Air Miles adds Broken Heart Love Affair in agency roster overhaul

Air Miles has hired Broken Heart Love Affair to develop a brand and communications strategy for 2021, signalling a shift away from the more tactical approach that has characterized its marketing in recent years.

The change marks the first time in several years Air Miles has worked with an external creative agency, and is part of a larger shake up of its agency roster following a comprehensive review over the summer. Working with BHLA will be Fuse Create for shopper marketing and experiential (the latter previously handled by T1); Media Experts for media buying (previously AMI); and Ogilvy for PR and social (previously handled by North Strategic). The review launched at the beginning of the summer and was conducted entirely online.

Broken Heart Love Affair and Ogilvy will lead the business from a brand strategy and PR/social perspective, said Rachel MacQueen, senior vice-president of collector experience and marketing.

Fuse and Media Experts will play key support roles in executing the strategy through media, in-store, experiential, etc. “We really have two leads within that integrated model that is really just a function of the roles that they play,” she said.

Air Miles and Broken Heart Love Affair have started work on the brand strategy, but the plan, said MacQueen, is to anchor its future consumer-facing communications around three key tenets: being valuable, relevant and providing an experience that is intuitive and seamless between Air Miles and its partners.

MacQueen said that Broken Heart Love Affair’s model of a small agency team working on high level (or big impact) strategic and creative ideas was particularly well-suited to Air Miles, which houses a large group of in-house copywriters, creative directors, graphic designers, etc. “Their model really is about engaging and connecting with an in-house agency in order to bring it to life, and they just fit so beautifully with our business model,” she said.

The agency’s strategic focus also aligns with Air Miles’ plans for a revamped go-to-market approach, said MacQueen. “There’s so much change and enhancement happening in the program that really requires a much more strategic go-to-market approach than what we’ve done in the past,” she said, pointing to a current pilot project with Shopify and the continued expansion of its online shopping portal (new additions this year include Estée Lauder, Samsung and Columbia).

“We’ve really missed a couple of key components of an agency partnership,” said MacQueen. “We’ve continued on a more tactical approach in our communications, and as we’ve invested significantly in digital capabilities over the last 18-24 months, we’re really ready to make a step-change in the value we’re offering to collectors, and we really felt we needed a strategic partner to help us bring that to life.”

MacQueen said that agencies recognizing the benefit of working together as a “network of partners” was among the key factors in determining the final agency roster. “We really felt that the people who are participating in this integrated model will benefit from the ideas and expertise from others around the table.”

Fuse Create’s expertise across experiential and shopper marketing led to the agency being awarded the purview for both disciplines, said MacQueen.

“We were really excited by the opportunities they brought forward, but also felt there was a lot of synergy between experiential and shopper marketing. We’ve got 8,000 storefronts from coast to coast that ask for our card every single day, and bringing an experiential, brand advocacy approach to that shopper experience is really powerful.”

Air Miles typically enrols between 600,000 and 700,000 new collectors a year, with a “significant” number of those newcomers under the age of 40 and the majority coming to the program via digital channels.

While Air Miles has maintained its pre-pandemic redemption rate of one redemption every two seconds, MacQueen said there has been a pronounced shift in how people are redeeming points. Travel and out-of-home entertainment, for instance, have fallen off, while redemptions for merchandise and donations have increased.

Chris Powell