How To Keep Your Advertising From Hurting Your Brand

Moses Frenck

It’s not good when online ads promoting flying lessons are displayed together with news video of fiery plane crashes. Nor is it wise for airlines and air charter companies to advertise next to images of airplanes being destroyed. Whether it’s digital, social or traditional advertising, you’d be surprised at how often such missteps happen, and they’re fairly easy to avoid.

When a pilot loses situational awareness, bad things can happen. And when a brand fails to maintain situational awareness, bad things can happen too.

How To Keep Your Ads From Hurting Your Brand

Maintaining situational awareness is as important to a brand as it is to a pilot.

Maintaining constant situational awareness involves knowing what’s around you, what the things around you are doing and what they’re expected to do, and knowing where you are. Having good situational awareness ensures a pilot (or brand) is in the right place at the right time and is not surprised by any adverse conditions.

When a brand attempts to engage with the public it must always know where it is, what’s around it, what other messages around it are doing, and what the landscape is expected to do. Because having your brand in the wrong place at the wrong time can be ineffective at best and, at worst, make your brand appear intrusive, insensitive or ignorant.

Today’s self-serve and automated marketing options make it tempting for business owners to buy and place their own advertising. It’s pretty easy to set up a Google Adwords account, create some text ads, attach some prominent keywords, and have them run across the Google ad network, which includes such sites as CNN and YouTube. Similarly, buying  ads and promoted posts on Facebook also only takes a credit card and little know-how.

However, this strategy of buying ads and letting them run can end up hurting more than helping if not actively managed. One client of mine had done just that. They set up a Google account and targeted any and all aviation keywords: airplane, flying, pilot, etc. The ads did as they were told, propagating across the Google ad network and right onto YouTube videos. Great!

Ad on fireball_newAd on engine explodes_new
Well, not so great. One ad promoting “Private Flying Lessons” was displayed over video of news footage showing an airplane slamming into the ground and erupting into a huge fireball. The headline? “Horrifying Plane Crashes at Dayton Air Show, 2 Dead.”

The ad did what it was supposed to do. It was displayed to a viewer who had an interest in aviation. How was the ad supposed to know the words “plane” and “air show” were good, but not when combined with “horrifying” and “crash”?

Using techniques such as introducing negative keywords, adding exclusions on YouTube to control where and when ads appear, and being aware of news events affecting aviation could have avoided the situation.

A similar ad appeared in another YouTube video with news of a jetliner’s engine exploding on the runway.  While the incident was not catastrophic, the ad still looked out of place and likely generated more chuckles than click-throughs — the opposite action for which the advertiser is paying.

Meanwhile, in the screenshot below, various aviation businesses are competing for eyeballs around news and images of airplanes destroyed by a tornado at a popular air show. Ads on snf-labelsThe various ads for flying lessons, air charter services and airline flights all make their respective companies look incompetent or ignorant. Remember, emotional connection plays a huge part in consumer behavior. How a company makes us feel, even on a subconscious level, determines our opinions about it and our buying decisions. Plus, for an industry that consumers look to for competence and attention to detail above all else, the slightest inkling of incompetence can be detrimental.

Mind Your Social Place

Beyond knowing what’s going on around your brand, situational awareness also involves knowing where you are.

Many companies are exploiting social media as a form of free or low-cost personalized marketing. If done properly — and customers and prospects choose to engage with a brand — social media efforts can really pay off.  Having a social presence on Facebook or Twitter, among other social platforms, is important for your business. Potential customers want to check you out, and you want existing customers to remain connected.

But marketing on social media must be handled delicately. Word-of-mouth marketing has always been an important and trustworthy method of introducing new customers to a brand. In social media, where consumers openly discuss their experiences with people, brands, businesses, products and services, word-of-mouth is taken to a whole new level. You want your customers singing your praise across the various social media sites by sharing their positive experiences with your business. Any misstep, and you’ll see how negative publicity spreads exponentially faster than anything positive.

The temptation to pay for promoted posts to get in front of customers’ faces can be very alluring. It is low cost, targeted, works for many companies, and it doesn’t really look like a real ad. But when the “non-ad” is placed directly in someone’s newsfeed and offers a discount coupon, a special promotion or the opportunity to purchase something, the company sponsoring the post is no longer being social. Customers don’t want you to be in their face when they’re socializing. They don’t want to do business; they’re having fun. The last thing you want is to intrude on their social experience. They’ll either ignore you, or resent you for intruding. From a consumer’s perspective it’s like being interrupted at a party when you’re not in the mood to be sold to, says author Greg Shugar in an insightful piece in EntrepreneurHey, Social-Media Marketers, Shut Up Already.

One of the huge benefits of aviation is that unlike other industries, aviation lends itself to social media. Aviation is already a community where its members enjoy sharing experiences, and people both inside and outside of aviation find its activities fascinating, or at least intriguing. For example, consumers are more likely to talk about and share photos or videos of a flight lesson they took at a flight school rather than share an experience they had at a retail store. And because aviation has a coolness factor, the photos, videos and posts are more likely to be liked and shared.

Encourage your customers and employees to post and share on your social channels and theirs. Whether it’s a photo of a cool airplane at your airport, a student pilot who just soloed, a mechanic tearing down an engine, or an aerial video taken by one of your skydiving instructors, that’s the kind of stuff that will be shared around. You can also start a discussion about favorite airplanes or destinations, have instructors offer flying tips, ask students to share recent experiences on solo flights, make a short video of your mechanic showing cold starting techniques, or a video of a CFI demonstrating a maneuver. The opportunities to obtain or create relevant, quality content are endless at an aviation business. And the best part is that the content is free and highly engaging — much more than if you paid for it.

Never Sponsor A Blizzard

Brand vigilance also must be maintained even when you’re using traditional media that doesn’t rely on automation.

Several years ago my flight school ran a radio promotion to sell gift cards around Valentine’s Day. We decided to target female listeners who would be apt to buy introductory flying lessons for their boyfriends or spouses. Among the avenues we chose, we identified a popular radio program that dealt with relationships and tips for women and boasted a huge female listener base. The most cost-effective option with the most frequency was to sponsor traffic and weather twice per hour during this live four-hour show.


None of these people are thinking about flying lessons.

Well, that weekend the Northeast was hit with probably one of the worst blizzards in a long time. So much so, that a state of emergency had been issued in a few states. The governor was telling motorists to get off the roads and stay in their homes. News of the snowstorm and the apparent impending doom was all the talk on the radio. And while cars themselves were having a difficult time on the road, power outages were imminent and emergency management was being activated, the radio announcer, in the next breath, asked listeners to consider buying a flying lesson for someone they love. “Picture your loved one up in the sky…” (Too bad it’s the worst weather day in a long time and rather than listeners becoming curious about your offering, they’re likely snickering at the irony of the ad.)

In a situation like this one, it would have been advisable to contact the radio station to delay the ads. Being aware of impending weather ahead of time would have paid off. Perhaps we’d be charged a cancelation fee, but it would have been a lot less than the amount wasted on running the sponsorship and any ridicule the brand suffered.

Similarly, watch your ads and messages especially on days with negative aviation news, such as missing airliners, aircraft accidents or even airline labor strikes. Anything negative surrounding aviation is usually magnified because it’s aviation. With all of the fear, skepticism, envy and misunderstanding that people have of flying, companies involved in aviation must be extra vigilant and maintain constant situational awareness to ensure their messages remain in the clear.