When US president Donald Trump couldn’t secure funding for his divisive border wall with Mexico earlier this year, he shut the government down. But you knew that. What you may not have known is that the shutdown helped airline Aeroméxico increase flights from the US to Mexico by 33%.
This airline leveraged the border-wall controversy and turned it into ticket sales through a campaign called DNA Discounts, which worked like this: Aeroméxico offered Americans cheaper tickets to Mexico if they could prove their Mexican heritage by taking a DNA test (the greater your genetic connection to the country, the greater the discount).
To promote the discounts, Aeroméxico created a film in which Texans were questioned about their interest in going to Mexico. As you may have guessed, initial responses were largely negative and grounded in prejudice. After taking a DNA test and hearing about the discount they were eligible to receive, however, their attitudes shifted. It was a clear anti-wall statement.
The campaign was initially released in May 2018, to little fanfare. But in January 2019 when the government shutdown pushed the border wall to the front-pages again, the agencies behind the campaign (Ogilvy Mexico City and Ogilvy Bogotá) gave it another push. And it went viral, being shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media and getting picked up by outlets such as Time magazine, USA Today, and CNN.
DNA Discounts wasn’t the first time Aeroméxico has inserted itself in political conversation, either. A 2016 campaign, Fronteras, was a direct response to Trump’s border wall speech. It challenged a serious issue, borders being built – not just between Mexico and the USA – but between different factions of people. The voiceover even explicitly stated: ‘Borders: has anything good ever come of them?’
When Aeroméxico was questioned about the Fronteras campaign, its marketing director answered: ‘We felt at the time that we had to go out and make a bold statement.’
And yet, when Aeroméxico’s DNA Discounts campaign attracted renewed interest in January 2019, bold statements from the company’s executives came there none. The campaign video was no where to be found on the airline’s social media channel, either (it was promoted through agency channels). In fact, it looked like the brand was hiding from the campaign.
The Financial Times picked up on the brand’s silence, speculating: ‘Aeroméxico appears wary of upsetting the new government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, which is walking on eggshells to keep good relations with Mr Trump.’
To get to the bottom of the matter, we asked the agency behind the campaign.
When we emailed Ogilvy Latam CCO, John Forero, to ask why Aeroméxico had not shared the video on its social media channels, he responded: ‘Aeroméxico has not wanted to give declarations about it because you have to take into account that your business partner is Delta, a North American company. As there is a political situation in the middle, our client has decided to handle things with prudence.’
The veracity of the discounts was questioned, too, because it wasn’t clear how people could access them (the campaign case study video just stated they were given out in partnership with unspecified ‘local US travel agencies’). Interest was sufficient that Snopes even investigated the matter.
To learn more, we spoke to Mariana Cárnedas, chief strategy officer at Ogilvy Bogotá. She couldn’t tell us much more than what was in the case study video (we’re waiting to hear back on some more questions), but she did go over the insight and strategy behind the campaign. The whole interview can be viewed on Contagious I/O, but an abridged version is below.
Can you tell me a bit more about Aeromexico? What is its position in the market?
Aeroméxico is a brand that is proud of its origins and has a communications philosophy that is daring, big and bold.
For the past couple of years, the brand’s statement has been: ‘There are no borders between us,’ which along with the communication actions, establishes the brand’s position and point of view regarding […] controversial political and cultural situations, as well as conversations about Mexico.
What was the brief that led to the DNA Discounts campaign?
Aeroméxico, is one of Mexico’s major airlines and gets a lot of its income from flights from Mexico to US, but not so much the other way around. Planes were leaving full from Mexico, and returning with [empty seats]. Flights to the USA from Mexico account for 58.1% of Aeroméxico’s income per year, while flights from the USA to Mexico account for only 27.7% of annual income.
For an airline business this implies a non-sustainable situation in the long run in terms of people, time and budget. Aeroméxico needed to find an immediate way to face and change this reality and overcome this situation, figuring out at the same time how to make a big statement about the brand’s position and purpose.
What were the business objectives?
The business objectives were focused on reducing the difference in terms of occupation [number of people on the plane] between flights from the US to Mexico and flights from Mexico to the US. It was necessary to make a statement that would be so strong it could be replicated and understood all over the US.
The campaign gained a lot of attention earlier this year, even though it happened six months earlier, why? Was that a conscious strategic decision?
Yes, we launched the campaign when it was relevant, but political and social circumstances were relevant enough for us to give it a new push and make the campaign something that people could stand up for.
We expected it to be a conversation starter for people in the US, but we didn’t expect it to become a global and viral point of view that most people shared. [According to Cárnedas, the campaign video got 23,404,089 views in just a week on different platforms, achieving a total of 1.6 billion impressions. More than 300,000 people shared the video on their own Facebook timeline.]
What was the insight behind the campaign?
Historically there has always been xenophobic conversation within the United States, [but now] hatred is at its highest level. And the intention to build a wall that separates both countries is stronger and more radical over the Southern border.
Knowing this and having the [results] of all the research we previously did on Mexican migration, cultural history, etc., and through analysis and creative input, we got to the conclusion of ‘How can you reject something you’ve got inside?’ That was the basis of our campaign.
How did you come up with the idea?
It was clear that in a category where price is one of the main deciding factors, we needed to do a promotional campaign. But the twist was that it needed to be more than just a discount, and prove the brand’s view that ‘there are no borders between us’.
We started another research project into travelling motivation, and we understood that origins and ‘self-discovery’ were the creative resource that would give the campaign the punch it needed.
We established that this situation was a behavioural problem that could only be countered by another behaviour. So we appealed to something they loved (discounts) and something they said they didn’t like (Mexico), to develop an unconventional way to provide discounts: using people’s DNA. It turned a traditional promotion into an innovative and revealing reward.
Was it difficult to get Aeroméxico to agree to do it?
Aeroméxico is invested in its brand positioning and willing to go for daring, big and bold campaigns, and that was why they were on board from the beginning.
As for the implementation, as their agency we needed to be respectful, aware and cautious of their business in the US and partnerships with American companies.