- JetBlue put out a request for information (RFI) to ad agencies as it looks to shake up its marketing during a particularly tough period for airlines, the company confirmed to The Wall Street Journal.
- In RFI documents reviewed by the publication, JetBlue admitted it sacrificed some of its personality in pursuit of one-off marketing tactics. "And unsurprisingly, the brand needs to find ways to do smarter marketing with smaller budgets due to the current travel environment," the document reads.
- JetBlue's decision puts MullenLowe, the Interpublic Group-owned agency that's handled the brand's account for 11 years, in a tough spot. MullenLowe was asked to participate in the review, according to the Journal, but kept mum on whether it will.
Airline marketers don't have any easy answers as COVID-19 cases surge to new peaks and several regions in the U.S. again enact lockdown measures. Beyond continuing to contend with the harsh economic and operational realities of the pandemic, JetBlue seems to believe it's lost sight of a broader brand mission in pursuing one-off marketing tactics in recent years.
In its RFI, JetBlue emphasized a desire to "future-proof" its marketing model, and noted it was seeking integrated solutions that are relevant at the cultural and local levels. Others in the airline category have used the pandemic to recenter their brand vision. In April, American Airlines launched its first brand-building campaign in four years with an ad titled "You Are Why We Fly" that focused on the company's 94-year heritage and disruptions facing the travel industry, illustrated through imagery like nearly empty airports. The effort was developed by American Airlines' agency of record Crispin Porter Bogusky (CPB), of MDC Partners.
JetBlue has frequently leveraged advertising to play up the quality of its customer service compared to rivals, as noted in the Journal. One of the more recent campaigns developed with MullenLowe riffed on the Wright brothers with fictional characters called the "Alright Brothers," whose bungling antics aimed to show travelers that they don't have to "accept the bare minimum" when booking trips.
Another motivating factor behind a potential agency shakeup could be JetBlue's growing bets in spaces outside of air travel. The brand is planning to crack further into the short-term rental market, and eyeing companies like Airbnb and Vrbo as partners, Skift reported, citing executive comments given at a recent Morgan Stanley investor conference. The marketer has an existing JetBlue Vacations unit, and also offers services like travel insurance and car rentals.
The RFI news serves as another indication that major marketers are rethinking their agency relations as the pandemic resets everything from budget priorities to consumer-facing messaging and technology investments.
Domino's earlier this month dropped its longtime agency of record CPB in favor of Colorado-based independent agency WorkInProgress. Like MullenLowe's work with JetBlue, CPB's partnership with the pizza chain stretched for more than a decade, an unusually long tenure. CPB is credited with helping to reinvigorate the Domino's brand, including through its embrace of delivery and digital ordering platforms, which are now must-haves for restaurants.
In a statement around the change-up, Domino's marketing chief Art D'Elia noted the brand was looking for flexibility and nimbleness to keep pace with the fast-moving demands of the current market. He suggested independent agencies are better-suited to meet those requirements.
Clarification: A previous version of this story omitted details of American Airlines' relationship with Crispin Porter Bogusky.