Surekha Ragavan
Jun 13, 2019

How AirAsia manages brand partnerships through events

We sit down with Rudy Khaw, the young maverick who's shaping the AirAsia brand.

How AirAsia manages brand partnerships through events

AirAsia is often regarded as a pioneer and something of a trailblazer in the Southeast Asian market. This has been attributed to a variety of factors, some of which include its wide coverage across the region, its mobile-friendly solutions, its slant towards ‘lifestyle’ branding, and a range of sub-brands as a holistic approach. It doesn’t hurt that founder Tony Fernandes’ rags-to-riches path to success is a tale that has been told wide and far.

The young maverick shaping the brand is Rudy Khaw, group head of branding and one of Campaign Asia-Pacific’s most influential brand marketers in its 2018 Power List. He has sat in the Kuala Lumpur office for close to 12 years and has worked his way up from his entry role as brand executive. These days, he heads up an in-house marketing and creative team that leads the brand’s campaigns and events.

How do you plan your event calendar for the year?

How it works is that from campaign to campaign, we see what we need to put the campaign together – whether it’s an on-ground event or a consumer activation point. We appear at trade shows too, such as the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition. We also do smaller events such as on-ground activations in Australia or Japan where we do consumer roadshows to announce new routes and so on. [In terms of budget], we spend on what we need, and we leverage other assets that we have around the globe.

Do you work with agencies?

A lot of it happens in-house. We have an in-house creative team, so it depends on the objective of the campaign and on the messaging we’re trying to get out. And if necessary, we talk to agencies to help us bring that vision to life. It may not necessarily be an event company, but it could be say, a tech arm or digital agency required to help us design, for example, an engaging game for consumers.

Rudy Khaw, group head of branding, AirAsia

Can you tell us about AirAsia’s interest in sports marketing?

We’re very involved with sports marketing. It started years ago with [the brand’s sponsorship of] Manchester United and it came at a time when we wanted to take the brand to the next stage. And Southeast Asians love football. It was Manchester United that allowed us to break into the European market for visibility and awareness, and we managed to appeal to consumers in the Southeast Asia region through the football fan community.

Now as we’ve grown, we’re starting to tell our #DareToDream message a little bit more, which is why we’re more involved with sportspeople as individuals as opposed to sporting teams. We’ve used [footballer] Roberto Carlos as an ambassador, [Olympic swimmer] Ben Proud from the UK, and [Malaysian cyclist] Azizulhasni Awang. [Awang] had a horrible leg injury and everyone thought his career was over but he came back as champion in one of his cycling categories [at the World University Games in Shenzhen] which links back to our #DareToDream message. Initially, [our sports marketing] was all about brand awareness, but now it’s also about growing the spirit of the brand.

What about esports?

We’ve been a lot more active in esports in the past year or so. Looking at consumer patterns among the younger generation and studying their consumption habits, it’s becoming such a big industry. So that’s definitely another generation that we’re trying to tap into.

[AirAsia has sponsored teams including Mineski Pro Team, a DOTA organisation with players from Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia. Last April, the airline acquired a majority share in Team Saiyan who specialise in Mobile Legends; the team was rebranded to AirAsia Saiyan following the acquisition.]

What’s AirAsia’s involvement with music marketing?

From the founders of AirAsia themselves, music runs in AirAsia’s blood. In the past year, we’ve been working with [music label] 88rising. They have a lot of Asian talent and they discovered a [now] famous Asian rapper Rich Brian and Higher Brothers from China. They basically took these Asian talents to the West and really helped them get the recognition.

From that point of view, we felt a unique sense from their work to partner with 88rising; there’s a synergy with AirAsia’s #DareToDream campaign. We’re also launching a music festival later this year following our partnership with RED in support of the Global Aids Foundation. It’s still in the planning stages, but we’re hoping the event will be successful.

We’ve also done stuff with, for example, Taylor Swift back in 2014. The Taylor Swift tour at the time was called Red so that made sense with AirAsia’s [colours] being red. And in that tour, she was flying across Southeast Asian destinations so it was perfect for us.

Olympic swimmer Ben Proud oversees a coaching clinic

How do AirAsia events set out to deliver messaging across its various sub-brands?

It depends on what the event is, or our presence in the event especially when it comes to different markets across Southeast Asia. For example, in Malaysia, AirAsia is more or less already a household name.

If we’re going on-ground, that brand visibility [in a market like Malaysia] is not really necessary. So it’s a chance for other sub-brands like BigPay [AirAsia’s payment arm] to get pushed out. But at the end of the day, it all ties back to the larger brand.

AirAsia is moving towards becoming a travel tech company. How does this set it apart as a brand?

So what AirAsia is trying to do as a travel tech company is think one step further. So, for example, with our loyalty points with BIG, you can use them beyond the airline. Or with BigPay, we get really good exchange rates.

What we really want to do is be a part of consumers’ everyday lives. If you look at the likes of some of the other airlines in the region, they may have mobile apps and the like, but they don’t have everything else around that ecosystem. 


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