Why Denver Airport’s Marketing Embraces Conspiracy Theories

Nov 6, 2018

How do you make an airport renovation announcement exciting and newsworthy?

If you’re Denver International Airport, you start talking about lizard people and Illuminati overlords.

Since its opening in 1995, the Denver Airport has been known for being a bit eerie. Even its Wikipedia page details several conspiracy theories, from a 32-foot blue mustang statue that killed its creator to connections with Freemasons and the New World Order. Other conspiracy theorists, including Jesse Ventura, allege hidden alien languages, underground tunnels, scattered occult symbols, and Big Brother imagery in the airport’s décor and artwork.

Denver Airport Marketing put on its tinfoil hat

Most marketing teams would work to put as much distance as possible between their brand and such rumors.

But the Denver Airport has recently embraced them, integrating their creepy reputation into a marketing campaign to generate a little more public awareness of widespread renovations. The airport’s marketing team created signs featuring Illuminati symbols and quips that they’re “Remodeling the Lizard People’s Lair.”

The benefits of being self-aware

This isn’t the first time a brand has jumped headfirst into being self-aware enough to reclaim what’s being said about them.

From Big Ass Fans to Domino’s Pizza, marketers have embraced public perceptions in order to drive those perceptions. After a 2009 video of employees defacing its food went viral, Domino’s had to repair its image. So, it ran a series of ads with customers reading reviews that accused the pizza of tasting like cardboard, among other insults.

At first glance, it seems like marketing done all wrong. How does playing along with conspiracy theories help get the word out on renovations? How does paying to share bad reviews promote sales?

It works because it shows the human side of the brand and meets customers where they’re at. In the case of Domino’s, share price has increased six-fold since 2009.

As for the Denver Airport, the upgrades are getting national coverage. That includes a spot on CBS This Morning – perhaps the first time an airport renovation has landed such a placement.

 

The airport’s marketing team had critical information to convey about the renovations. It had to be factual and reliable – the exact opposite of a conspiracy theory. But by embracing the rumors that have captivated travelers for years, the airport was guaranteed to get their full attention.

Long story short: Marketers don’t have total control over how customers talk about their companies. Creating messages that draw on real public perceptions can be a powerful way to humanize (or lizardize) your brand.

This article also appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Jessica Sklar.

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