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Global business? Here's how to get branded in the US - White Oaks
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Global business? Here’s how to get branded in the US

08 Nov Global business? Here’s how to get branded in the US

Some of you may have missed it. Two months ago, KLM – oldest commercial airline in the world – launched a somewhat surprising campaign in the United States. Their goal? To let Americans know that – wait for it – “it’s an airline“.

New York-native actor Ken Marino definitely knew how to deliver the message. I also enjoyed watching CNN’s business anchor Richard Quest pronounce KLM’s full name (Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij –> you try it) as the video was picked up by global media. However, Air France-KLM’s decision to brand KLM (founded in 1919) in the most basic way comes with a feeling of disillusionment and a simple question.

Why this campaign?

Yes. Obviously the KLM part of Air France-KLM wishes to reintroduce itself in the US. But… how come they have to? And how do other international corporations avoid similar situations in the future? Now, 60 days later, I have asked my company’s strategic partner and branding expert Raoul Davis of Ascendant Group in the US to step in with his thoughts.

  1. How has this campaign been received overseas? 

“While the campaign has a humorous tone, which is a good way to get attention, the execution of the humor is getting mixed reviews. The commercial isn’t as clever as the likes of Geico and when you go the humor route, it needs to be done very well or not at all. The bigger issue for the airline is when Americans hear ‘KLM’ they think of call letters for a radio station. A very low percentage of Americans and, even worse, air travelers are familiar with the brand. For many Americans, the first time they encounter the KLM brand may be when they do a search for cheapest airfare on the likes of Orbitz or Expedia. Contrast that to Emirates airlines, which has done a wonderful job leveraging advertising and its reputation for luxury as a way to brand themselves.”

  1. What’s your opinion on KLM (re)introducing itself as an airline in the US after decades of service?

“My message to them would be to commit more to their presence. They need to connect to a celebrity and/or personal brand and get commercials up and running.  KLM can’t just think they are in a B2C business; they are in H2H (human to human). For an airline like this, it depends who they are targeting. For family and leisurely travels, I’d look at a brand like actress Zendaya, who recently got the role as Mary Jane Watson in the next Spiderman movie and is as family friendly as it gets. But if you’re targeting business travelers, feature the airline’s own CEO in the commercial personally and have him or her speak directly to the value proposition, which these days boils down to just two things for airlines:

  • Competitive cost
  • Flight experience

Everything else is noise. If KLM brands itself as having a great experience for passengers and can make the case that it is amongst the most cost competitive options, it will see its market share in the US continue to grow.”

  1. Which other options do international corporations have if they want to get noticed in the US?

“What KLM is missing is a fully integrated strategy. They should be leveraging their CEO or another executive brand, connecting to a celebrity, doing more active social media engagement, buying more TV spots and doing more organic PR outreach.  Finally, they should position themselves for being known to have the best rates to certain European cities. Taking the position for having the lowest cost flights to Amsterdam or Barcelona, for instance, would create a memorable brand impression.”

So, yes. This KLM campaign seems to have been necessary because of previously unused opportunities to build visibility and a name for themselves in the US. To other companies wishing to establish themselves across the Atlantic, be aware of the many moments needed to make a lasting impression. Especially in American (business) culture, where well-known corporations outdo each other daily to gain their place in the temporary spotlight. People truly want to get a ‘feel’ for a brand and make sure they can rely on its product or service. Publishing a much needed and entertaining set of videos is undoubtedly a great start, but keep in mind that your journey into customers’ hearts across the ocean requires a permanent commitment.

If you’re going for visibility, be there at every opportunity.


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