Where’s our message?

If you’re like most people, you commuted to work this morning, set up shop, got involved with the projects on your schedule, took a lunch break, got back to work, and then commuted home again. The whole process took something like nine or 10 hours and in that time you were bombarded with messages, advertisements, and sales pitches.

They’re so common to our daily lives you may not have even noticed them. Still, you were encouraged to take a vacation to someplace exciting or aboard a particular cruise line. Multiple restaurants jockeyed for your attention as you considered your lunch options. Ads popped up to entice you to buy a new car, or fuel it up at the station that offers you a free cup of coffee or slap a new set of tires on your old jalopy that would make it hug the road like a champ. Odds are good you even saw or heard an ad encouraging you to sue someone for no money out of pocket.

What you more than likely didn’t see or hear was an ad tempting you to learn to fly, rent an airplane, join a flying club, become an aircraft mechanic, or grab a bite to eat at the airport restaurant. And that matters, because recognizing the dearth of advertisements for aviation and aviation-related endeavors in every major market, every secondary market, and every tertiary market in America should come as a revelation to you. We are invisible to the majority of the population. Hence, aviation is growing internationally, while withering on the vine at home.

There’s a reason McDonalds advertises even though we’ve all been there a thousand times. You know Disney World exists, and they know you know it exists. Yet their marketing department continually runs advertisements to remind you they’re the happiest place on earth, and they’re open for business. Walmart is the largest retailer in the history of the world. No store is more ubiquitous from coast to coast, yet they still run advertisements on television, radio, and in the local paper, reminding you where you can buy anything you want for less than you can buy it anywhere else.

The lesson we need to learn is simple. Provide a good product or service at a fair price and advertise your wares appropriately, and the odds are you’ll be a success. Provide a good product or service at a fair price and keep it a secret, and you can plan on looking for a new line of work soon. Things probably aren’t going to work out for you.

Welcome to aviation in the waning days of 2013. Whether we’re talking about the big aircraft manufacturers, the major alphabet groups, smaller independent operators, or mom and pop shops, aviation has been effectively disguised in the U.S. as a rich man’s undertaking that is off-limits and unwelcoming of the common man or woman. We might as well be teaching polo classes, or building sculls for the Yale and Harvard crews.

In effect, the airport is void of participants for the simple reason that we’re not inviting them to come out and play with us.

Consider this: in October Adweek listed its top 10 advertisements. They were for vodka, pre-packaged microwavable lunch food, a smartphone, another smartphone, a movie, deodorant, a car, yet another smartphone, a dictionary, and underwear.

Note that three of the advertisements listed were for smartphones. These increasingly common electronic gadgets are not merely popular for kids, they’ve become the go-to device for all ages. Imagine a phone that costs $400 or more that is useless without a subscription service that can easily cost an additional $100 per month. A device many users consider to be virtually disposable, replacing them annually if not more often.

That being the case, is aviation truly too expensive or too complicated, or too inaccessible for the public at large to be interested in it? It’s more likely that we’ve just dropped the ball and forgotten to tell our story. We’ve lost our way and have failed to develop a message people find appealing. We’re not advertising effectively. That’s it. Case closed. We need a top shelf ad campaign.

Fortunately, aviation is jam packed with creative types who could do the work. If we were to simply engage the public with a compelling message of adventure, excitement, real value, and camaraderie, aviation might yet see a rebirth that would make the expansion of the industry in the World War II years seem tame in comparison.

Because in a world where people will spend a week’s wages to have a throw-away device in their pocket, spend a year’s salary to buy a car they intend to keep for no more than five years, and cheerfully hand over $4 for a cup of coffee, they will certainly invest less than the cost of a new motorcycle to acquire a skill that enriches their life, a certificate that will never expire, and provides them a view of the world that no human was able to experience for the first 100,000 years of our evolution.

Imagine the possibilities!

2014 kicks off in a matter of days. Let’s get motivated, get thinking, and kick off the new year with a whole new mission. Let’s share our message and grow our market. Now is the time. Do it.


  1. Mack says

    I missed out on being a Google millionaire. I didn’t understand how expensive/valuable advertising can be, I didn’t know how a free service makes money.

    As a wage-slave, though, I actually couldn’t gather any spare change to buy a single stock, even if a broker was willing to sell just one. (As opposed to a block of 100 stocks).

    Today, Google knows everything about me, but I still don’t receive any aviation ads from Google.

    How about the radio? Aviation ads on the radio, that would be something to hear!

    It’s going to take some really fast talking, for the disclaimer!
    Something like “personal ownership not really allowed, all maintenance must be deferred to high-school dropouts, under the control of licensed thieves. Operating permits only temporary, contingent on the fad medicine of government designated MD’s. All parts and equipment subject to national monopolies. Competition and innovation not generally allowed. Subject to severe government regulation. Pilots under scrutiny, at all times. No accidents permitted, liability and litigation enforced in virtual financial minefield. No public ground transportation at destinations. Fuel prohibitively expensive, if even available!”

