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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures to supporters while speaking in Bismarck, North Dakota, U.S., in May.


Spotify has a playlist for Americans who may decide to move to Canada as a result of the U.S. presidential election. And there's a dating website in the works, Maple Match, to make it "easy for Americans to find the ideal Canadian partner to save them from the unfathomable horror of a Trump presidency." Now Air Canada, a major corporation and long-established brand, is tapping into this topical but tightly focused meme.

Without directly referring to the presidential election or candidates, the airline's new campaign Test Drive Canada is aimed at the U.S., riffing off the perennial uptick in Internet searches by Americans who are thinking of moving north come election time.

The online campaign, aimed at Web users in major U.S. coastal cities (New York, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco), primarily consists of videos and Web ads with a cheerful woman in an Air Canada uniform welcoming Americans to first come and "test drive" cosmopolitan Canadian cities (Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary, Halifax). If the Americans enjoy their stay, who knows, maybe they might want to stay?

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It's a way for Air Canada to stay light and add a little twist to its established brand.

Typically, the airline likes to show at least a modest connection to what's current, from hockey season to gay pride events. Yet rarely does it, or any such well-established Canadian brand in the U.S., touch so closely on the political climate, even if just with tongue in cheek. On Twitter, the campaign is also posting videos and tweets specifically responding to individuals in the States and welcoming them to book a flight.

"You would see [the ads] in multiple places," said Selma Filali, director of global marketing and sales communications at Air Canada. "You would see it on Twitter and on Facebook. You will see it on other types of media outlets, such as Gawker."

As Web users watch the ads and click through them, they may then be served up ads recommending more specific Canadian cities. So, a person in New York who takes an interest in Ottawa online may be shown on their social-media account a 15-second spot briefly talking up Ottawa with its "castle-like hotels and dreamy prime ministers."

"Today, especially in the digital and social space, our customers actually have the power to talk back, to respond. So, that makes the idea of being relevant to what they are saying and what people are feeling even more important," Ms. Filali said. "We want them to know that we're part of a conversation in a relevant way and that we want them to perpetuate an idea of what our brand stands for."

She says that becoming part of the online conversation was key, particularly in a market as large as the U.S. "In the U.S., I have to say, it's more important. Although we are the biggest non-U.S. carrier serving the U.S., we cannot outspend other U.S. advertisers," she said. "So, from a marketing standpoint, that puts even more pressure on the importance of being relevant."

The intended audience is closely targeted, potentially younger social-media users (as opposed to traditional media users who tend to skew older) in major coastal cities, which tend to have a population that may connect more with the gist of the campaign. The bottom line, though, is that these are major cities in which Air Canada offers direct flights.

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"And then it goes to super-tight targeting," said Ryan Spelliscy, chief creative officer in Toronto at J. Walter Thompson Canada, which is handling the campaign. "It's talking to people one-on-one, which in marketing is not only a big trend right now, it's generally pretty powerful." The idea is to join a conversation that consumers are already having.

Air Canada has targeted overseas markets before with conventional ad campaigns, often around the holidays, advertising flights to Canada and the general appeal of the country to a very wide audience. But never has the airline targeted such a narrowly focused market, particularly with a tailored video message to individuals on social media, Ms. Filali at Air Canada said.

The airline is still assessing how the new campaign is measuring up and how to further refine it. In a way, the campaign is itself a "test drive" for the likelihood of similar, future campaigns, very tightly focused to foreign markets.

"This is a campaign that is going to resonate well [in these cities], as opposed to the deep South or the Midwest," added David Soberman, professor of marketing at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. "I think it's cheeky, and I think that's a real positive and a way to try to stand out."

The trick, though, with such an established brand is to find the correct tone. If mishandled, a campaign could seem phoney, that is, die a quick death on social media. The woman's crisp Air Canada uniform in the videos, standing at a desk reminiscent of a ticketing agent at an airport, all of these set a tone that sticks to the Air Canada brand in an expected way. There's no raving "I Am Canadian" boosterism. The initial responses on Twitter under the hashtag "testdrivecanada" seem positive.

"We wanted to make sure that we remained very true to the Air Canada brand," the airline's Ms. Filali said. "It is not folksy. It remains very professional. The tone that we're putting forward is tongue in cheek. We're putting references there about Canadians and being nice and being polite and being welcoming. But it is done in a way that is still Air Canada."

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It also means giving up full control of the campaign, however. The public feedback becomes part of the campaign, too. And yet, if ads like this don't connect or receive much feedback, they can quickly get lost and go unnoticed. "The reward outweighs the risk to me in terms of letting people in and getting to know you," Mr. Spelliscy said.

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