Airport Mailer Boasts: 'We'll Knock Your Socks Off'

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A regional airport serving the Tennessee-Virginia area is using humor to tackle a subject some people may not find amusing: airport security.


Tri-Cities Regional Airport, based in Blountville, TN, connects with other regional airports in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky and also offers non-stop flights to Atlanta, Cincinnati and several other large cities. Passenger traffic, 60 percent of which is business travel, has fallen from 420,000 in 2001 to 415,000 last year, and the number of flights coming through the airport also has decreased.


Regional airports such as Tri-Cities have been hit hard by the decline in travel since 9/11, experts say, because troubled airlines cut smaller routes first. Also, many potential fliers have opted to drive the shorter distances served by Tri-Cities' regional flights.


"People are saying, 'Hmm, it's expensive. I have to go through security. It's such a hassle. I'll just drive,'" said Melissa Thomas, director of marketing and air service development at Tri-Cities. "One of the purposes of the promotion is to say it's not that much of a hassle. In a way, it's even less of a hassle at smaller regional airports because there are far fewer passengers coming through so there is not as long of a line."


A pair of white socks is the centerpiece of the campaign.


"We decided to focus on the shoe check, when travelers are asked to take their shoes off and walk through [the metal detectors] in their socks," she said. "It's a little irritating. You just hope you don't have a hole in your sock."


Thomas acknowledged that the promotion may offend some people, but "you can't make everybody happy. This campaign is being done on a local basis, and we feel we know our audience."


A box with the tagline, "We'll knock your socks off," mails next week to 1,000 people in the airport's database of 4,200 people. It coincides with people beginning to make spring travel plans. Recipients include frequent business travelers, Chambers of Commerce heads and economic development staff. Another 4,000 boxes of socks will be distributed at the airport's security checkpoint, but that number may rise.


"You may still have to randomly shed your shoes for our security personnel," the box reads. "To help 'cushion' this tiny deFeet, we ask that you slip into the complimentary pair of socks inside. ... Put your feet up and take advantage of ALL the GREAT reasons to fly from TRI."


The box, covered with photos of colored socks, includes a "Test Your Sock Smarts" trivia game. It also sends recipients to a toll-free number or the airport's Web site, TRIflight.com, for more information. A tagline with the socks says: "Mom's Golden Rule: ALWAYS wear clean SOCKS and UNDERWEAR. We've got the socks covered but you're on your own for the UNDERWEAR."


The mailer also stresses more practical reasons to use Tri-Cities, such as short distances between parking and the terminal and the ability to stay "connected to your office at the first-class Business Center and with family and friends via our high-speed wired and wireless Internet connections."


The promotion is being supported with radio and television advertising. It also will be added to the airport's Web site, Thomas said, and the airport is considering a contest and advertising on a regional Web site linked to one of the region's larger newspapers. The campaign budget is less than $50,000.


"I have a feeling we may be doing a reorder based on the interest already exhibited in the program," Thomas said.


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