Delta's Skyathlon Uses Points to Push E-Commerce

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Delta Air Lines Inc.'s Olympic-themed Skyathlon site has attracted 50,000 registrants since it opened Oct. 25 to promote Delta's e-commerce business.


Targeting Delta customers and traditional business and leisure travelers, the effort is themed, "The Medals Are for You for a Change."


"That's the real benefit, is that our customers can learn about this online functionality, which allows Delta to certainly reduce some of its operational costs in a difficult economic environment," said Rob Sherrell, manager of interactive marketing at Delta.


Visitors to www.skyathlon.com can earn virtual medals, or points, for providing e-mail addresses or reading about the airline's official sponsorship of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.


Learning about Delta's Olympic story, for example, earns 30 medals. Reading eccentric Skyathlon articles gets 30 medals, sending online postcards another 30 and participating in polls 10 medals. Registering to be a Skyathlete garners 100 medals, as does joining the SkyMiles program. The highest accolade, 500 medals, is for buying tickets online.


The medals serve as entries in a variety of sweepstakes running on skyathlon.com. Daily prizes are round-trip tickets to anywhere in the continental United States or Latin America. Weekly winners earn elite SkyMiles Medallion memberships. Five grand-prize winners get a travel package for two to the Olympics, Feb. 8-24.


The Skyathlon site, which also includes a large pop-up window on its home page, links to www.delta.com. Here, consumers can check fares and flight information, buy tickets and schedule updates via e-mail to wireless devices.


"Those kinds of things are somewhat recent to Delta and delta.com, specifically, and some of the customers who may not have been exposed to that are learning about this functionality," Sherrell said.


Andy McDill, spokesman for Delta e-Business, agreed.


"Our mission at delta.com is to provide self-service tools that put our customers in more control of their travel experience while making it more convenient," McDill said.


Besides the acquisition tool that it is becoming, Skyathlon also lets Delta collect more information on its customers.


Delta's Skyathlon site and promotions run through Feb. 28.


The Skyathlon effort is similar to San Francisco loyalty service MyPoints.com's model, which offers rewards to 10 million opt-in members for shopping, touring sites and registering for e-mails.


United New Ventures, part of United Airlines parent UAL Corp., bought MyPoints.com over the summer. MyPoints.com now is targeting United campaigns to frequent fliers in its database and offerings points and air miles for buying tickets at united.com. Later this month, United will sponsor a travel center on MyPoints.com's site.


"We're working on other cooperative initiatives like using MyPoints' infrastructure to power new features on united.com and the MileagePlus online interface," said Noah Doyle, co-founder and senior vice president of media products management at MyPoints.com.


American Airlines also rewards consumers with air miles for buying at www.aa.com or for volunteering an e-mail address. But AA's effort is not on the scale of Delta's Skyathlon program.


Like many promotions in the United States, Skyathlon was affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The promotion originally was slated to start a week afterward but was postponed as Delta devoted its energy to communicate safety and security issues to customers.


"That was a period when Delta didn't do advertising or promotions, and as the country returned to business at the direction of the president, Delta slowly has returned to traditional marketing activities as well," Sherrell said. "We felt this [Skyathlon] was appropriate after over a month's duration since the tragedies of 9/11. I think America, in general, has become very much focused on patriotism and the importance of togetherness and a lot of those things that the Olympic Games are all about."


Providing the right message in the promotions was key. The airline altered the previous Skyathlon concept to reflect the country's changed mood.


"We turned the theme somewhat into more about off-the-cuff as it related to the Olympics, a little bit spirited," he said. "We shifted the tone and the color palette to be more of a kind of a patriotic American celebratory theme."


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