- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

Airline passengers, sitting in one place for hours and barred from using their cell phones, are a captive audience just waiting to be tapped by marketers. That makes airplane tray tables prime real estate.

Sky Media, a subsidiary of New York-based Brand Connections, has already tested advertising on seat-back tray tables onboard America West and US Airways flights with great success, said Brian F. Martin, the company’s chief executive officer. Starting next month, the firm will pair advertisements with columns from BusinessWeek magazine.

Under the partnership with BusinessWeek, tray tables on up to 340 planes will feature columns from Jack Welch, the former head of General Electric Co., and his wife Suzy, along with wine critic Robert M. Parker and CNBC anchorwoman Maria Bartiromo.

The columns and ads appear on the tray when pulled down. Window, center and aisle seats will all be outfitted with different columns.

“Really the idea is to turn the seat-back tray table into a medium,” Mr. Martin explained. Providing content from BusinessWeek would be a “service” to passengers while simultaneously boosting visibility for advertisers, he said.

Terms of Sky Media’s deals with advertisers and BusinessWeek were not disclosed.

Initially, the columns and ads will appear on US Airways coach seats, but Mr. Martin said he is in talks with advertisers to produce different content for first-class passengers later this year.

Sky Media is negotiating with other airlines to expand tray-table advertising to as many carriers as possible, Mr. Martin said, noting that test results have been “stellar” so far.

According to a company survey of 400 airline passengers interviewed after a flight, 82 percent used their tray table. Of those, 93 percent were later able to recall who the advertiser was.

So far, the company has teamed up with some of the nation’s biggest advertisers, including General Motors, Verizon and Microsoft.

Mr. Martin credited the success of tray-table ads to several factors.

“Time is the most precious commodity in today’s society,” he said. Advertisers are “looking for dwell time.”

In addition, unlike advertisers in traditional magazines, Sky Media partners face no competition on tray tables.

“It’s just not fair to expect a consumer to comb through a magazine and remember your SUV over the five other ones,” Mr. Martin said. “Here, one advertiser gets the whole plane.”

Karen Riordan, managing partner and executive director of the D.C. office of advertising firm Arnold Worldwide, said the BusinessWeek partnership is an example of marketing’s “next natural evolution.”

“As marketers are always looking for new ways to engage the consumer, especially here with the business traveler, there are not many places where they’re captive,” she said. Pairing business columns with ads is “relevant. I don’t think it’s going to be annoying to a consumer, or specifically a business traveler, because it’s not pitching something that would not be interesting.”

Arnold has had similar success advertising on the seatbacks aboard Amtrak’s high-speed Acela trains, Ms. Riordan said.

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