AirAsia unveils new marketing solutions group, parallels the likes of Amazon

AirAsia's travel and lifestyle platform AirAsia.com has created a new unit known as AirAsia Media Group comprising five pillars - content and creative, media, data and adtech, talent and celebrities and channels - with over 100 employees overseeing the ASEAN market. The new media group is led by CEO Sumit Ramchandani (pictured), and other key leaders also include Rudy Khaw, head of content and creative, who also doubles as chief brand officer for AirAsia Group, as well as CEO of RedRecords Hassan Choudhury. 

airasia media group

In an interview with A+M, Ramchandani said AirAsia Media Group has been in the making "since a few months" and the five pillars were born out of a common goal of being accountable for results for its advertising partners. Taken together, he explained these pillars help complete a full funnel marketing offering although each of the pillars also has its own proposition to add value to the airline's partners. 

We launched the AirAsia Media Group with the vision to be a one of a kind marketing solutions partner integrating ad tech/data with content and publishing channels, focused on travellers and the pop culture in ASEAN.

Ramchandani first joined AirAsia late last year as CEO of AirAsia Ads, the media, data and adtech arm. Back then, AirAsia Media Group had yet to come to fruition. He explained that the new media group has been constantly evolving and the consolidation of adtech, content and channel into one integrated media group took place only recently. 

"I have now taken a broader role of managing not just the ads portfolio but also content and channel distribution, whilst Khaw continues to helm branding and creative arms within the Group," he added.

According to him, the pandemic forced the team to go back to the drawing board and it realised that the strength of its ecosystem is extendable beyond travel to include eCommerce and lifestyle.

"With a rich set of omnichannel media assets, first-party data and last but not the least, our more than 23,000 All-Stars, over 1,000 of whom are influencers in their own right, we are able to play an increasingly important role in engaging consumers at every touchpoint," Ramchandani explained.

Hence, it made sense for the airline to come up with a unique set of media offerings for marketers and unify them under a single group so as to "extract maximum leverage" from its ecosystem. 

An up and coming rival of Amazon Advertising?

AirAsia Media Group's ecosystem is its unique selling point, Ramchandani said, adding that it offers "an unrivalled reach" across the ASEAN region, a rich set of both, digital and offline channels and first-party intent-driven audience data, at scale. This is available across businesses that include travel, fintech, lifestyle and eCommerce.

The closest parallel we can think of, in terms of the offering, is Amazon Advertising.

"Of course we may not have the global reach or scale but what we do have is our own ad tech platform, an omnichannel media offering and a solid regional penetration. Our brand partners have the option to run their campaign either via the company's own self-service adtech platform or via managed service. All this coupled with our partnership with Universal Music Group (UMG) is what makes us unique," Ramchandani added.

Last December, AirAsia struck a deal with UMG to launch the label RedRecords and RedCarpet, with the latter requiring only six weeks to launch since its conception. Elaborating on RedCarpet which focuses on talent-driven marketing campaigns, Ramchandani said its key proposition with this unit is to combine UMG's strengths in managing top talent and celebrities with AirAsia's media reach, marketing and content creation capabilities to deliver campaigns targeted to the pop culture in ASEAN. RedRecords and RedCarpet currently work with Malaysian actor Alvin Chong and Thai-German artist Jannine Weigel, respectively. Weigel is in the midst of launching her first single named "Passcode" and AirAsia Media Group was responsible for the entire marketing campaign.

Indeed, AirAsia is making efforts to portray itself as more than just an airline but instead a company with various entities in F&B, logistics, rewards and eCommerce. According to Ramchandani, the team sees AirAsia Media Group as the engine to power, distribute and unify all its advertising assets across all of the companies within the group, including Santan, Teleport, BIGLife, OURFARM and OURSHOP, to create a results-oriented proposition for its advertising partners. These include areas such as online, in-the-air and from origin to destination.

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Being a partner to both brands and agencies

With the airline being a renowned brand in the region, it is without a doubt that AirAsia Media Group's core strength lies in this market. Ramchandani said it is looking for partners in both brands and agencies, as well as searching for transparency and measurable business outcomes from their marketing investments.

"At the onset we are being selective in working with the brands while we fine tune our offering. Some of our existing clients include leading eCommerce players in fashion and lifestyle, established travel technology platforms, a rapidly growing local upstart in the automotive space and more," he said. While Ramchandani declined to specify partners' names and the ROI AirAsia Media Group hopes to achieve, he said the media group will continue to have ongoing campaigns with its internal group companies and hospitality partners.

Just like any company in the travel industry, AirAsia had to undergo cost rationalising exercises in certain areas and repurpose team members to other departments to keep it future ready. The airline laid off employees in June after its senior executives took a voluntary pay cut in March.

Although the current pandemic situation has made us look carefully at our hiring needs, we are still looking to hire for specific skill sets on digital marketing and eCommerce.

Additionally, the company is also looking to expand its sales team in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, Ramchandani said. "Overall we look forward to partnering with marketers, and showcase how the AirAsia ecosystem can help achieve their marketing goals around quality data and leading up to conversion," he added.

Future proofing for next year

AirAsia.com's CEO Karen Chan recently said that being future ready in a post-COVID-19 world is about being data-driven, digital and diversified. The travel and lifestyle platform's revenue for the second quarter of 2020 was up 137% year-on-year, and Chan said it is the only super app which owns an airline, and the data of the 75 million customers who it has flown.

"We will be leveraging this rich database through our machine learning and product management capabilities to drive the quantum and volume of purchases across our ecosystem. We just launched a personalisation engine on AirAsia.com, meaning that the website is optimised differently for every user based on their historical preferences and purchasing habits," she said.

Chan added that the result is a user experience which prioritises products that a user is most likely to purchase, increasing retention and upsell potential. These efforts in shoring up its data capabilities dovetail with its initiatives to create a seamless digital mobile-first ecosystem for its customers aimed at increasing user stickiness.

AirAsia.com's built-in chat function receives close to a million active users daily and Chan said it will soon be rolling out more features to deepen its user community engagement. 

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