Air Canada thanks Canadians in a different holiday campaign

Who: Air Canada and FCB Canada.

What: A new holiday-themed campaign, “Gift of Travel.”

When & Where: The campaign broke this week, running across Air Canada’s social channels.

Why: With the pandemic bringing air travel to a virtual standstill, and some reports pegging the industry’s potential losses at nearly $100 billion through 2021, we haven’t heard much from Air Canada—typically among Canada’s most active marketers—this year.

This campaign is about reminding people of both the airline and its values, said director of brand strategy and content marketing John Xydous, while at the same time acknowledging the contributions some Canadians have made to their community.

There was some vigorous internal debate about whether it was appropriate to be focusing on a Christmas message in what has been a difficult year, said Xydous. But they concluded it was appropriate to highlight and celebrate the generosity of Canadians, a theme for the brand in recent years.

How: Air Canada has traditionally been active around the holidays, with marketing focused on the emotionally resonant idea of bringing people home for one of the most important celebrations of the year (here, here and here). With last year’s “Lost Reindeer,” it also adopted a more cinematic approach to its holiday marketing.

But the idea of “home” has taken on a markedly different meaning in a year where home is basically the only place we’ve been for months, said Xydous. “[We didn’t want to] go out there and say ‘Here’s the gift of home’ and have people say ‘No thank you.'”

Instead, the airline used its charitable arm, the Air Canada Foundation, to find people who “gave everything they could” to their community during the year. “I don’t want to get into the cheesy or corny side, but we discovered people across Canada that are doing wonderful things within their community,” said Xydous.

The spot features these people being brought into an airplane hangar, where they are shown a video featuring family members and friends praising their contributions. The spot ends with each person being presented with a gift of travel from Air Canada that can be redeemed when the pandemic is over.

Gift of Travel Auction: This year’s holiday marketing includes the launch of a new charitable component called the Gift of Travel Auction, where people can bid on unique air travel-related gifts, including flying an aircraft simulator, or a private dinner event with a celebrated chef. All proceeds from the auction will be distributed by the Air Canada Foundation to Canadian charities focused on the health and wellness of children and youth.

FCB’s role: Air Canada has scaled back its work with FCB Canada during the pandemic, with its recent re-launch campaign for its Aeroplan brand, for example, being done in-house. The agency was brought aboard for this particular campaign, however.

“For all the obvious reasons, we can’t afford to be working with agencies…[and] we’re doing a lot of work in-house right now,” said Xydous. “FCB is a great partner of ours… we rely on them and we’re working with them in a different capacity right now than we have in the past because we have to, but they continue to be a partner we trust. They continue to play a role and support us with our marketing needs.”

And we quote: “It’s the end of the year, people are going to be looking back on a difficult year and looking forward to next year, and we thought it was appropriate for us to be celebrating Canadians that have made a difficult year a little bit easier.” — John Xydous, director of brand strategy and content marketing, Air Canada

Chris Powell