    Now, for the ad: “Be like Brad Pitt! Get the exhilarating performance of a pre-owned Spitfire, only Three Million plus change and use tax! No warranty, but a multi-point check by toothless cousin Bubba!”

    Never mind the Cirrus limbo Angela Jolie is in, regarding registration!

    Yeah, today at lunch, I stopped at Pep Boys, for their special, two ignition systems, light bulbs, brake rotors and linings, throttle cable, and trim switch, spent only $5000.00, what would I have done, without that advertising poster in the window? One little problem, the IA won’t install it, unless he makes the purchase, himself!

  2. Kimberly Bush says

    When viewing a new release movie in the local theater, I sit through 20 minutes of pre-movie ads. No idea how much they cost.

  3. Kimberly Bush says

    “We love flying and so will you.” “It’s a beautiful day for flying.” “Hey, Bob, what are you doing this afternoon?” “I am going flying, want to ride along?”

  4. says

    Good stuff Jamie, and interesting reader feedback as well. Preaching to the choir, sliced to the bone marketing budgets, lack of pr/communications/advertising knowledge. All of these are legitimate issues. That need to be addressed INDUSTRY-WIDE. Ever wonder why all the car dealers congregate on “auto row” or “dealer mile?” They help each other out and make it easy for the customer to find them. We don’t do that much in GA!
    Let’s change that. It takes money and expertise. In 2014, look for us to start making some noise, noise which will help an entire industry.

  5. says

    I would like to challenge all of you.

    First – Jamie, you are exactly right on as usual. Your vision of what should and could be is nothing short of clairvoyant. We are mos def on the right team!

    Folks – I must declare to you something that will make many of you wince: in order to get more people into this industry, we simply must STOP STOP STOP SELLING FLIGHT TRAINING AS THE ANSWER!! There is WAAAY to much emphasis on selling TRAINING when instead we should be selling airplanes [or in the case of Aviation Access Project they are selling small inexpensive shares]. Think BOATS and MOTORCYCLES, We BUY them, then we get transition training to operate them. Aviation is so screwed up backwards! Still in denial? Look at the documented 80% dropout rate again and the alarming decline in the pilot population. Still in denial?

    When the Aviation Access Project team studied all of these conditions in 2011-2012 in preparation for a rollout of The Solution To Aviation, this was one huge glaring fail factor. Even the AOPA seems intent on promoting the Flight Training industry, instead of promoting aircraft ownership.

    There IS a way to do this. The advertising campaign is an excellent way to promote – but not if the subject is a SCHOOL. The central theme MUST be the Dream – owning one’s own plane, going where they want to go with their family, all within the context of personal freedom. THAT sells, not “support your local flight school”.

    Our research, the AOPA report in 2010 on the flight training experience, and thousands of conversations and interviews have shown this to be true.

    Still in denial? Then stay there. We are going to fix aviation one airport, one plane, one pilot at a time with a new mentality.

    All the best.

    • says

      Rick, and you to Len; You don’t, generally, sell a car to someone who doesn’t have a license FIRST -right? And YES, I’m OK with the shared bird thing – but you first need pilots (aviation) consumers; I firmly believe this; if “someone” can afford a Private or even an LSA license, they can, is most cases, afford (fractional-your concept) or an entire airplane of sorts! Frankly, I think going directly to “B” is a really big leap for the newly indoctrinated lay person into the world of flying – lets SELL them on flying first?
      For those who may have an interest on “my take” on this matter, much can be found in my piece: “Is Flight Training a Means or an End?, Dec 2, 2012, @ get-aviation.com –

  6. Steve says

    Also, John, Cessna has, or had (have not looked lately) some good little ad videos on their wesite related to the 3 SE models. They talked about family travel, reduced travel time, comfort, and safety. Each could make someone want to fly. I am guessing they never tried to put them on prime time.

  7. Steve says

    Yes,John, we keep preaching to the chior. We get calls 2 or 3 times a month about flight training, which we offer at our airport, and intro rides as gifts. We have about 4 students at present, two of them high school seniors. Two others got their PPL this summer. Also, had someone put some money on account for the first few lessons (part of a surprise Christmas gift). Ground school is offered a couple of times a year (we are a small airport) with 4 to 6 normally attending. Sad part is that only one or two take the test and fly. I definitely plan to put more effort this year in ads. The longest running, besides our website, has been in a movie facts flier avaliale at a local theater. Skydiving is active at our airport and attracts spectators along with plane watchers. Many of the spectators ask questions about airplanes and flying. I spend a lot of time in the warm days talking to them, and encouraging them to try or get involved in flying.

  8. lindsay petre says

    I’ve been banging this drum for a while. Cessna/Piper used to advertise in magazines like Esquire. Not every potential pilot has aviation in the family–why don’t flight schools advertise in the local paper? My seaplane/tailwheel instructor has a kiosk in the mall–good idea, no?

