Earlier this year, Dubai International Airport (DXB) was ranked as the world’s second busiest international hub, registering almost six million passengers in March 2013. According to the monthly traffic report issued by Dubai Airports, passenger traffic surged to be the highest since August 2012.These numbers are important to advertisers and brands as they can reach out to the millions of visitors that travel to Dubai, as well as the transit travelers, expected to reach 98 million by 2020.
“Major airports around the world are focused on portraying the most positive image, which involves incorporating innovative, engaging, and aesthetically beautiful concepts, primarily in the form of services or advertisements,” says David Bourg, CEO of JCDecaux Middle East, Dubai Airports’ exclusive outdoor advertising supplier.
Not only has airport advertising evolved tremendously in the past five years, but so has the way airports approach advertisement, says Eugene Barry, senior vice president of the commercial unit at Dubai Airports. Ten years ago, advertising wasn’t considered an essential part of business in airports; rather, it was mostly driven by brands themselves, because airports related to their business and messages one way or another. However, since 2008, brands shifted their attention to airports that contribute to their global strategy. And, with numbers surging in certain connecting hubs, advertisers need to have a piece of the one-million-passengers pie. Considering the massive increase in the numbers of international passengers year after year, DXB has become an ideal place to get brand recognition in a variety of locations and formats; and that hasn’t gone unnoticed by airport management. “Advertising, as part of commercial revenue of an airport, is becoming more important now than ever before. It’s a global trend to reduce dependence on aeronautical charts related to airlines (passenger charts, handling charts, etc.) and on governments,” says Barry.
To make competition even sweeter, the airport is no stranger to Guinness World records, having both Nissan and Motorola breaking world records within the airport’s premises (the former for the biggest indoor display, and the latter for the longest ad covering a wall).
Wings of change
According to Barry, prior to the financial crisis in 2008, local companies dominated advertising in DXB. The messages reflected the specific state of the economy at that time: significantly, most of the advertisers were regionally based real estate or development companies. However, as we well know, the domestic market went through massive changes, and DXB also went through its own. Different brands started seeing the airport as an interesting space to advertise, while, on its part, the airport placed effort on attracting certain brands, says Barry. “We are not competing against the local market anymore, we are competing globally against other airports. We fight for a financial client like Citibank against other Asian airports, who were trying to get the same client,” he adds.
JCDecaux ran a survey in 2011, titled “Airport Stories”, and found that “82 percent of passengers expected services and entertainment to make the most of their journey and to enjoy the time spent at the airport in the most comfortable way.”
Brands have, slowly but surely, responded to passengers’ demands by changing the way they sell their messages in the airport. “Before, it was all about presence in the airport, regardless of the form,” says Barry. Now, it is about innovation. There has been a huge shift from static advertising billboards to more digital, interactive and Bluetooth-driven ones. “We would sell a billboard for one or two months, sometimes for a year. Now, we see more specific campaign-driven ads because of a certain time period, or an event that is happening to the brand or the region,” explains Barry. Images and messages (and sometimes language) are now changing faster. For instance, during the Dubai Shopping Festival, most of the messages are changed from Arabic to English, or Chinese, due to the increase of international visitors’ numbers. “We see fragrance brands use Chinese and Russian in their advertisement a lot more, because they see that segment as more important to their brand. Advertising now is very adaptable; it’s not about fixed points anymore,” says Barry.
Air of creativity
The ongoing demand for consumer engagement drives brands to look for more innovative concepts to lure passengers throughout the duration of their journey.“The increase in media segmentation continues to be a common trend in airport advertising. Digital has become a big part of advertising within the airport, offering a captive environment that engages the consumer,” says Bourg.
Other new forms of advertising shaping up in airports, include experiential marketing – a customer’s experience with a brand or service allowing interaction in a sensory way. “This solution is used to engage passengers and build brand awareness. It also delivers experiences that will develop relationships and bonds, which enable brands to grow over time,” explains Bourg. Other marketing
initiatives include QR codes, digital displays and sponsored services.
Financial brands, such as Visa or MasterCard, have become more location-specific with their ads. They are now mostly found at a point in the journey where passengers are thinking about spending money; therefore, MasterCard is found on the baggage belt, a point where people might consider a purchase on the next part of their journey. Visa advertises on the connecting train terminals, before passengers are about to leave their airport.
Not that all brands have unlimited options. Some of them – namely alcohol and liquor ones – are allowed to communicate, but within a very strict framework. These restrictions within the airport, imposed by the airport’s management, include never showing the product itself, being poured or consumed; locations limited to airside spots (behind the immigration gates) and away from the legal landside of the Dubai Duty Free. Prior approval of the campaign is obviously an absolute must. “[Alcohol ads] are not near sensitive areas (such as prayer areas) and they are removed during the month of Ramadan,” adds Barry.
Dubai World Central is due to open for passenger flights this October; JCDecaux is also handling the advertising there.