How AirAsia RedRecords integrates its artists into the passenger journey via in-house assets

Despite the headwinds it is facing from the COVID-19 pandemic, AirAsia is pushing on with its innovation. Most recently, AirAsia RedRecords, a label partnership launched in collaboration with Universal Music Group, roll out of the new single titled "Passcode" by Thai-German singer Jannine Weigel (pictured below centre). To promote her new record, the brand tapped on its in-house assets. With Weigel, RedRecords decided to push its boundaries by reading out the in-flight safety announcement in English and Thai, languages which Weigel are fluent in. In other non-English and Thai speaking countries, Weigel will be introducing the in-flight safety announcement before it is played. In addition to that, she will also be introducing her new single via AirAsia's arrival and departure music.

Besides the in-flight safety announcement, RedRecords has also tied up with TikTok for a campaign. To date, Weigel has released 15-second teasers of her new single on her TikTok account, which currently has over 561.9k followers, and a dance challenge is expected to drop now that the record is launched. RedRecords CEO Hassan Choudhury (pictured below right) told A+M in an interview that TikTok reached out to RedRecords as it felt Weigel was the ideal demographic for its users. "She is of mixed heritage, young, dynamic, relevant has a huge social media following," he said.

tony fernandes jannine weigel hassan choudhury

Her latest music video also features popular TikTok users from Malaysia and Thailand, who will be swapped out in local European markets with more relevant TikTok users. With the TikTok challenge, AirAsia hopes to make consumers resonate with Weigel. It also hopes to reach out to parents and gain their trust via this initiative. Moreover, four AirAsia All-Stars with a huge social media following are also included in the new music video - Mabel Goo, Eqin Jamil, Marut Ghoummeddin and Hamizul Hafeez.. The company will also be cross marketing Weigel via its different touch points, such as having her merchandise being sold online by AirAsia.com and its eCommerce store OURSHOP. 

According to Choudhury, the team wants Weigel to be part of AirAsia's passenger journey, as part of its broader aim to become a lifestyle brand and a super app. "[The transformation into a lifestyle brand] is going to be driven a lot by content and we all known content engagement equals revenue. We want Weigel to feel part of the consumer's journey, whether through booking of a ticket, or as a companion on the plane via her music. We want consumers to trust her because she is familiar, she looks good and the song is cool," he explained. Choudhury added that the company wants to capture passengers from the moment they search for flights.

"Every plane is a theatre. It is a retail space because all planes are there to be advertised on and create touchpoints," he said. He added that the audience on the plane is captive so it is an ideal time to market to them - but of course in a fun manner. 

Although he declined to comment on the exact monetary value of the investment, Choudhury said that a campaign that would normally cost millions could be easily carried out by AirAsia because of its assets. 

"Everyone is so conscious of spending money and the whole idea, to be honest, was to bring two companies together to leverage off everything with the least amount of cost. So your biggest cost is making the record and making the video. Outside that, it should be down to the strengths of the companies, the assets, and the data. We have got to be clever with our data and CRM. That is why we have our data scientists on the back end working out how to maximise and optimise the audience that we have," he said. Choudhury added that where AirAsia does not have the planes, reach or data, he is confident that Universal Music Group will use its strengths and network to help market Weigel.

RedRecords is part of AirAsia Media Group, a newly-launched marketing solutions group comprising content and creative, media, data and adtech, talent and celebrities and channels. Led by CEO Sumit Ramchandani, Choudhury is one of the three leaders of the group, with the other being Rudy Khaw, head of content and creative, who also doubles as chief brand officer for AirAsia Group. AirAsia Ads, which sits under AirAsia Media Group, was responsible for the creatives behind Weigel's marketing campaign.

The company also has ambitions of Weigel to reinvigorate tourism by leveraging on her relevance among youths and mixed heritage, in addition to its goal of her being an ambassador for AirAsia. Choudhury said:

The idea is that we are creating these pop stars that could be relevant. We want them to be ambassadors for this region.

The new single has been a passion project for Weigel, group CEO Tony Fernandes and the RedRecords team throughout the Movement Control Order, with the entire song recorded in collaboration with Grammy-nominated record producer Tommy Brown and Canadian singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez. Brown has produced for artists such as Blackpink, Ariana Grande and Chris Brown while Reyez has written for Dua Lipa. It was also co-produced and co-written by John O, former frontman of Malaysian pop band Paperplane Pursuit who also happens to be RedRecords’ A&R Manager.

Weigel currently has 1.7 million Instagram followers and more than 28,000 likes on Facebook and has received strong interest from consumers in Thailand and Malaysia, Choudhury said. These factors, coupled with the fact that they had the opportunity to collaborate with Brown, motivated the team to push ahead with the launch amidst the pandemic.

"If you launch the single at the end of the year, there will be all other massive releases. And if we waited until next year, some might say it took us a year to make a record. Hence we went ahead with this opportunity to be creative. What we cannot do in a physical way, we will do it virtually and of course the digital world makes it a lot easier," he explained.

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The journey towards creating ASEAN pop

One of the main goals of RedRecords is to elevate ASEAN pop (A-pop) globally to new audiences. Choudhury explained that the challenge with a fragmented market such as Southeast Asia is that the music does not bleed into each another's market. For example, Malaysia and Thailand each have their own music. As a result, the team took an alternative approach by finding an ASEAN talent, creating an international record with the potential to become a hit and have the world take notice.

"Look at what South Korea and Japan have done. Why can't Southast Asia do the same too? We have about 780 million people living here," he said. When asked about the recipe for success when it comes to A-pop, Choudhury said it is all about the record.

"A-pop is just an affectionate term for it. At the end of the day, your product has got to be engaging. You can have the coolest artist or the best looking one on the planet, but if the record is not great, it is not going to happen," he said.

Choudhury has more than two decades of experience marketing in the music industry, first starting out at Warner Music before heading to Sony and then Universal Music Group. During his time in those three companies, he was involved in different departments, from marketing to finance and sales. One of the things Choudhury has noticed in Southeast Asia is that everything is "pushed down a digital pipe and a lot of it is hoping for the best".

While digital is important, he said one reason why BTS and Blackpink, for example, have done so well is because they have not forgotten the physical side in being relevant and present in the market.

"Of course, in areas where they cannot be there now, they are making up for it with innovative virtual tours and promotions. There is also a huge physical presence for them in terms of their product and merchandising," he said. And this is the same approach RedRecords wants to take with Weigel, by integrating her into the passenger journey to create her presence.

Meanwhile, speaking of his experience, Choudhury also said that four years ago, he was not as data-driven as he is now, having worked at an airline which is consumer facing and relies heavily on data and CRM. Now that RedRecords has taken off with a new single, the team is also working towards hosting a music festival when the pandemic clears up. 

"What does AirAsia do better than anyone else? Sell tickets. So why not sell a ticket, content, hotel and flight? We are like the Amazon of lifestyle. You have got everything. You trust the artist and the airline. You know you are going to get your ticket and you can check out via our e-wallet BIGPAY too," he said.

A way to futureproof the company, according to Choudhury, is to keep the cost down to the minimum and "leverage on everything you can free", for example social media. He added that social media has the ability to create a bigger message than anyone and the fact that RedRecords involved Malaysian and Thai TikTok users in Weigel's latest music video, that is something that one "cannot put a price on" if the marketing goes viral.

The new normal is very much about cost and what can you do in this digital world that you never thought of doing. Do not go down the traditional route all the time. It is not all about spending, it is about being creative.

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