United Airlines teases new flight paths with clue-filled video

The airline released the video a day before it announced seven new international routes.

Campaign: International Routes

Company: United Airlines

Duration: September 8-9, 2020

United Airlines challenged consumers to put on their detective hats and use a video sprinkled with clues to figure out its slate of new international flights.

Strategy
For the past few years, United Airlines has released clues about new flight routes before the official announcement. By now, it’s a game avid flyers expect and look forward to, said Maggie Schmerin, United Airlines’ managing director of social media.

“Each year, it’s gotten bigger, more creative, and more difficult,” she said. 

In retrospect, given the intense interest from some customers, previous years’ clues  - including a series of anagrams - were far too easy. This time around, United wanted to amp up the level of difficulty. The company created a teaser video embedded with 30 visual clues hinting at its slate of new international routes. 

Tactics
The social team worked in close collaboration with United Airlines’ network planning team, which is in charge of selecting new routes. 

In addition to teasing specific destinations, the airline’s social team wanted to tap into the unique moment many travelers were finding themselves in: working from home and eager to think about planning a trip to visit friends or family.

Among a dizzying array of consequences, the pandemic has caused United Airlines to re-evaluate its approach to rebuilding its global route map. Given that many people have been cut off from loved ones, the airline is prioritizing destinations that people often choose in order to visit friends and family “with the hope that when travel does open up there will be a lot of pent up demand,” Schmerin said.

In the end, 30 clues were packed into a 52-second long teaser video released on September 8, a day before the final routes were announced. 

The video was released across United Airlines’ social channels. On Instagram and Facebook, the company put paid support behind it in order to reach members of its MileagePlus program. Before the big reveal, the airline also released a still from the video of a bulletin board that contained many of the clues, allowing more casual followers to play along.

On September 9, United Airlines announced its official list of seven new international routes—including direct flights between San Francisco and Bangalore, India, Newark and Johannesburg, and Washington, DC, and Accra, Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria—as well as revealing the corresponding clues referencing each route. 

Results
In terms of earned media, the teaser video plus the new routes announcement generated more than 150 placements across digital, print and broadcast. Notable write-ups appeared The New York Times and Bloomberg

The campaign videos have been viewed 1 million times. On social media, campaign posts shared on United platforms generated 3,016 comments. The Instagram post revealing the new international routes is currently the company’s most shared post on the platform for 2020.

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