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‘Everything is an ad network’ – now with added airlines – as United launches RMN

Eric Seufert of Mobile Dev Memo is famous for saying that ‘everything is an ad network’. How true that insight has proven to be – we have ourselves proved this to be true. Now, however, this truism has expanded further still, with airlines joining banks, hotels and others in leveraging their first-party customer data to sell ads on site, writes Colin Lewis.

United Airlines recently launched Kinective Media – the name for United’s new media network, and Richard Nunn, CEO of MileagePlus, United’s loyalty programme, was ever present in Cannes, as well as extensive billboards announcing the brand.

In fact, in a genius targeting move just before Cannes Lions, the airline specifically tailored the experience on the 7:50pm overnight Saturday flight from Newark Airport to Nice – the nearest airport to, drum roll please, Cannes – as an advertisement for Kinective Media. The ad on the screens talked about personalisation, optimisation, scale, privacy, targeting and measurement and every seat had a navy-blue sealed Kinective Media swag bag.

What is the Kinective proposition?

United is using first-party data as a selling point for advertisers, including loyalty data. United flew 165 million passengers last year, with 100 million being members of the MileagePlus loyalty program. Based on average flight time, United estimates that Kinective has the potential to capitalise on around three hours of attention per person.

The media network includes United’s app and website, airport out-of-home screens and seatback screens. United already has 100,000 seatback screens in place, with plans to outfit its entire fleet over the coming year or so.

United claim that “we have an omnichannel opportunity, and we have scale” and that “scale is a point of differentiation in a sector with so many players.”

One real differentiator from Retail Media Networks, aside from scale, is that United know a lot about  travel habits: flight origin and destination, flight regularity, flying for business, visiting family or holidays and where they prefer sitting in the front or the back of the plane.

Of course, many airlines have the same data about travellers: British Airways, Qantas, Air France KLM, Lufthansa and Emirates have programmes with tens of millions of loyalty members, so we should expect to see more of these announcements.

There is one thing that makes a huge difference for the likes of United, BA and any airline: all airlines are very heavily regulated. In the US, Kinective Media needs to comply with Federal Aviation Administration policies, British Airways has to comply with the Civil Aviation Authority regulations. The FAA and the CAA – and all regulators have specific security requirements for technology on airplanes.

Richard Nunn, CEO of MileagePlus is quoted as saying: “Anything that comes into the plane itself is heavily scrutinised for security reasons, including media files. What we did was to take something from the media world and pull together a solution that bridges the gap so we can serve ads into these different places.”

Takeouts from airlines as media businesses

Airlines might end up having a unique winning proposition, as they are privacy-safe, deep with data and in enclosed environments that can capture attention.   

In addition, many of these loyalty programmes skew ABC1 with audiences that are very hard to reach by any other media.  Luxury brands, automotive, financial services might find all these unique audiences much more attractive than, say, a Tesco Media and Insights audience.

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