  9. Steve says

    Great copy Rod. Might even borrow it for our use…if you don’t mind. We also need to advertise the positive, non-personal benefits of GA, such as Angel Flight activity, Pilots and Paws, etc.

    • says

      And thanks for for the compliment!
      IF I may, I would, since my formal education was in marketing/advertising, and additionally in various aspects of the “WHY’ (motivation research) we BUY stuff, here’s a cram course in the psychology of advertising.
      Lets critique WHAT is being accomplished here; 1. This “style” is known as “slice of life” or something the reader can relate to. Now, what are the chances our audience has gone by CAR, at one time to ANY of these 3 places from metro NJ – actually, quite good, considering the recipient is an middle-upper middle class homeowner who’s household income is say $250K+. Ok, folks, please bare with me here – I have a motive! The “idea” is for them to relate to; “why hell, that trip to the Cape took 4 hrs and in traffic”! They will then compare this “negative” (ground and boring) experience to the 70 minutes in the plane – we all know the BENEFITS! 2. Have FUN! This is one part, NOT all of the learning experience. Better still, one of their X-country requirements is to – you guessed it! Think this “student” is motivated – you bet – UTILITY value!3. The cost of the SUV? This student keeps “asking” about plane ownership during the course – DON”T loss them here – this IS the WHY their learning – an objective or REASON to complete the course – right? 4. NET result – private course completion AND an aircraft sale plus maintenance (if you have a shop). We’ll refer this gal/guy as a Life Time Customer – WHY – we “sold” them a private course; they LOVED us so much and felt so well served – guess WHO they’ll buy a plane from – and WHO they’ll have do their annual. It’s ALL about brand (you) loyalty – treat then right and fair – why would they go to the “el-cheppo” dude across the field? On the “public relations aspect, known as “goodwill or institutional “advertising”. This is, ideally, part of the total “promotional mix” – I’ll try an “off the cuff” copy example:

      Do you have a “special needs” child in your household?
      Well, guess what, “Santa IS coming to town” – and JUST for them!
      He’ll be arriving by air (in your C-172) along with Ms. Claus (kidding!)
      AND Mrs. Clause on Saturday December 21st at 2 PM!

      You get the jest of this?

      Feedback or commits welcomed!

    • says

      Hi Steve, Again! if you read this, and hopefully you will, no problem with the ad “concept” on you using it – better still, contact me directly if you may @ rodbeck@optimum.net – have some other promo/ad ideas and suggestions – but first I need to know more about the airport location (city/town), demographics, competition, etc, to devise a “plan (promotional) of attack”! Look forward to hearing from you. Rod ps ALL information will be kept confidential if need to be!

  10. says

    Jamie; EXCELLENT – Zip “PR” and ZIP advertising/promotion to the “general public”!
    my “idea” of catchy ad copy” (NJ based FBO/flight school) – pro-active approach!

    “Cape Cod, Block Island & Ocean City (MD) are LESS than 70 minutes away”!
    Learn to FLY – have FUN – and buy a plane for LESS then your SUV!
    Call us and get STARTED today!
    (800) 555-1111
    Essex County Airport
    Fairfield, NJ 07004
    NOTE: Of course this could work else where!

  11. Steve says

    Cessna had a great ad some years back. It pictured a 172 and stated”Most Keys Unlock Doors. One Unlocks Your Dreams.” It also had some info about the new 172R. That ad is the is in the creative vein which Jamie speaks. Unfortunately the only place I saw it was in an aviation related publication. I hope Cessna put it in other publications, too. I still have a copy of the ad…it is 11 in. by 14 in. ….and it is one of the best ads I have seen.

    • John Wesley says

      AND!!!! Therein lies one of our biggest problems, we never preach to anyone except the choir. But of course the alphabet groups don’t want anything else, without the receipts from advertising where would they be. But of course now, it has reached the point where we really do not have anything to advertise, most areas do not have an active flight school for a person to go to in order to learn to fly. But nobody seems to notice that, or they do notice and hope that it is really an illusion, or they hope that with a suitable amount of smoke and mirrors it will appear as if we really have a robust GA industry in this country that is healthy and growing.

    • John Wesley says

      on another note, i remember that ad, i was a cessna dealer then, that and $.45 at that time would get me a cup of coffee in most restaurants. I asked at the dealer meeting where that ad would be placed. i was told that it would be in the appropriate aviation industry related publications, I only saw it twice after that, once as I left the meeting, again at Cessna when I picked up a new airplane a few weeks later.

      • says

        To ALL FBO/flight school operators: Kindly go to our site; get-aviation.com, (not a plug) just suggestions on marketing/advertising, April 2013, “Marketing, Advertising & Sales” for the small FBO/flight school.
        Part I-III, may be very helpful for those seeking methods of increasing business.

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