How exactly does one market private aircraft with sticker prices ranging from $385,000 to more than $600,000?
Since this is not the kind of purchase that people make online with PayPal, providing the right, affluent demographic with the opportunities to have up-close, hands-on experiences with the plane and plenty of face time with knowledgeable brand representatives is clearly essential.
No surprise, then, that Duluth, Minn.-based Cirrus Aircraft has long relied heavily on exposure at traditional aviation trade shows and events to connect with its core consumer prospect market.
But the aircraft maker wanted a truly global and targeted-but-scalable marketing platform, and believes it has found that in an unprecedented partnership with Red Bull Air Race and its World Championship events, according to Cirrus Aircraft VP of Marketing Todd Simmons.
This year, Cirrus will be a highly visible sponsor for all eight races in the Red Bull championship -- an elite aviation competition conceived in 2001 by the think-tank of the Red Bull energy drink brand, which continues as the name sponsor. The concept: Challenge the ability of the world's best pilots by creating an aviation race that demands the precision and skill to navigate a specially designed obstacle course at high speeds.
Official, year-long championships have been running since 2005, and each weekend of races attracts an average of more than 500,000 spectators, with attendance often exceeding one million, according to Red Bull Air Race sponsoring manager Markus Shubert. This year's championship runs from late March through September, with locations spanning Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Perth, Australia; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Windsor, Canada; New York City; Lausitz, Germany; Budapest, Hungary and Lisbon, Portugal.
Cirrus's primary objective is marketing its SR22 high-performance, advanced technology, piston, single-engine line. In 2009, for the seventh year in a row, the SR22 -- known for an emergency parachute system capable of transporting the plane and its occupants safely to the ground -- was the world's best-selling "4-place" (four-seater) airplane, according to the company. More than 4,500 have been sold since it debuted in 2000, according to Simmons -- who says the base price is $385,000, but that most sales, with personalized options, range between $400,000 and $600,000+.
The sponsorship's numerous elements are co-branded (including a custom co-logo) by Cirrus and Red Bull Air Race under the theme "World Class Lifestyle Meets World Class Racing."
Cirrus will have a full-scale mock-up of the SR22 (bearing the co-logo) near the "High Flyer's Lounge," a first-class hospitality area, at each race in the series. The folks who pay approximately $1,600 per weekend to watch the races from that lounge, mingle with fellow VIP's and meet the pilots after they have raced in the competition will also have the chance to sit in the plane mock-up and "engage with the avionics" (meaning, experience how the controls work and handle), says Simmons.
In addition, near the "Race Club" hospitality area ($540 admission per weekend race), and at the airports where private plane-owning attendees fly in for the races, a one-third-size scale mock-up of the plane will be on hand.
Cirrus will also have a full-page ad in the program for each race, and Cirrus reps will be on hand at all venues to network and answer questions.
The partnership offers Cirrus "deep penetration across the world with aviation enthusiasts -- new audiences capable of purchasing our brand," sums up Simmons.
In addition, preliminary plans are in the works for Cirrus to make "fly-over" appearances at the North American venues of the Red Bull championship aviation races with a prototype of its still-in-development Vision personal jet, says Simmons.