.
“American is looking for a collaborative partnership grounded in insightful and innovative cultural perspectives,” Walton told Adweek. “They sought an agency partner that shares this inclusive worldview and applies it in delivering best-in-class creative and communications.”
Inclusion on all levels
Dana Lawrence, American’s managing director of global brand marketing, admits that much of the brand’s advertising prior to 2021 “underindexed” Black passengers. It didn’t do much to include them or the airline’s Black employees in the company’s messaging.
That erasure has consequences. According to a 2021 report by MMGY Global entitled The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities, Black travelers comprise 13.1% of the U.S. leisure travel market, despite representing 12.1% of the U.S. population in the 2020 Census. They spent $109.4 billion on travel alone in pre-pandemic 2019, but 70% said they are more likely to visit destinations and buy from brands in whose marketing they see themselves reflected.
“We look at our brand equity and brand health, and where we have the biggest opportunity is with Black travelers,” Lawrence said. “It wasn’t that we weren’t reaching them with our general market campaigns, but we needed to do it in a more authentic way that’s going to resonate with them more strongly.”
American is trying to back up its new marketing focus with stronger representation throughout its organization. It’s partnered with Black chefs and sommeliers in its lounges and inflight dining. It’s teamed with Essence and Blavity on both inflight entertainment and their connections to Black travelers. And it’s hired more Black directors and managers and partnered with historically Black colleges and universities to recruit more talent into the company.
Walton Isaacson’s tenure as American’s creative agency of record begins this week with a campaign entitled “Let There Be No Limits.” It focuses on the Black travel experience and how the industry has placed limits on passengers who view the world through a more expansive lens.
“Our vision for the partnership moving forward is to collaborate and tap into the power of diversity and culture so that American Airlines can truly live up to their promise of You Are Why We Fly,” Walton said. “Travelers of all backgrounds will see themselves reflected throughout their travel journey with American and distinguish the American Airlines brand from their competitors.”