The history of TAM is intertwined with the story of Brazil’s remarkable economic rise. Until recently, air travel was a luxury item in Brazil. Ticket prices were prohibitive for most Brazilians and flying was reserved for the wealthy executives who make up what Brazilians refer to as “classes A and B.”

But the country is changing and Brazil’s emerging middle class is reinventing the game for brands and marketers alike. According to estimates, 10.7 million Brazilians are set to hit the skies for the first time in 2011, 8.7 million of whom belong to the “emerging classes” C and D.

Brazil’s largest airline now faces the challenges of remaking its brand for these new travellers. As TAM’s Manoela Amaro explains, the company is leveraging social networking sites like Twitter and YouTube, establishing partnerships with lower-end brands such as retail chain Casas Bahia (which has made billions in profits by charging interest on instalment plan purchases), and creating ads with popular folk figures.

Brazil's Emerging Classes: Roughly 6 million people are expected to move from Class C to Class B in 2011

How have the so-called “emerging classes” changed the face of flying in Brazil?

We are in the midst of an economic boom in Brazil and the whole world is witnessing it. In the past, travelling by plane was basically for the richest people from “classes A and B”, who top the Brazilian consumer pyramid.

Nowadays, the base of the consumer pyramid is increasing with the economic growth of classes C and D. Thousands of people from these lower economic classes are now potential customers.

What are you doing to engage these new customers?

TAM’s strategy is to show that the company is accessible to all. That’s why we adopted the slogan: “You will go, and will go with TAM.” [Editor’s note: The Portuguese slogan, meant to echo a popular cheer sung during Carnival, is almost impossible to translate into English].

We invited Brazilian pop singer Ivete Sangalo to be the spokesperson for our brand. We didn’t want an “elitist” person or a very popular one, but someone who could reach out to all classes.

She was on the cover of TAM Nas Nuvens inflight magazine and in several videos made for our channel on YouTube and our inflight TV. In September, we produced a big concert with Ivete at Madison Square Garden, in New York.

How are you using content to accommodate customers that have never flown before?

We launched the microsite Como Viajar [“How to Travel”] where people can learn everything about flights, especially the English terminology, which some customers might not know. The site’s “host” [the person who dispenses the flying advice] looks like a regular person, neither a sophisticated nor a popular one.

Both the check-in staff and flight crew are trained to help passengers who are travelling for the first time. We realize that flying is completely new to many customers and everything from ticket pricing to the inflight experience can be confusing.

We also recently launched a second portal called TAM Tips for all kinds of travellers, not necessarily those who have never travelled before. It’s still in beta but it will be a collaborative website linked in to the social networks that will offer tips and routes for tourists.

Tell us about your partnership with the low-end Brazilian home products store Casas Bahia. What does it say about TAM’s new brand?

This is part of our strategy for distribution. We can’t expect the passenger to come to the airport or one of our stores to buy a ticket. We have to be where they are.

We’re trying to challenge the perception that TAM is an airline focused only on executive customers and show that we are open for anyone who wants to fly. It goes hand in hand with the Ivete Sangalo slogan: “TAM is for everybody.”

Brazil has the highest rate of social networking activity in the world. How does this play into your engagement strategy?

We are living in the “truth” era. Customers always had the decision-making power in the service industry but this whole movement of social networking just makes it more evident.

Here at TAM, we have been using this to foster relationships and share our values with passengers. TAM is the Brazilian company with the largest number of followers on Twitter – more than 128,000. If you have a question and post it there, someone from our team will answer you in less than five minutes. We have a team dedicated to monitoring and replying to messages like a call centre that works 24 hours a day.

Twitter is a great way to listen to what people are saying about the brand in real time.  To engage further, we sell promotional tickets exclusively to these followers, what we call “Twitter fares.”

You produced a very popular interactive video campaign for last year’s World Cup in South Africa. How did that experience turn out?

We launched a website, Paixão por Torcer [“Passion for Cheering”], where we asked visitors to send inspirational messages with videos that would be watched by the Brazilian soccer team during their flight from Brazil to South Africa. The exterior of the TAM plane that transported the soccer players was painted with messages sent to the website, with the slogan: “We don’t take only the Brazilian team. We take all of Brazil.”

On the day we launched the video TAM had the most accessed branded YouTube channel in the world, and the video currently has more than 115,000 views.

Brazil has two very important world events scheduled: the Olympics in 2014, and the World Cup in 2016. What are your expectations for these events?

We are very excited. Brazil has much work to do in terms of infrastructure and we at TAM will have to be prepared for the demand that will come with these events. This is our goal for 2011.

SparksheetTV: As Brazil’s largest international airline, how does TAM present Brazil’s culture and brand to the world?