In the Media: SFO, Good to Go

Airport waits to see if ambitious rebranding campaign takes root

By: Jamie Wetherbe

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is still waiting to see results after a three-month branding effort that ended in June. Called “SFO: Good to Go,” the campaign focused on recruiting travelers and making SFO a destination instead of just an airport.

For its first campaign in six years, SFO traded advertising space at no cost with other city transit and tourism agencies, including the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), Muni and the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau.

As part of the barter program, the co-op ads appeared in radio commercials, magazines and newspapers, posters, Web sites and across buses and taxis, costing the airport $250,000.

“I would be surprised if another airport had done [a campaign] of this scale,” said Jane Sullivan, SFO’s manager of marketing and communications. “Generally airports don’t have the money for this kind of thing.”

The airport’s message was further magnified in Air New Zealand and Icelandair ads, which recently added flights to SFO.

Even though last year SFO saw more than 33 million passengers, the airport has been steadily losing business.

“We’ve lost quite a bit of traffic to other airports,” Sullivan said.

She added that the campaign was designed to eliminate two main misconceptions travelers had about the airport: that it’s still under construction (the work was completed five years ago), and more importantly, that SFO doesn’t offer low-cost carriers.

Recently, Independence Air, WestJet, AirTran and Song upped their service at SFO, and Sullivan hopes this will bring back passengers who have ventured over the bridge. SFO competes with nearby Oakland International Airport, which has gained popularity by offering low-cost carriers like Southwest.

Slogans like, “We leave high costs to the housing market. Low fares from SFO: Good to go,” were used to spread the message.

The campaign also tried to appeal to travelers’ stomachs by peddling the airport’s new eats. In the past six months, more than 40 food and beverage concessions have opened and five more are on the way before 2006. SFO is also promoting the locally owned restaurants that have set up shop in the terminals, including Peet’s Coffee and Just Desserts.

While Sullivan said SFO will have to wait a few weeks to see if the campaign has increased traffic, international summer travel at SFO has reached pre-Sept. 11 numbers.

“Bay Area residents and visitors are booking more international flights from SFO today than they were just before the attacks on Sept. 11,” said John Martin, director of SFO.

Good news also came for airlines that recently added service from SFO.

“New domestic and international airlines that began SFO service as late as May are already exceeding the projections for summer travel bookings,” Martin said.

Whether passenger traffic continues to climb, SFO will likely have a similar ad campaign in the future.

“It was fun to look at the airport in a different way,” Sullivan said.

SFO connects nonstop with more than 60 cities in the United States on 20 domestic airlines. In addition, SFO offers 30 nonstop international flights on 25 carriers.