AirTran 'Shuffle' boosts brand

Amid many carriers scaling back service in the airline market, AirTran Airways was looking for opportunities to expand.

Amid many carriers scaling back service in the airline market, AirTran Airways was looking for opportunities to expand.

AirTran had attempted to buy six of ATA Airlines' gates at Chicago's Midway Airport, but was outbid by Southwest. Therefore, instead of buying its way to more Midway gates, AirTran had to capitalize on opportunities to grow organically. Midway's addition of a new gate in December allowed AirTran to add service to two new markets: Boston and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

"No one really knew about it, and it happened overnight," says Tad Hutcheson, AirTran's VP of marketing and sales. "There's nothing worse than putting in a new service and not having anyone book it." AirTran had to increase brand awareness quickly, and CKPR had little more than a week to help it capture Chicago's attention.

CKPR was charged with increasing brand awareness in a market where AirTran didn't advertise and was often mistaken for ATA because of its similar name.

"A big part of AirTran's brand  is that in every market we like to find a strong community connection," says Joel Curran, CKPR SVP and MD. At the time, the Chicago Bears were in the midst of an NFL playoff run, and it was the 20th anniversary of the 1985 Bears' "Super Bowl Shuffle."

"Everybody loves the Bears in Chicago," says Curran. "They have long, strong emotional attachment with the city."

The resulting idea: Re-create the "Super Bowl Shuffle," and tie it in to AirTran's ability to "shuffle" passengers in and out of Midway.


AirTran recruited two Bears players from the 1985 team, Gary Fencik and Richard Dent, and two current players, Kyle Orton and Jerry Azumah, to act as judges for the "AirTran Airways Super Shuffle Showdown."

CKPR wrote and helped choreograph an updated "Shuffle." During a heavily branded media event at Midway, five underprivileged students from the Chicago Lights Scholarship program performed their versions of the "Shuffle," and the one with the best rendition won an all-expenses-paid trip to Minneapolis, one of AirTran's new markets, to see the Bears play the Minnesota Vikings on New Year's Day. Each participant received four tickets on AirTran Airways.

CKPR shot b-roll of the event and provided it to local TV stations and to ESPN.

The day of the "Super Shuffle," AirTran-branded street teams blanketed downtown Chicago and transit hubs, handing out hot chocolate, coffee, and flyers, and early-morning drops of airline-branded items were conducted at local radio and TV stations.


The Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, WBBM-AM, and three TV stations covered the event, and all six Chicago TV outlets ran footage of it. Also, ESPN made the "Super Shuffle" Sportscenter's number eight top play of the day.

More than 30 broadcast clips reached 5.5 million people, and national print media coverage included The Wall Street Journal.

The street teams reached more than 12,000 people in one day.

"That one event really helped raise our awareness in Chicago," Hutcheson says. "People will come up to me [now] and say, 'Oh yeah, you're the "Super Bowl Shuffle" airline.'"

AirTran's increased brand awareness has enabled it to expand its service from Chicago to two more markets: Newark, NJ, and Dallas/Fort Worth.


CKPR will continue efforts to build awareness in Chicago through sponsorship, promotional, media outreach, and customer activities, while AirTran continues to pursue opportunities to expand its service.

PR TEAM: AirTran Airways  (Orlando, FL) and CKPR (Chicago)

CAMPAIGN: AirTran Airways Super Shuffle Showdown

DURATION: December 1 to 6, 2005

BUDGET: $40,000


The key to this campaign's success was AirTran and CKPR's sense of timing and community.

CKPR had a limited amount of time to capture the attention of Chicago and realized that the way to do it would be to take a local angle. It worked to find an angle with an emotional connection and, in the Bears, ended up with a concept that brought an even wider appeal to a national audience because of the 1985 team's iconic place in history.

Rather than select a random charity, CKPR worked with the Bears to secure one of the team's established community partners, which seamlessly tied together the two concepts AirTran prefers to focus its community activities on: kids and sports.

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