The boomer generation is one of the travel groups often underserved, but Alaska Airlines is trying to change that in a fun and economical way. Other airlines need to pay attention and come up with ideas to reach this revenue-driving generation.
As Alaska Airlines was looking for its next big thing with a fresh and fun feeling following its viral “Safety Dance” campaign, the airline’s advertising agency suggested a focus on boomers.
For Natalie Bowman, managing director of marketing for Alaska Airlines, who throughout the pandemic has been spending countless hours on Tik Tok where her daughter has thousands of followers, this seemed like a good idea, she said. Off the cuff, she suggested having a boomer house, similar to Hype House, the Tik Tok collective that is getting its Netflix show. The idea took off.
“Just based on the insight that that was an audience that have money to spend, they’ve been cooped up, they were the first ones getting vaccinated, and it just felt like this is the audience that’s going to have a great time,” said Bowman.
Over the next few months, Alaska envisions seeing more boomers celebrating in resorts and having their own spring break moment, a holiday usually reserved for young folks, Bowman said.
The idea is to have boomer influencers live together in a California mansion or hotel in Napa, Sonoma, or Palm Springs for two days in August while making content for their and Alaska’s social media sites, Bowman said.
And while the idea was born from watching 20-year-olds sharing a living space, Bowman is cognizant in her search for the perfect place, that this may not work as well for boomers who value their privacy. She’s looking for a mansion or small hotel with 12 to 14 rooms allowing for private space and visually appealing open spaces to congregate and produce great content, she said.
Boomers, children of the so-called greatest generation born between 1946 and 1964, are the second largest U.S. population by generation, according to a recent study by Statistica, at 70 million people in 2019. The same study showed millennials slightly outpaced boomers in growth by 2 million.
So why boomers, and why now?
Seattle-based Alaska Airlines tends to have an older customer base, said Bowman.
“It’s an audience that we’ve always taken really great care of. And I think they are maybe just ignored [by the industry] in a way that’s undeserving,” said Bowman. “This felt like our opportunity to shine light on it a little bit. We wanted it to be more playful and not using boomers as a derogatory term, but as a term of endearment, and it’s a special group.”
She has been asked why not Gen X multiple times, and said Alaska Airlines isn’t doing it to exclude any other target audiences, Bowman added.
Bowman believes this is a perfect balance of a playful marketing stunt with genuine value because there’s a great connection with boomers and the airline known for caring. And that natural fit, becomes even more important as travelers get older and their needs as flyers change, she said.
Contrary to what has been reported, Bowman insists while it’s more money than Alaska Airlines would normally spend during this time of year, the airline isn’t investing the majority of its marketing allocation in this concept.
“Overall this is a low-budget effort and we expect the return to be five times the size of our investment,” she said.
Already the campaign with the hashtag #akboomerhouse is generating a buzz on social media and while the influencers haven’t been selected yet, a call for open auditions is going out Tuesday morning at 10 EST on the airline’s Instagram stories and Tik Tok accounts. Meanwhile, anyone considering participating can post a video on social with the hashtag and tag the airline to let Alaska know they’re interested, Bowman said.
Surprisingly, the buzz so far has generated more interests from celebrities than content creators and those celebrities want to take part in the AK Boomer House, she said. While Bowman coyly refused to drop names, she said the airline is in talks with them.
For choreography, she’s also in talks with DanceOn, an online dance content website with an audience of over 100 million and original programming co-founded by the material girl herself, Madonna.
The choreography is important because boomers with and without name recognition, but with big personalities, have to be willing to learn dances in order to be selected, Bowman said. And they will need to be vaccinated as well, for consideration.
As airlines continue prepping for pandemic recovery, Alaska Airlines sees this campaign as a playful way of encouraging people to start making new travel plans and hopes it introduces the airline to a new audience of flyers, Bowman said.
“I think activities like this help people step away from their every day, they remember what it is they love about travel, they start to plan and think about the future, which we haven’t been able to do for a really long time. And so to me, this just helps open people up to planning, even if they’re not ready to travel,” said Bowman.
Alaska believes that if it can make people smile before they book, they can make them smile even more once they’re flying Alaska Airlines. So the airline sees this as just starting the relationship early, she said.
And for those who are skeptical about spending money on a creative campaign that may or may not produce a return on investment, Bowman has some advice.
“This is a low cost campaign for us, it’s an idea versus a fully blown advertising campaign, and I’m being interviewed by a Skift reporter right now, off of an idea, and I think that speaks to the power of it, versus you know huge investment in a seven figure television campaign that doesn’t always get you this type of energy and excitement,” she said.
And what’s next for the airline? Don’t discount the possibility of other generational houses if this really takes off the way Bowman hopes it does.
“Our goal is to have a conversation-worthy campaign like this every quarter. We have several innovative projects in the works: a Oneworld campaign, the launch of our sponsorship of the (NHL team) Seattle Kraken and a new program called the Upgrade Initiative, aimed at high school students as part of our continued rollout of our DEI livery, Our Commitment, created in partnership with United Negro College Fund,” said Bowman.
Photo credit: An Alaska airlines boomer is vaccinated and ready to travel to Cabo or the AK Boomer House. Alaska Airlines/Sunshine Sachs