How JetBlue is using digital, and the future for search marketing - more insights from Ad:Tech day two


Geoffrey Precourt
WARC Online


Keynote speaker Brad Jakeman, the former executive vp/marketing for Federated Department Stores and Citibank marketing chief, cited JetBlue as a best multi-platform practitioner and used the carrier to illustrate his primary thesis: “Technology has enabled more ways to talk to more consumers more often … according to Forrester research The social networking marketing will grow to a $6.9bn business by 2012, mobile marketing will be at $2.8bn, search will be triple to $25bn, and online video will grow to $7.1bn as marketers have a vast array of media available to us.”


“However, as I am working with a number of large American companies to understand how to leverage this vast array of new media, there’s a concerning trend that I’m seeing … There’ve never been more communication channels available. But it’s never been harder to connect with consumers.”


Jakeman's analysis covered a similar topic to author and consultant Clay Shirky’s articulation of consumer empowerment in a digital age. There was, however, one key difference: Shirky had mocked and skewered JetBlue, while Jakeman was shouting its praises. The JetBlue case history that Jakeman narrated was a tale with a beginning (research that revealed a need), a middle (a consumer-friendly campaign by JWT that encouraged customer participation), and an end (happy fliers on a happy airline).


A spot from the JetBlue campaign


“As most of you who have ever been on a plane in the U.S. know,” Jakeman explained, “over the years the industry has sucked whatever glamour and joy there was in air travel right out of it. Not only in there no joy, but in most cases domestic U.S. travel is a hideous experience to be avoided wherever possible ... You can spend over a thousand dollars on a trans-continental ticket in the U.S. and not even be served a sandwich. It’s dire. The industry has driven so much expense out of the business that they have forgotten to invest anything in the customer experience.


“Then along came JetBlue. They saw two opportunities. One: Put the humanity back into air-travel. And, two, hey realized this is an industry that consumers love to talk about …you go to any dinner party across America and a sure-fire way to encourage conversation is to get people started on air-travel war stories.”


And that’s where Jakeman and Shirky had the public-speaking equivalent of in-flight collision: “You can easily spend a couple of hours as cathartically your dinner party guest will tell horror stories of delayed flights, poor customer service,” Jakeman said. And, in fact, that’s what Shirky had done just 16 hours before on the same stage as he told the story of a JetBlue consumer revolt .


The difference in the two presentations, however, was Jakeman’s insistence on anchoring a brand with a “big idea” that could stretch for years across a variety of media, while Shirky highlighted the idea that new consumer empowerment means that markers now have to be able to turn on a dime.


For clients like HBO and JetBlue, Jakeman said, the marketers and their agencies avoided one of the temptations of the 21st Century and the digital age: “People are obsessed with media channels. They want to know how they can participate in the mobile buzz. What they should be doing on Facebook. Or how they can optimize search. But they’re missing the point: Compelling content - the Big Ida - is more important today than it ever has been.”


The spate of media options certainly translate to more exposure to advertising in any number of forms. But that exposure doesn’t translate to engagement, Jakeman said, citing the results of a study of a daily dose of 3,000 daily advertising messages leaving only 55 position impressions: namely, “A 98% attrition rate.”


“When I started in this business,” he continued, “you started defining the brand idea, then translated that into an advertising idea, made the 30-second TV commercial, adapted it for magazines and (if you were lucky) picked it up for out-of-home and radio. Now brand marketers have to work out how that idea translates to interactive and it can work on real estate as small as a cell phone. But we can’t get so befuddled by the media options that we forgot about the content.”


Contending that “brands today will be built by a consistent 360 degree experience,” JetBlue’s big bring-humanity-back-to-air-travel concept was grounded in four basic marketing premises that empowered the message no matter where it appeared.


1) Shut Up and Listen: “Start with the consumer. A big brand idea can’t be created in isolation of the consumer. Most brand strategies end up being a penetrating insight in the blatantly obvious. But that’s fine. In JetBlue’s case they simply listened to what the consumer was saying about the things that really pissed them off about air travel and decided in a very systemic way to deal with the- to reinvent the experience. So many brands these days don’t spend enough time listening to their consumer.”


2) It Has to Start at the Top: “The big brand idea has to be embraced by the CEO because it has to drive to all facets of the business. It’s not enough just to have the marketing department own it. For a big brand idea to be truly embedded into every facet of the operations of the organizing, the CEO has to own it and drive it. In the case of JetBlue, the big brand idea was at the center of the reason David Neeleman started the business. With an approach that he called ‘radical commonsense,’ he set about creating JetBlue not JetBig. The brand idea became merely an articulation of the raison d’être of the business.”


3) Everyone in the Company Is a Marketer: “Everyone in the business has to be accountable for delivering the brand promise. At JetBlue, everyone in the company is called a ‘crewmember’. Employees are treated like customers. And there is a rigorous training program that all ‘crew members’ must complete to help them understand the brand strategy before they can have contact with customers.”


