Alongside football bettors and fans of the four teams playing in the NFL’s conference championship games on January 28, there was another group of people with vested interest in the outcomes.
United Airlines marketers had to sweat out wins by the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers before they could proceed with a multi-pronged promotional, digital and advertising campaign around this year’s Super Bowl. The airline does not have partnerships with the Baltimore Ravens nor the Detroit Lions, so its staff was rooting hard for the eventual match-up between two of the teams it sponsors.
(FWIW, United is the official airline of the 49ers—and was the presenting sponsor of the team’s playoff run last month–and the official commercial airline of the Chiefs, who also have fractional jet company Airshare as their official private aviation partner.)
Once that was secured, United team members put plans into action that went beyond merely flying the teams to Las Vegas and capturing some still and video images of the arrival and departure.
United not only announced it was adding flights from the two markets to Vegas, but it captured the zeitgeist of this year’s Super Bowl build-up in assigning the flight numbers.
Designating K.C.-Vegas flights with numbers such as UA 1587 (a combination of Patrick Mahomes’ and Travis Kelce’s uniform numbers) and UA 1989 (a nod to Kelce love interest Taylor Swift’s album of the same name) in addition to UA 1849 and UA 1995 for S.F.-Vegas flights commemorating the gold rush and the year of the team’s last Super Bowl victory generated massive engagement numbers across social channels.
Lacking a league-wide sponsorship, United has carefully avoided using the Super Bowl name or any other NFL IP in its campaign. That extends to the final piece of the program, a series of ad spots that will run regionally during the Super Bowl broadcast on CBS.
Forgoing the path taken by most national Super Bowl advertisers of running one spot for the entire viewing audience, United instead is adhering to the airline marketing playbook of establishing connections with key markets by tailoring its spots for five key markets. The airline claims that the Believing Changes Everything campaign is the first time a Super Bowl advertiser has “created this many different commercials that were written specifically for local markets.”
Featuring actor Kyle Chandler, who played Coach Eric Taylor on NBC’s critically acclaimed series Friday Night Lights, three market-specific ads will run on TV in Kansas City, Cleveland and Houston, while two more will appear on social media in Chicago and Denver. United will run general-market spots regionally during the Super Bowl telecast in Chicago, Denver, Baltimore, Orlando, Colorado Springs and Cincinnati.
The spots all carry the same theme of believing in the local NFL team’s chances to make the Super Bowl next year and expressing that belief by purchasing flights to New Orleans for Super Bowl LVIX before the season starts. A tag at the end of the spot reminds fans of United’s no-change fee policy “just in case.”
Taking a more personalized approach to Super Bowl ads would seem to be a smart move for a company where geography is central to the mission. Combined with the already successful social campaign, United is poised to score big points compared to other brands appearing in this year’s game.