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High-flying results: Air France and the Microsoft Audience Network

  Article , Travel , Success stories

Airline ups profitability with Microsoft Advertising

Air France logo

Flying the flag for French aviation

Since 1933, Air France has been at the heart of French aviation, and flies millions of passengers across the globe to 116 countries worldwide. The airline has a long-standing working relationship with its media agency Performics, who handle all the paid search activity for the brand. In 2020, with the need to make Air France’s paid media more efficient and agile, the Performics team explored new approaches and tested new products. One successful test proved to be the Microsoft Audience Network (MSAN).

MSAN is easy to run and brings us profitable bookings on our domestic and outbound markets. MSAN illustrates the fact that native advertising can be truly performance oriented.

— Cedric Ibanez, Head of Search and Metasearch, Air France

Forced adaptation through COVID-19

“COVID has certainly been bad for the travel industry in terms of bookings, but it has been a revelation for us to test and try something new,” said Nicolas Pestourie, Deputy Head of Paid Search at Performics. Nicolas has been working with Air France for over five years. Historically the brand was conservative with its approach to paid media and stuck to tried and tested formulas. COVID-19 proved to be a forcing function for change.

Performics logo

While competitors heavily restricted budgets or switched off campaigns entirely, the Performics team saw this as an opportunity to test and learn. Working in close collaboration with their Air France counterparts, they transformed manually optimized campaigns into automated and agile creative ads.

“The arrival of Cedric Ibanez within Air France SEA team along with major changes in the context changed our PPC strategy from a conservative approach into a test & learn approach,” commented Nicolas.

Time to try something new

Unlike other brands who primarily use the Microsoft Audience Network as an upper-funnel brand awareness tool, Air France wanted to use MSAN as a unique way to drive profitable conversions as incremental volume to existing search campaigns.

“MSAN is only available through Microsoft Advertising so we knew we would be getting access to a quality audience that couldn’t be targeted any other way. We knew if our competitors were pulling back on their advertising spend, we could capitalize on a less crowded marketplace,” said Nicolas.

Air France prioritizes profitability as its main KPI, so the fact that the Microsoft Audience Network works on a cost-per-click basis rather than cost-per-impression worked in Air France’s favor. The team also focused on remarketing to prioritize conversions over prospecting for new customers. Through audience ads, the Microsoft Audience Network quickly started delivering interesting traffic which turned out to be extremely profitable for the company. Compared to non-branded search campaigns in the US market, MSAN was 18% more profitable between September and December 2020.

Ease of implementation: a big advantage

Despite moving away from their familiar search roots, the Performics team found working with native ads an easy transition, and simple and intuitive to use in the Microsoft Advertising platform interface.

“We learned quickly that we didn’t need to use the import functionality because the process of setting up a new campaign was very quick and easy,” commented Maud Vianez, Search Account Director at Performics. “We wanted to be agile, so we started from scratch, implemented a few creatives with one or two text ads and we were ready to launch. Sometimes with import you must double check that all the parameters are correct, but we wanted to test this quickly and we found the interface efficient and super easy to use.” Consequently, Microsoft Audience Network campaigns were launched in France and the UK in Q1 2021.

As positive results started coming in, the Performics team were able to learn which creatives performed well, adapt, and create more ads and iterate to improve performance in quick sprints. As a result, MSAN added 3% incremental conversions in 2021 on Microsoft Advertising non-branded campaigns while reducing the overall cost-per-acquisition by 29%.

The results have delighted Air France Head of Search and Metasearch, Cedric Ibanez: “MSAN is an exclusive PPC format of Microsoft Advertising, easy to run, that brings us profitable bookings on our domestic and outbound markets. MSAN illustrates the fact that native advertising can be truly performance oriented.”

MSAN is only available through Microsoft Advertising so we knew we would be getting access to a quality audience that couldn’t be targeted any other way.

— Nicolas Pestourie, Deputy Head of Paid Search, Performics

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