Minako Kent, managing director, Japan Airlines

Japan Airlines marketing ramps up after two years of COVID restrictions

When the pandemic hit, the global marketing team of Japan Airlines (JAL) saw its budget disappear overnight.

“It wasn’t just downsized,” said Minako Kent, JAL’s chief executive. “We have lost almost everything.”

All Kent and his team had to work with was around $1 million to meet contractual obligations with existing suppliers and advertise the small number of routes JAL operates between the United States and Southeast Asia. East. As in, routes without any stops in Japan itself.

To be fair, there wasn’t much else to promote during the pandemic.

Although Japan reopened its borders in October, the country has been almost completely closed to non-residents since April 2020. All tourism and flights have stopped.

Turbulence to come

But step back in time to 2019, and Japan Airlines was rethinking its entire approach to marketing.

The airline’s plan was to streamline its global marketing efforts across all regions, develop a more integrated approach to marketing, introduce new marketing-related skill sets and break down internal departmental silos.

Kent joined Japan Airlines in 2019 from EightBar, a unified Ogilvy/GroupM team dedicated to IBM’s business, as part of the overhaul, and his hire meant a major change for JAL.

Rather than hiring people based on experience, JAL’s practice was to hire a new generation of graduates each year and train them as generalists throughout the organization in rotations that could last from three to five years. Titles and salaries would be awarded based on the results of promotion exams.

Kent was the first Japanese hire in company history to be hired outside of this prescriptive system.

She immediately got to work designing an omnichannel marketing strategy that included a combined focus on branding, performance and online sales. JAL started to spend more on brand advertising in overseas markets, which the company had not done before either.

And then… the pandemic hit.

Japan’s borders closed soon after, and Kent and his new team were distraught.

“We were kind of like…what do we do now?” said Kent. “But there was actually a lot of work we could still do.”


Although Kent and his team were crippled in some ways, they used the downtime to get JAL’s global marketing house in order and prepare for the day Japan reopens.

“We needed a foundation for our marketing structure, we needed to think more about data and platforms – and none of that was there, so that’s what we focused on,” said Kent.

One of the first things they did was fix JAL’s in-place experience so that when people search for flights from outside Japan, they’re redirected to the correct page, which doesn’t happen did not produce before. JAL has also started partnering with Conductor to help with SEO.

But the other top priority was to complete a martech stack that could support a global marketing organization.

JAL began using several modules within Salesforce Marketing Cloud, including Messaging Studio, Lifecycle Marketing Journey Builder, and Audience Studio to collect and consolidate first-party data from customer visits. paid and organic sites. JAL now uses Nielsen’s Visual IQ for marketing intelligence and marketing mix modeling and Adobe Experience Manager for web content management.

Japan Airlines has also partnered with EveryMundo, an airline fare marketing platform, which helps keep ticket prices up to date when promotions are displayed in its content marketing.

Executive Lounge

And while all of this was happening in the background, Kent also reassessed JAL’s agency relationships, which numbered more than 30 in international markets.

A “review was inevitable,” Kent said.

Today, JAL is mostly centralized with WPP-owned Mindshare overseas, Ogilvy in Southeast Asia, and Dentsu in Japan.

Image from JAL's Where Dreams Go campaign (October 2022)Consolidating its roster of agencies has helped JAL save money, but has also brought some order to the chaos on the brand front.

“Before, our branding was all over the place, because there were different agencies and therefore different messages in each country,” Kent said. “But now we can really define the communication funnel and have a consistent branding and creative strategy across all regions.”

Ready to take off

After remodeling JAL’s martech and agency infrastructure over the course of two years, Kent was ready to implement it.

During the pandemic, Japan Airlines had no money committed to branding. The meager budget he had went to performance marketing.

But that changed in October, when Japan Airlines launched a global omnichannel marketing campaign to coincide with the end of border restrictions, which were lifted on October 11. Airlines have now resumed international flights to and from Japan.

The “Where Dreams Go” campaign, which will run until the end of the year, is airing in 19 different markets, including the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, India and Italy.

JAL manages paid media through programming, live television, video, social media and outdoors. He created a landing page on his site with a detailed “Guide to Japan”“, as well as vacation packages and tips for planning a trip.

The aim of the campaign is to sell plane tickets, of course, and demand has been extremely high, up more than 1,000% since the borders opened, but from a base close to zero. But Kent also seeks to generate awareness outside of Japan.

“I’m convinced that brand presence correlates with market share,” said Kent, who was recently promoted to managing director to senior director of corporate brand strategy and global marketing.

And now that the groundwork is in place – and Kent’s team is on a budget again – the sky’s the limit. (As if you were going to skim through an article about the airline industry without a “sky’s the limit” reference.)

“For two whole years, our team worked behind the scenes on what some might consider the least exciting things,” Kent said. “But now we can use what we’ve built, we’re seeing results, we’re finally able to do some real marketing – and it feels good.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.