How Japan Airlines Is Using Social Media To Stimulate Demand

Japan Airlines truly had the rug pulled from under it when the Tokyo Olympics were wiped off the calendar. Regardless of this hiccup, the airline rapidly pivoted its social media campaigns from upbeat pre-games content to building trust and listening to its customers. With this, the airline has positioned itself as a caring, responsible brand, and is successfully leveraging its situation to begin stimulating demand again.

Japan Airlines Contactless Check in Kiosks
Japan Airlines has built its brand on trust. Photo: Japan Airlines

A very different 2020

At the start of the year, Japan was looking forward to a historical year, as it made the final preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the anticipated arrival of hundreds of millions of people from across the globe. Airport slots had opened up, new routes had been launched and airlines around the world were preparing to boost capacity to Tokyo ahead of the Games.

Central to the preparations for the event was national carrier Japan Airlines. Before the year even started, the airline had planned months of marketing campaigns to complement the event and ensure its slice of the increased air travel demand. In March, the airline flew a special Boeing 787 to Greece to collect the Olympic flame. Nobody could have predicted what was to happen next.

By the end of March, it was confirmed that the Tokyo Olympics would be postponed to the following year, signing the death knell for months of planning and preparations. Akira Mitsumasu, Vice President of Global Marketing at Japan Airlines, speaking at the World Aviation Festival today, explained just how drastically things changed for Japan Airlines.

“Unfortunately, the Olympic Games have to wait until next year. And so, we had to cancel all the things that we prepared for this year. So that was disappointing. We actually cancelled a lot of campaigns that we had prepared for March, April, and leading into the summer months. The content wasn’t really relevant and obviously the mood wasn’t there.”

Japan Airlines Tokyo 2020 livery GettyImages
The postponement of the Olympics meant JAL had to rapidly rethink its communications strategy. Photo: Getty Images

As lockdowns around the world began, Japan Airlines realized that it needed to move quickly to maintain its customer relationships and replace its celebratory pre-Olympic campaigns with something rather different. Akira-san commented,

“Our shift moved towards social media to really listen to the conversation.”

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Repurposing Japan Airlines

Akira noted that the airline was faced with a very different 2020 than it had been expecting, but that it rose to the challenge. Taking its COVID-positive actions like repatriation flights and PPE transportation and turning them into socially inspirational stories maintained that all-important level of engagement with its passengers.

Listening to customers was key and keeping its ear to the ground on social media allowed JAL to create posts that really resonated with its audience. Akira commented,

“It’s quite encouraging to see that we are creating positive social norms that are all about caring for one another, sharing, and collectively creating this voice. I think it’s a good thing to do. But all this comes with a lot of actions. It’s not just seeing but really repurposing ourselves.”

Providing socially responsible leadership during the worst of times has positioned JAL to rebound from the crisis in a strong and powerful way. As borders slowly open and demand begins to pick up, it is this messaging and positioning that will help the airline stimulate a return to the skies, by being a trusted brand with its passengers.

Celebrating the wider community

Although Japan Airlines did a good job of positioning itself as a caring airline throughout the pandemic, Akira noted that it was just as important to tell the stories of the community it serves too. He said,

“It’s not just about sharing what we’re doing. It’s also about resonating with what other people are doing. For example, coming together to express our gratitude to the heroes or the people who are working in in health care services, thanking them. We actually had a small campaign whereby we had everyone fold paper planes. In Japan, it’s a symbol of resilience. And so, it’s a way of saying thank you, but at the same time also showing that we are always standing by you to be more resilient.”

At every stage of the pandemic, Japan Airlines has nailed the messaging and has built the trust between itself and its passengers. This trust, it can now leverage to boost demand as it returns to flying, giving passengers the confidence that they will be looked after.