4) Do As You Say: “Mass collaboration enabled through technology and social networking means that you have to deliver on what you promise. But a strong brand can insulate the business when things go wrong. Gone are the days when brands could hide behind slick advertising promises that were a world away from the actual experience.


Social-networking sites, YouTube, blogs, and a variety of other consumer-centric media have enabled mass collaboration among consumers. Now consumers have a means to tell their story, to quickly and inexpensively form armies of thousands of people to fight the brands that do them wrong and mislead them.”


Which, of course, was Clay Shirky’s point. On Valentine’s Day 2007, when a major ice storm crippled the Northeast United States, JetBlue dropped the ball: Some passengers were trapped on board for eight hours with no relief (or information) from the “crew members” on any part of the plane. Some travelers were stranded for more than a week.


Neeleman bit the bullet, took full blame for the inexcusable disruptions, and even managed to squeeze out a bit of sympathy for an airline that just needed to try harder. But Neeleman was bounced from his ceo slot four months later. The second major in-your-face disruption - the incident Shirky cited - suggested the carrier had lost sight of the old-time “Do As You Say” premise as well as ignored the new age of instant consumer networking.


Is the JetBlue “Big Idea” still powerful to keep the airline flying in bumpy skies? As Jakeman squeezed into his seat in American Airlines Tuesday afternoon to fly from New York to his Ad:Tech speech, he brought along a copy of that day’s Wall Street Journal.


There, on page D3, was an article headlined, simply, “JetBlue to Charge for Pillows, Blankets”. The explanation: “We want to provide a better pillow and blanket set for our customers.” Apparently, the answer didn’t speak to JetBlue customers: Last night, new JetBlue CEO Dave Barger spent an hour on CNN’s Larry King Live answering questions from angry flyers.


Notes from a Power Panel: “The State of Search: A Maturing Marketplace or Poised for More Growth?”

Panelists: Jeffrey Pruitt, evp. ICrossing and president, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization; Jon Diorio, Group Product Marketing Manager, Google, Inc.; James Colborn, Director, Microsoft; John Ardis, vp/corporate strategy, ValueClick, Inc.; Robert Murray, president, iProspect; John Anagnost, global director/interactive and search marketing, Ogilvy.


Thesis: The paid search marketplace has rocketed from virtually zero to more than $10bn in the past decade, which begs the question: Is the search marketplace on the verge of maturing in North America or will advertising dollars continue to flow into search? The key points of discussions were as follows.


Agency/advertiser focus

  • How will search impact what you do as a marketer in the future, and will it eventually change everything you do?
  • How will you integrate search into your marketing efforts and media channels/campaigns?
  • Who owns the Search Budgets?
  • Do CMOs view search as a top objective?
  • Will you still have a “search department” or will search be exploded as integrated tactics?

Publisher/network focus


  • Where are you headed?
  • How do you see the world of search evolving within your overall Corporate Vision?
  • Who will manage Search (what has Search Media Become?)
  • What overall% of budgets will this new definition of search be for the Engines overall Revenue?
  • What channels/devices does Search touch? (outdoor, mobile, Kindles, etc.)

Where is search going?


  • Search is going to change
  • Microsoft has unique assets to be a leader in search
  • New innovations and business models will both be key

Where is search engine marketing going?


In moving from search + content to search + display to search + content + display, lifts occur in:

  • Ad Recall
  • Brand recall
  • Message recall
  • Purchasing intent

Inevitable evolutions: consumers


  • “Familiarity Phase”
  • Minority of Activity
  • Savvier & More Obscure Usage
  • Fragmented Behavior
  • “Search” or Shortcut?
Inevitable evolutions: publishers
  • “Cream Phase”
  • Best Sites Rising to Top is Largely Complete
  • Content is King
  • Fragmentation/Verticalization
  • Toolbar Battleground

Inevitable evolutions: marketers  

  • “Cooperation Phase”
  • Greater Transparency
  • Greater Collaboration
  • Greater Focus on Performance
  • Greater Understanding of True Search Contribution

In the year 2013, all forms of marketing will drive people to search

  • Today, 67% of search engine users are driven to search by an offline channel.
  • Today, 39% of users ultimately make a purchase from the company that initially drove them to conduct a search.
Key drivers to integration: consumers
  • Clutter
  • Limitations
  • Compare
  • Anonymity

Key drivers to integration: marketers


  • Consumer Adoption
  • Cost Efficient
  • Targeted
  • Competitive Advantage

CMO’s role


  • Strategic plan
  • Break down silos
  • Share data
  • Reward integration
This paper is an edited version of Geoffrey Precourt's coverage of the Ad:Tech Chicago 2008 Conference. All his reports direct from the event can be found at