Perhaps the biggest financial story of the past few years has been the “sharing” economy - ridesharing apps like Uber and homesharing like AirBnB offer clear benefits for both buyers and sellers, and have cut into profit margins for the taxi and hotel industries in many cities.
Now, the trend towards app-based travel planning and ridesharing is targeting a new audience: Finance professionals looking for luxury travel. Whereas owning a private jet has traditionally been a badge of pride for leading investment banks and brokerage firms, there are downsides to ownership as well: Even the most active of private planes sit idle a majority of the time, and even when they are in service, they fly empty as often as 30 percent of the time.
Enter companies like JetSmarter, a marketplace for private travel with mobile phone apps that link top execs looking to travel with plane owners looking to fly.
The app has copied the Uber model by booking “empty legs” -- essentially “hitching a ride” on luxury aircraft that are currently traveling with empty seats en route to pick up passengers in other cities.
Advertising to the financial community
To advertise the app, the company announced a seven-figure TV ad campaign on April 15, with a series of 30-second spots targeting the business and finance sectors, with two new 30-second TV spots aimed at the finance sector, to be aired on finance and business channels CNBC, CNBC Europe, CNBC Russia, Bloomberg, Bloomberg Europe and Bloomberg Russia.
In contrast to previous ads, which appealed to a super-rich sense of exclusivity and privilege -- high-end businesspeople in flash sports cars, pulling right up to a waiting private jet, greeted by personal attendants ready for the private flight --the new spots highlight JetSmarter’s accessibility to wealthy, but not necessarily top-end, customers.
The ads features driving music (instead of the previous softer tune) and emphasize the app’s ability to create free time for users to then spend with their families. Seen in this way, JetSmarter wants to appeal to individuals who make things happen. The ad claims that “life isn’t about what happens to you. It’s about what happens for you.”
The placement of the TV ads runs counter to some recent trends in the finance and technology advertising industry. Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that online lenders such as Lending Club and Prosper have taken their ad campaigns offline, and off screen, choosing instead to concentrate efforts and budgets on old-fashioned direct mail advertising.
All of which is not to say at JetSmarter’s TV ads stand alone: The company also uses advanced SEO and SEM to make sure it ranks high up in Google’s search results. For example, if you enter “private jet rental service” in Google’s search bar, the first result is an ad from JetSmarter.
Lastly, there is mobile and internet advertising, and of course mouth-to-mouth referrals. The company sends users mobile notifications and email newsletters to potential users to keep them updated on special offers.
Flexibility is key for financial types
JetSmarter CEO Sergey Petrossov said his app has been downloaded 350,000 times in the three years since being released, with a monthly growth rate of 15-20 percent and partnerships with more than 800 air carriers and some 3,200 aircrafts worldwide. The average JetSmarter ticket costs around $20,000, but that is on top of an annual membership fee ($13,175 for the first year, $9,000 annually after that).
Necessarily, a significant portion of the target audience are finance professionals, both because they are likely to be able to afford to high price tag, and also because the sector pivots on one the strengths of the luxury travel industry: flexibility. When necessary, private flights can be arranged in just six hours.
A country club in the sky
And finally, of course, there is status. Although JetSmarter’s TV ads claim that private jet rental is “not a status thing, it’s a smart thing,” there is a clear intonation throughout the 30-second spot that the service on offer is not intended for the light-of-wallet.
Rather, the company is trying to appeal to its audience’s sense of exclusivity. Petrossov himself says his target clientele are technology-savvy individuals aged between 25 and 50 who earn at least $1 million a year. He also calls the in-flight experience a “country club in the sky” where “members enjoy our community, particularly for the ability to network in-air, and to meet interesting people.”
It is a point that is backed up by Oren Alexander, a leading producer at real estate brokerage firm, Douglas Elliman (and one of JetSmarter’s “global ambassadors,” influencers the firm is using to help spread its message), who called the app - and his on-board experience “a complete game changer”.
“I flew on a jet to Florida on a Sunday night,” Alexander said. “Without mentioning names, I was seated next to one of the biggest developers in downtown New York.
“Would I have had his ears for three hours otherwise? No.”
A version of this story originally appeared on Digiday.