Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Lure of Local Intelligence

Hong Kong, Europe, British Airways. This triangle represents an innovative online marketing strategy of marketing to consumers in their local language.

According to PhoCusWright, local language websites and booking engines are expected to be key growth drivers of the Asia Pacific online travel market, a market predicted to grow more than threefold in five years, from $4.8 billion in 2002 to $16 billion (with more than 500 million internet users) in 2006.

As one of the first airlines to have adopted online advertising, British Airways (BA) relies on the online channel to create awareness of its brand and to drive sales. BA has a proven track record of launching interactive out-of-the-box campaigns. In 2000, BA was profiled in Advertising Age due to its use of online skyscraper-sized advertisements. In 2001, BA launched a $1 million online and direct response print effort to attract business-class passengers to its flights. Ads began running on such sites as,,, CBS Marketwatch, and other financial sites where the airline is likely to find frequent business travelers. In 2002, BA was first to advertise on the new Yahoo! UK and Ireland home pages. In 2003, BA launched cinematic presentations on premiere online business and financial news touting the core benefits of British Airways' business class.

Recently, BA has embarked on yet another innovative project to meet its growing need to reach out to Hong Kong users in their local language. BA teamed up with one of Hong Kong’s largest Chinese news portals,, for an online sponsorship to position itself as "the preferred airline to Europe." With the joint efforts of M&C Saatchi and Pixel Media, GoEurope -- a travel site exclusively focusing on European destinations to the Hong Kong market -- was born. The objective is to go beyond the usual banner and button ads in order to create a content-rich travel destination guide for Hong Kong travelers in an environment that is customized for BA. As part of this new initiative, British Airways has launched a variety of ad formats on ZUJI Hong Kong, MSN Hong Kong,, and to drive traffic to the site.

According to Thierry Halbroth, M&C’s Director of Integrated Services, China, “We wanted to show that British Airways isn’t just about flying to London, but that is has one of the biggest networks in Europe.” The travel site features archived content for 20 European destinations, and plans to increase it to 50 shortly. Additionally, the site also includes practical information regarding weather, visas and a calendar of events for each country.

“Lonely Planet is no longer the bible for the adventurous traveler, as it is now more mass market. We needed to make this service about offering local intelligence on the ground as written by a local person,” says Halbroth.

Kevin Huang, Chief Executive Officer of Pixel Media Hong Kong and Malaysia, says, “British Airways has launched a first of its kind online initiative in Hong Kong that combines a depth of rich content packaged in a customized environment. GoEurope is a European Traveler’s indispensable guide to everything you need to know about Europe, and presents reviews of major European destinations as well as country facts and information that are useful for visitors. Great Deals and Special Offers from British Airways to major European cities are also featured on the site. New articles and features are updated on a weekly basis.”

With the Go Europe site, BA can now touch users at every touch point. For example, users can chat all about their experience and exchange ideas on’s Traveling Community Forum, which is also sponsored by BA. Additionally, BA has started eCRM campaigns by building an email database of interested users. And of course, there's a convergence of offline and online marketing efforts. According to Halbroth, “The need to integrate online with offline into one big idea became clearer once companies realized we were all living in the real world and not in a constant online, virtual fantasy.”

British Airways chose to partner with due to its ability to attract business class passengers. Atnext brings to the partnership options of a better online promotional avenue and the creative means for attracting more users, as Atnext is known to have one of the highest reaches in the Hong Kong internet market. boasts a readership base of 1.5 million unique users and is considered to be the most effective website to reach an at-work audience. According to Peter Steyn, Managing Director of Nielsen//NetRatings Hong Kong, “A significant proportion of users are accessing the site from locations outside the home. The majority of these users are likely at the office as the website is reaching out to a high concentration of at-work users with its news content.”

All marketers wishing to delve into international should learn from BA. The airline's approach towards reaching its audience by displaying its advertising message in a contextually relevant and custom-built environment proves the power of getting local market specific.