the sally sisson blog

November 7, 2017

Kicking Up the Creativity in Content Marketing

Airlines that take branded content above and beyond

Digital marketing is soaring in the airline sector, with digital, social, apps and experiential (big time) increasingly added to the mix. A bit over the top in some cases, but it’s proving to be effective as airlines crank up their creative to lure millennials and differentiate their brands in a competitive space.

As a writer, I’m more wowed by words than virtual reality, but recognize there’s value in both. I recently flew on two airlines with notable approaches, one more old-school than the other. Both were on the economy end of the scale, but both provided content-rich experiences that made the experience feel anything but.

Case Study #1: Icelandair

Two years ago I knew two people who’d been to Iceland. This year it’s 20 and counting. Thanks to a brilliant airline marketing campaign, more people than ever are visiting the Nordic island nation, not just jetting over it. Read “How Icelandair’s ‘Stopover Buddy’ Experiential Campaign Boosted Sales by 30%” if you don’t know the backstory.

I did my own mini version of that, taking a 24-hour stopover on a flight from London to Boston—just long enough to wash my cares away while drinking cold beer in a steaming geothermal hot spring at the Blue Lagoon spa, set in a lava field 10 km/6.5 miles from the airport.

So I knew the airline was riding high as a result of this experiential campaign. I just didn’t realize that content played such a prominent role in the overall branding and was pleased to see so much of it sprinkled about.

content marketing airline headrest

Bite-sized content

The first thing I notice upon boarding is the messaging on the headrests. Each cloth has a line of clever copy: snippets that entertain and inform and leave you wanting more.

Then I get to my seat and find a blanket and a pillow, each telling a different part of the bigger story. The design is clean and distinct, making my economy class seat feel more “Scandi sleek” than utilitarian.


Fun factoids

Mealtime brings yet more snackable content, with napkins and cups printed with factoids about volcanoes and glaciers and hot springs and other geological wonders. Most include some Icelandic [íslenska] vocabulary to pique interest and get you in practice.

While a translation for “hello, where is the bathroom?” might be useful, this STORKUR steam on my coffee cup is a lot more compelling. The messaging is doing its magic. My in-flight magazine tells tales of geysers, volcanoes and geothermal spas. I learn that Iceland is richer in hot springs and high-temperature activity than any other country in the world. That people have been bathing in these primitive volcanic pools since the days of the Vikings. I’ll be damned if I’m not one of them!

Words and more words

The one at the right shows seven different ways to say cup. At least I think that’s what it is. Or seven different terms for drinking vessel.

I won’t remember more than one, but that’s not really the point, is it?



Even the bathrooms are decorated with branded content.

Drip, drip, drip.

I learn something new about Iceland at each touch point. I’m genuinely eager to learn more.

@randfishkin tweet Icelandair

The customer experience

Blue Lagoon, Grindavik

My whirlwind #stopover is an exhilarating success. A bucket-list experience for the books and I return to Reykjavik airport rejuvenated and scrubbed clean with algae and minerals. I pick specs of silica out of my damp hair and stuff my backpack with brochures for my next visit.

On the plane I snuggle up in my (branded) blanket, ready to bliss out. I rest my head on my lullaby pillow and watch the “Northern Lights”—mesmerizing mood lighting beamed from the ceiling and side screens lining the cabin. This might be the closest thing to hygge I’ll ever find at 35,000 feet. A satisfying customer experience indeed.

HYGGE (pronounced “HUE-gah”) is a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.


Bilingual Lullaby Pillow

Bye bye and hushabye,
Can you see the swans fly?
Now half asleep in bed I lie,
Awake with half an eye.
Hey and welladay,
Over hills and far away,
That’s where the little children stray
To find the lambs at play.

