Image: Aeromexico

APEX Insight: Bold thinking, openness and a knack for seizing opportunities are among the qualities that propelled Andres Castañeda’s rise in his career. Those same values are transforming how Aeromexico presents itself and is perceived.

That Andres Castañeda ended up working for Aeromexico isn’t surprising. From a young age, he knew that he wanted to work in aviation. “Travel has always been part of my DNA,” he says. “Working for the flagship carrier in Mexico was a great opportunity, and I took it when it presented itself.” Born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city, Castañeda describes his childhood as one filled with weekend getaways to neighboring locations.

It wasn’t long before he had his first experience living abroad. At age 12, he moved to Canada for a year to learn English in Edmonton, Alberta. A few years later, he studied finance at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education’s campus in Guadalajara. University life opened more opportunities to study abroad. Castañeda spent a summer semester in London studying international finance at Imperial College Business School, followed by a period in Sydney studying a minor in economics at Macquarie University. “That really helped me to understand other cultures, markets and how customers live in different cities,” he says.

Once he graduated from university, Castañeda spent two years working at a call center before moving to Mexico City. There, he took up his first role at Aeromexico, 10 years ago, working as a revenue analyst. But his real breakthrough came when Claudia Contreras became the new chief marketing officer.

“She offered me the opportunity to open a digital marketing department; at that moment, we didn’t have one. All of the dot com, digital marketing and e-commerce duties were located within our IT department,” Castañeda says. “So, it was the first effort to move this area to marketing, and I got to do that. I got to do the first ad contracts with Google through AdWords, the first posts on Facebook and the first posts on Twitter. It really was an exciting time.”

It wasn’t long before another opportunity came knocking. He became CEO of Clarus Digital, one of Mexico’s biggest marketing agencies at the time. He then worked for Unilever, managing the digital marketing for its brands in Mexico, before rejoining Aeromexico in 2014 to lead the airline’s e-commerce and marketing department.

We used to work with seven different digital agencies … But then we decided to ramp up our team and do everything in-house.” – Andres Castañeda

Since coming back to Aeromexico, Castañeda says a lot has changed. “We took a bold step three years ago, which has really paid off,” he says. “We used to work with seven different digital agencies on creative, social media, e-mail marketing, our app, e-commerce. But then we decided to ramp up our team and do everything in-house.” Since this radical reshuffle, Aeromexico’s own marketing and e-commerce team has grown from 10 employees to around 100. It now controls the entire process, from creative thinking to design and content creation. “That has helped us to really bring down the cost-per-impact and cost-per-transaction,” Castañeda explains.

He says it also brought about a shift in Aeromexico’s brand perception. “As Mexico’s flag carrier, we’ve been a leading brand for quite some time. But some brands that have existed for a long time are not necessarily appealing to the younger generation.” Castañeda says the airline went through a process of making its brand more relevant to younger people. “The tone is different. We’re not so corporate anymore. Aeromexico was government-owned until 13 years ago, so we had to get rid of perceptions that we are slow … And actually, it’s working. We’ve seen an uplift of brand power by 25 percent in the last three years.”

“I think Mexico and the US have always been great partners and great neighbors.” – Andres Castañeda

Has the current political climate in the US and Mexico affected the airline? It’s hard to say. “In the first few months, there was a lot of uncertainty … It became more difficult to make plans,” he says. “But I think Mexico and the US have always been great partners and great neighbors. We have one of the strongest exchanges of foreign commerce, and I think this will just keep getting stronger.” He points out that Aeromexico is one of the biggest companies that buy goods from the north of the border. “We import all of our Boeing aircraft from there, our GE turbines – we’re creating a lot of commerce for the US.”

One thing is certain, the White House’s current occupant has had an impact on how Aeromexico markets itself. Last year, the airline released an online video, produced by Ogilvy, called Fronteras. The ad opens with the question: “Borders. Has anything good ever come of them?” Filmed in grayscale, its gritty visuals include images of walls, fences and footage of military parades and riots, ending with the message: “Borders. On land they can maintain distances. But in the sky … we show you it’s different.” Castañeda, alongside Aeromexico’s chief revenue officer, Anko van der Werff, was heavily involved in the development of the idea. “[Van der Werff] said, ‘We have to do something about this.’ So we started working, creating ideas. It really started at the top and we developed it within a couple of weeks,” Castañeda explains.

“We are the flag carrier of Mexico, and we felt at the time that we had to go out and make a bold statement.” – Andres Castañeda

“We are the flag carrier of Mexico, and we felt at the time that we had to go out and make a bold statement … It was a really clear message that had an incredible reception among our customers,” he says. “We had four million views within three days, with people sharing it. It went out to the media. CNN Mexico spoke about it for four minutes on TV. It was just this amazing piece of content that started on social media and ended up in the newspapers and on TV. Everybody was talking about it.” The commercial also gave Aeromexico global recognition within the advertising industry after it won Gold and Silver Lions at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. “It was a well-crafted message without actually having to talk about or criticize anything, but having a strong position on where we stand.”

Earlier this year, Castañeda was promoted to the role of Aeromexico’s chief marketing officer at just 34 years of age. In addition, he has now been appointed to the APEX Board of Directors. “I think that APEX has always shown a top-level commitment to the industry to really bring the best of the customer experience and to showcase what’s going on around the globe,” he says. “Being part of that will be valuable for me and Aeromexico.”

Andres Castañeda: SVP Marketing and E-Commerce, Aeromexico was originally published in the 7.5 December/January issue of APEX Experience magazine.

Ari is the news editor at APEX Media.