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American Airlines is the largest airline globally, competing against other giants like Delta, United and many, many more.  

American is the biggest airline by revenue, but in terms of marketing spend, some of its peers enjoy annual budgets up to 10 times higher. That creates added pressure to make every marketing dollar count when it comes to conversions.    

Understanding American’s core audience of business customers, who are more likely to show immediate buying intent and pay a premium, was paramount.  

To capture its audience better, MediaCom analysed paid search data to see what historically worked well, as well as gaining added insight into keyword coverage, messaging, location, seasonality and event correlation.  

What the agency realised was that the current structure didn’t maximise returns because of a generalised “one-message-fits-all approach.”  

The insight was that getting the messaging right was vital in closing the sale via paid search, particularly as due to limited budget, consumers were only exposed to 2.4 of its ads on average, compared to the 5.6 overall searches a user typically performs before purchasing a flight. 

Nevertheless, MediaCom was confident that it could use paid search to drive sales, combining data, insight and targeting with its always-on capabilities to reach users who are already showing strong intent.  

This approach would give American an edge on other legacy airlines, which use their larger budgets simply to drive reach and generate a negative return on spend as a result. 


MediaCom came up with a brand-new approach to data to give it a unique edge. 

The strategy would revolve around three targeting tactics, allowing it to simultaneously:  
1. Target audience by location;  
2. Define target audience by age-group;  
3. Develop tailored messaging depending on the core audience that is most likely to buy airfares through Google search.  

This would be applied to more than 20 routes (whichever end of the journey they wanted to fly from) and enable it to compete against dozens of airlines and online travel agents competing for the same keyword set, despite a budget that was 50% lower than its main competitors.  

This strategy would allow the agency to be much more precise with its targeting, ensuring every dollar was best placed to generate a return. 

Key to this approach was to buy keyword inventory in a way that would take the full user context into account, rather than simply using the search terms. 

This allowed it to factor in the target audience’s real intent, how old they are, where they are and when they are most likely to buy flights. In a nutshell, the agency was not only bidding on keywords, but also started buying inventory based on the best possible combination of relevant data signals: intent, demographic, time, device and location.  

In short, it would apply a much broader range of data than rivals to ensure each of its buys was relevant and effective. 


This approach is best demonstrated by two key factors; location and demographics. 

GEO-LOCATION TARGETING: unlike competitors, the agency tailored ads to reflect the user intent and its location. For example, it would serve a ‘last-minute’ offer when a user searched for flights from Heathrow. 

It also served city-specific ads to users across EMEA airports. These were tailored:  
• On the location/nearest airport of the search,  
• By including specific destinations in the ads, when user intent was shown in the search query to make it as relevant as possible. 

DEMOGRAPHIC TARGETING: by adopting a new audience feature called “Search Demographics,” the agency was able to adjust targeting depending on users’ age group bracket (18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65+), up/down-weighting our keyword bids depending on each group. This was a big step forward and, for the first time, allowed it to bid on its most profitable audience who are most likely to book. 

To take this one step further, the agency used another new feature from Google (only accessible to a limited number of advertisers), allowing it to test different combinations of ads depending on the device and the demographics of the user. Again, this allowed to talk to the core business audience with bespoke messaging, adjusting language to highlight different brand USPs for different audiences. 

The new strategy was first executed in EMEA and, having shown dramatic results, was expanded globally. 


Results for this campaign remain confidential at the client's request. 

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American Airlines
January - May 2017
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