Toronto Airports Authority & American Express Forge Multi-Faceted

Carroll McCormick
Published in: 

Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) pioneered new marketing territory this summer, when a multi-year, multi-faceted advertising and sponsorship agreement took effect between American Express and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA).

The partnership launched in June, when YYZ expanded its existing American Express priority lane program at Terminal One security checkpoints to include all security checkpoints within the airport. Screening procedures don't vary according to passengers' credit card preferences; American Express cardholders simply receive expedited access. American Express cardholders access the priority lanes by showing their credit cards; GTAA personnel manage the queues.

June also marked a change in YYZ's customer Wi-Fi service. Access is still free, but advertising now lets users and other airport visitors know that American Express is sponsoring the service.

Sponsorship of selective in-airport entertainment - some in departure areas - is also part of the agreement, but specific details are still in development. "(Given) what's happening in digital today, you can entertain those who want to be entertained, and not bother those who do not want to be entertained," hints Mike Ross, GTAA's director of Retail and Guests Services.

David Barnes, vice president of Advertising and Communications, American Express Canada, focuses on the opportunity to transform time spent waiting at the airport into "time well spent." He also wants to ensure that the entertainment American Express sponsors at the airport will provide useful information and is continual rather than sporadic and event-based. "We will monitor the entertainment service very closely and get guest feedback in real time," he notes. "We are confident we can do it in a very classy way."

The unprecedented partnership is new territory for both entities. The cross-platform airport campaign is a unique effort for American Express, and it's the most comprehensive agreement GTAA has ever signed with an advertiser.

"It creates a bundle of sponsorship properties where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," relates Ross.

Keeping Up with Changing Times


Project: Advertising & Sponsorship Agreement

Location: Toronto Pearson Int'l Airport

Marketing Partner: American Express

Program Debut: June 2012

Scope: Traditional advertising; sponsorship of services & entertainment

Benefits: Non-aeronautical revenue; additional services for visitors

Key Elements: Priority security checkpoint lanes for American Express cardholders; valet parking & free access to airport lounges for premium cardholders; free Wi-Fi access for all airport visitors.

Under Development: Sponsored entertainment for all airport visitors; priority taxi/limousine lines for American Express cardholders

Indoor and outdoor advertising at YYZ sold by Clear Channel Outdoor, as well as sponsorships, have long been a source of non-aeronautical revenue for GTAA. A few years ago, however, the airport authority decided to update its corporate marketing.

"We recognized that the advertising industry had changed significantly," Ross explains, noting the predominance of digital media, in particular. "More companies were looking for opportunities to engage customers one-on-one, so we developed a sponsorship and partnership strategy to address this corporate need.

"We have partnered with AmEx because we thought they were a very good fit with Toronto Pearson and because of their brand's customer service focus and long standing association with travel."

Both American Express and GTAA are clear about the partnership's two objectives: improving the airport experience for all YYZ passengers and providing special perks to cardholders. "This is all designed to make the experience of moving through the airport a more positive one," says Barnes.

The program is also engineered to promote the American Express brand as not just a credit card, but as a lifestyle. "We want to get across that it is a deeper relationship, more than just a card to go pay for things with," Barnes adds.

Premium-level cardholders, for instance, will have complimentary access to five lounges owned and operated by Plaza Premium in terminals 1 and 3. They will also receive a 15% parking discount and complimentary premium curbside Valet Care service. In fall, select taxi and limousine lines will open at the arrivals levels for the exclusive use of premium cardholders.

Beyond Logo Placement

American Express uses the term "experiential marketing" to describe its custom blend of advertising and sponsorships. "It pulls together various communication and direct touch points for the airport and passengers," relates Barnes. "We are treating the airport as an ecosystem and using its assets to talk about the experience at the airport."

The campaign at YYZ will include traditional advertising, such as posters, banners and television spots, but Barnes emphasizes that placements will be relevant to the services American Express is providing. "This is more than just putting your logo somewhere. It is doing something with it," he explains. "We could have spent all our money on advertising, but we and the GTAA were motivated to do something for the travel experience at the airport."

The new marketing partnership and its campaign structure will be a learning experience for American Express and the airports authority, Ross acknowledges.

"It is about identifying the risk in our revenues, trends in the industry and looking at companies that want opportunities to engage with customers rather than just use traditional advertising," he summarizes. "We know this is a great fit for us, and we are working together to make sure both companies are happy with the agreement."


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