– An Icelandic Lullaby


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July 27, 2014

Content Marketing With a Side of Bacon

Denny's Content Marketing Campaign

How Denny’s Became a Weirdly Successful Content Marketer

This Fast Company article about Denny’s off-beat content marketing campaign got me thinking. About the power of brand personality, the importance of taking creative risks, and about two eggs over easy, hash browns, rye toast and a side of bacon. Make that Applewood smoked bacon. (Caution: Reading and writing before breakfast may lead to obsessive tendencies.) But seriously, this is a smart, targeted marketing strategy that’s capturing a whole new audience by speaking their language, while still keeping it real with its loyal, long-time customers.

baconDenny’s is serving up fun and engaging material across multiple channels and formats. There are retro Atari video games featuring odd combos of Denny’s items (like hash browns) with Atari game elements (like asteroids) resulting in titles like “Hashteroids” (get it?). Although I’m far from the target audience, I did get a kick out of the web series Always Open with Jason Bateman, Sarah Silverman and Will Arnett dishing with celebrities in a Denny’s booth.

All this talk about food and content also reminded me of one of my favorite content marketing examples of all time : The Waffle Shop (not to be confused with Waffle House, which reminds me of Jim Gaffigan).

Content marketing broadcasting

Waffles With a Side of Content (& Storytelling)

A rooftop storytelling billboard, a TV production studio, live music. What’s not to love?

This is one of my favorite examples ever. So I was happy to see it as the #1 pick in the Content Marketing Institute’s compilation of 100 Content Marketing Examples last year. The story of The Waffle Shop, an independent Pittsburgh restaurant with a wildly creative approach to content marketing, was originally featured in: What if You Sold Waffles with a Side of Content?  by Andrew Davis.

I’m off to make some breakfast so will leave you with this excerpt:

“The Waffle Shop was a neighborhood restaurant that produced and broadcast a live-streaming talk show with its customers and operated a changeable storytelling billboard on its roof. [It} was a public lab that brought together people from all walks of life to engage in dialogue, experimentation and the co-production of culture. [It] functioned as an eatery, a TV production studio, a social catalyst, and a business.

“What’s interesting about [this] experiment is that they leverage a content-centric approach as the centerpiece of their business — it’s not a marketing project or a blog; in fact, the content is one of their products.”




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August 23, 2013

Best University Website Ever?

Monsters University best college website

Could be. This parody of a university website pretty much nails it. Created by clever minds at Pixar (to promote the Monsters U movie), it has all the elements: video testimonials, faculty profiles, an events calendar, even a school store. The only thing missing is a blog feed.

Over the years I’ve done communications, marketing and website work for K-12 schools, universities and education marketing clients, and I’ve spent a lot of time examining competitor websites and enrollment pitches. So when I saw the Monsters University website for the first time I had to laugh at the uncanny resemblance to the real thing.

college admissions videoAnd when I watched the Message from the Dean (see right), I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cringe. Have I scripted something scarily similar? Err…possibly.

I visited the website frequently this year, as I worked on the Monsters U marketing campaign with (wearing my copywriting hat). Each time I clicked I discovered another hilarious, spot-on piece of content. Food for thought as we head back to school and gear up for a new season of enrollment marketing. Here’s to fewer clichés and fresher ideas ahead!

Student ID card

Further reading on the Monsters U website and higher education marketing:

Future Comms: Scare Tactics
Go have a look at the site. It’s pretty much THE American university website. In fact, it’s a really good global university website… But what should we, in the Higher Ed community, really take from all this?
1. It’s not a university website. It’s a really good promotion for a multi-million dollar film made by a multi-billion dollar company. It’s just part of an annual ad budget that Adage cited as $2.1b in 2011.

Bob Johnson’s Blog on Higher Education Marketing
What do you get when you assemble every cliché about a higher education website in a single parody? The Monsters University website. Do not miss the intro to Academics with an opening video “Message from the Dean for Prospective Students.”

Sally Sisson Blog: Web Content and the Eternal Home Page Question: How much is too much?
Lessons learned from “Beyond the University Website – The Future of Digital Marketing in Higher Education.”


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