Airlines Are Placing Strategic Bets on Gatwick Flights, Even Though It's Only Number 2 to Heathrow

Lorna Rose Gill Posted by Lorna Rose Gill

Of all the airports in and around London, Gatwick attracts the most interest from airlines promoting themselves through PPC advertising. How did the UK’s number two airport climb to number one in PPC?

The big London airports – Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted – are all well-placed to serve Britain’s travelling needs. Heathrow leads in terms of size and number of passengers carried, while Gatwick ranks second in these categories and Stansted brings up the rear.

Heathrow’s lead shouldn’t be understated, either: last year, the airport boasted passenger numbers that almost doubled Gatwick’s total. But in spite of this seemingly insurmountable advantage, the flights getting the most PPC advertising are taking off from Gatwick.

Using Adthena’s competitive intelligence for search, we set out to find out why airlines that fly out of all London airports are mainly bidding on keywords related to the second most popular airport in the UK rather than relating their keywords to all the London airports they operate from.

Share of Voice

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Top airlines share of voice, Adthena data

Each airline has its niche of frequent flyers, but how does that translate to the realm of search marketing? Looking at the industry’s paid share of voice rankings of keywords related to the London airports (excluding brand terms), it’s clear that British Airways takes the lion’s share.

British Airways maintains substantial operations at both Heathrow and Gatwick, so this information alone doesn’t reveal much. Look closely, though, and you’ll notice that all of the other airlines competing for share of voice fly out of Gatwick. Monarch, British Airways’ main competitor for SOV dominance, only flies out of London’s second biggest airport.

Of the top airlines, only easyJet, Flybe, and Ryanair have routes out of Stansted (in addition to Gatwick) and out of these competitors, easyJet is the only one bidding on related airport keywords. In proportion to Gatwick and Heathrow flights though, Stansted is getting a tiny slice of the action, hosting less than one-tenth of all flights being advertised.

Trend Data

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Top airlines share of voice trend, Adthena data

Based on the graph above mapping trends in paid SOV, we can see that British Airways consistently maintains the largest share. Simply put, it would take a lot to outspend this airline giant. Thus, it initially doesn’t make much sense that British Airways trails easyJet in total passenger numbers, according to IATA, given that their spend is so much higher. Why spend more to pull in fewer customers?

On further inspection, however, you come to realise that British Airways must be winning in terms of profit, as it can well afford to carry fewer passengers if each one is paying more money. British Airways’ game plan suddenly makes a lot more sense.

Monarch’s PPC strategy, on the other hand, adopts a classic “follower” position. It’s clear from the paid SOV trend chart that each time British Airways drops its PPC spend, Monarch rises up and collects a slightly higher share. Monarch’s trend line almost mirrors British Airways’, suggesting that the company is actively seeking out the same customers and bidding on similar terms.

However, Monarch’s strategy is hardly producing optimal results, as the airline trails British Airways by a significant margin in terms of paid share, yet spends a proportionately larger amount – considering how much smaller the airline is than its main competitor.

Again, easyJet is one to keep a close eye on, as it’s the biggest spender of the low-cost airlines. Ryanair, the most popular of the budget flight providers, barely registers on these charts (preferring contrived publicity stunts for easy press coverage), and Flybe can’t muster more than a whisper at 0.77%.

Perhaps easyJet rightfully has its eyes on the prize here, as the Mirror has announced Gatwick’s planned £2.2bn upgrade that would put easyJet in its own terminal. Still, it’s going to take a lot of passengers to recoup that investment.

How Ad Copy Supports the Campaign

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Top airlines ad copy, Adthena
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Top airlines ad copy, Adthena

Through an examination of British Airways’ ad copy, it becomes clear that the message is about “saving” rather than picking the cheapest ticket. This strategy allows it to advertise cost savings without actually lowering its prices, a clever way to hold on to a profit margin in this competitive market.

Monarch’s advertising is careful to point out the differences between the carrier and other low-cost airline. The “pay one price” message reminds customers they won’t be charged the extra fees that budget airlines like Ryanair are known to slip into your bill. This “differentiation” strategy is a smart move to position Monarch as a serious competitor to British Airways.

Interestingly, easyJet’s advertising copy focuses mainly on obvious, price-led messages, but also talks about “value.” It’s as if the airline is trying to bridge the gap between the absolutely no frills offerings of Ryanair and the superior service of British Airways. By positioning itself as the best of both worlds (and spending the money to spread the word about it), easyJet appears to be going all-in to grab the lead from British Airways.

Flying High in the Rankings

As we saw here with the British airline market, no matter how big or small you are, there’s a winning PPC strategy for everyone. Sometimes it’s about punching above your weight, and sometimes a little smoke and mirrors does wonders for your perception in the marketplace. Get a competitive intelligence service like Adthena onboard and you can start conjuring up a campaign that will get your business flying!

(Main image credit: Chris Sampson/flickr)

About the author

Lorna Rose Gill
Lorna Rose Gill
Lorna is responsible for acquisition marketing at Adthena, communicating their award-winning product and generating demand. She has developed her career in fast-paced, start-up environments, including two tech track 100 companies. She is curious and passionate and likes to find stories in data and technology.