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9/10/2009 – American Airlines’ New “Black Atlas” Social Media Site…Why?
On October 15th 2009 American Airlines is set to repeat its own history with the launch of a social media site dedicated to the “Black Traveller.” The new social media site, Black Atlas, is the follow up to the ill-fated 2007 attempted at targeting the ‘black traveller’ through AA.com/AfricanAmerican.
I am aware that I need to tread lightly writing about this new venture by American Airlines, as this new social media site causes a racial divide among travellers. As far as we come in the United States (and while Flying With Fish addresses a global audience, American Airlines’ primary market is in the United States) race is still clearly an issue…and American Airlines appears to be pushing this divide further.
In mid-2007 American Airlines created AA.com/AfricanAmerican, the social media portal was short lived as it not only didn’t attract the intended targeted audience, but also on some level it offended the intended targeted market. Along with AA.com/AfricanAmerican, American Airlines launched a social media site for Gay and Lesbian travellers, AA.com/Rainbow, and women business travellers, AA.com/women.
While I have previously written about American Airline’s social media portals, which you can find here, 13/05/2008 – Can You Use Your Airlines To Network & Grow Your Business?, the airline has done a very poor job in promoting these social media ventures. With the introduction of American Airlines’ Black Atlas, the airline has actually dropped “American Airlines,” which is an unusual move for American Airlines.
From the outset American Airlines’ Black Atlas social media site appears to play on certain stereotypical aspects of its targeted audience. The opening page of the pre-launch asks announces the new portal as “Your Passport to the Black Experience“ and asks, “Do you know where to find blues music in Moscow? How about a Jamaican restaurant in Milan? If you do, I want to know about it.” Delving deeper into American Airlines’ Black Atlas site, under the seven individual of categories of interest, along with Travel Tips, Restaurants, Arts & Museums there is also a listing for “Beauty & Barber Shops.”
This marketing concept is intended to attract the “sophisticated African American traveler,” however having contacted multiple ‘black’ frequent travellers (as not all are ‘African American’), most all seem very turned off by the Black Atlas concept.
When I asked Benet Wilson, the Online Managing Editor for Aviation Week, her opinions of the Airlines’ attempt to specifically retarget the “African American” traveller, she remarked, “Experiencing black culture? I’m a world citizen I want travel unique experiences-not black travel experiences.”
Numerous other “sophisticated African American travellers” echoed Benet’s sentiments. One traveller (who asked that I not use his name) I posed the question to, who travels more than 100,000 miles annually with American Airlines from Airlines’ hub at Chicago O’Hare, said he was offended at the references to “African American,” as he is British, living in the United States. He stated that he prefers to attend the Opera and Classical music events rather than blues music venues and seeks out local food or Italian and French food rather than Jamaican food…and states he’s never been to a ‘corner barber shop’ in the 25 years he has lived in the United States.
While I am a white guy from New York, those who I have met, traveled with, worked with and known who are ‘black’ are as different from each other as I am from others in my ‘racial demographic.’ Targeting the ‘black experience’ plays on stereotypes that are not only dangerous, but also will potentially alienate a significant customer base. A ‘black traveller’ who grew up in New York City will have different interests than a ‘black traveller’ who is from New Orleans; those from Barbados are vastly different than those from Los Angeles and sophisticated tastes of those from Chicago will be quite different from those who were raised in Johannesburg.
So what has American Airlines learned from its 2007 failed attempt to launch AA.com/AfricanAmerican? It has learned that it needs a flashier website and a well known spokesperson, such as Nelson George, to be out front pitching the new social media site. Other than that it appears that history may be doomed to repeat itself
Below is a screen shot of the new American Airlines Black Atlas social media portal