PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—From flying iconic New York pizzas to hungry Californians to creating a (parody) airline safety video starring drag queens, nobody’s having more fun in the sky than JetBlue.
At Adweek’s 2019 Brandweek summit, JetBlue’s vp of marketing Elizabeth Windram and her team took home the Alliance Award at the 2019 Constellation Awards for the airline’s partnership with the smash hit TV series RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The connection happened organically after two employees submitted the name Shantay Blue Stay into the airline’s annual internal plane-naming competition.
“We did ask ourselves the question, ‘Would this compromise anyone’s views of our commitment to safety?’ And we agreed, no. It’s clearly a parody, and it’s fun!” Windram said.
Her team has leveraged the brand’s roots—JetBlue markets itself as “New York’s hometown airline,” with its headquarters located in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens—into marketing opportunities like rebranding the famed Pepsi sign to advertise the airline’s switch from Coke to Pepsi.
Of course, a more well-known Gotham icon is the fabled slice of pizza. Much like the ubiquitous bagel, the cheese slice has never quite been perfected outside of the five boroughs.
To market JetBlue’s cross-country routes, Windram and her team decided to turn the airline into a pizza delivery service, bringing Harlem’s Patsy’s Pizzeria pies to hungry Los Angelenos.
“These poor people out here in California can’t get a decent slice,” Windram said. “It was fun, it was stunt-y, and it gained a lot of media attention.”
But it wasn’t just a stunt.
“It was really rooted in a strategic need,” she explained. “We are a growing transcontinental franchise. We are the leader in flights from New York to Los Angeles. … We need to tell that story of ‘transcon’ dominance. Becoming a coast-to-coast pizza delivery service was a very on-brand way to tell that story.”
A former marketing manager at Barefoot Wine, Windram strives to bring an “outsider perspective” to travel marketing.
“As a professional, I try to keep fresh eyes, not get too mired in the norms of the industry, to try to have an outsider view and preserve it, which gets harder and harder as you learn more about the constraints,” she said.
When asked why such experiential marketing moves have worked so well for JetBlue, Windram said, “It’s evocative—people love to think about travel, so it’s been a ripe ground to play in.”