TTE: American Airlines (Email 1)

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Note: This is an archive of an email from the April 1-7, 2020 launch series of The Traffic Engine (Early Adopter Edition).

This is the first email in a series that Shawn and I will be sending your way this week and next. We're excited.

95% of this series will be world-class education that will leave you better off, even if you choose not to invest/enroll in TTE.

Okay, let's kick this fun party off with a reframe.

Value is subjective.

To help unpack this idea, I'm going to “steal” a quote from Shawn that I love: “Subjective utility is more important than objective reality.”

The idea is that objective reality either doesn't exist or doesn't matter (this is especially true in our marketing world).

Subjective utility expresses a result or outcome that is viewed as positive, based on your point of view. It doesn't matter if something is “true” with a capital “T,” so long as it works.


For me (and for Shawn with the work he does with his clients), specific upstream actions result in “better,” happier customers downstream. This is our subjective utility because it works for us. Every. Time.

But the “reality” of the majority of people and influences in our marketing world, see things very differently.

The point is: it's irrelevant whose reality is capital “T,” True or capital “C,” Correct. What we do, produces a far better result FOR US and our clients.

This will be the theme of this launch-series for TTE.

In the end, it's our desire that your “subjective utility” will have shifted, like the tectonic plates that underpin the landmasses we call continents.

Think about this as you consume these emails each day.

Over to Shawn…

SHAWN: Tue, March 24, 2020

What business is American Airlines in?*

Seems like a simple question — they're in the travel business, right? The planes and airports kind of give it away.

Sure. Flying passengers from point A to point B is where they make their money. Or is it?

In 2018, American Airlines made more money through co-branded credit cards than it did flying passengers.

Let that sink in for a moment.

American Airlines flew nearly 200 million passengers, generated $2.66 billion in total operating income, and added $3.1 billion in revenue from frequent flyer points credit card offers.

Or, in simpler terms, all of American Airlines profit came from credit card offers, not flights.

Why is this important?

Because it clearly demonstrates the power of aggregating audiences (and making offers), which is exactly what paid traffic platforms like Google and Facebook do.

American Airlines does that physically — lining up people side by side, row by row — whereas Google, Facebook, and other ad networks do that digitally, connecting our desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices.

To put that in perspective, in 2019, 98.5% of Facebook's global revenue — $69.7 billion — came from ad sales. Not to be outdone, Google generated nearly $135 billion in ad revenue in 2019 as well.

Is Facebook a social network? Yes.

Is Google a search engine? Of course.

Is American an airline? Definitely.

But … the business they're all in is selling access to their audiences' attention.

Google sells real-time access to people who are searching for solutions to problems (Google search), and people who are browsing websites across the vast Google Display Network (which Google estimates reaches 90% of global Internet users).

Facebook sells real-time access to people who, through a combination of demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics, might be ideal prospects for your specific offer.

This is important because it gives us as marketers, creative professionals, and business owners a mechanism to clearly define audiences based on their intent (active vs. passive), their location, their interests, and their behavior.

Then, when we begin to interact with those audiences, we can see performance data with decimal-place accuracy and modify our efforts based on that data. Finally, we can spend dollars per day or millions per month which we can turn up or down in real-time.

That's the power of paid traffic.

Tomorrow I'm going to answer a question I'm asked a lot — where should I start?

Stay tuned.

[* Thanks to Todd Herman for the American Airlines example.]

Think about this.

If you have questions, or if you wanna share an insight you had, head to the comments section of our The Traffic Engine page here.

Until tomorrow.

—André (and Shawn)


All series emails can be found here.