Upgrade to BA campaign: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

bridgeBritish Airways finally launched its “Upgrade to BA” brand campaign last week to highlight the “high levels of service” it claims to offer passengers (MW last week). The long-awaited marketing push follows a difficult period for Britain’s flagship carrier, and experts are questioning whether it will be enough to stem the recent deluge of negative publicity.

The campaign is the first major work from Bartle Bogle Hegarty since it won the airline’s £60m advertising account from M&C Saatchi two years ago. It was originally expected to break last April but BA decided to run a series of ads focusing on price instead.

The Upgrade campaign includes TV and cinema activity showing BA staff helping passers-by in Sydney, as well as print, online and radio ads promoting its relaunched business class cabin Club World, ba.com and improvements in fuel efficiency.

Positive momentum
Industry experts believe it is imperative for BA to regain some positive momentum after a series of catastrophes in recent months. Not only did BA record the worst missing baggage figures in the past five years for April, May and June, but it was later accused of trying to pressure trade body, the Association of European airlines, into concealing the evidence.

Although its quarterly figures in the three months to June 30 revealed a 28% rise in profits on the same period the previous year, the airline suffered a passenger dip of 2.9%, a decline it attributed to a lack of demand for its non-executive seats. Add to that the £270m fine for alleged price-fixing following the departure of commercial director Martin George, and operational problems at Heathrow, and observers are surprised that the brand campaign was not launched sooner.

Eli Abeles, an aviation consultant at The ABS Consultancy, believes BA’s customer service levels have slipped in recent years. “An ad campaign that concentrates on customer service will not wash with consumers,” he says. “The reputation of BA as a traditional flagship brand will not transcend the problems it has had, especially as there are now other, equally viable alternatives for the leisure traveller.” 

BA’s renewed marketing push follows the appointment of Katherine Whitton as head of marketing communications to replace Jayne O’Brien, who left in January. Whitton, who started last month, says she has inherited “a strong brand with great heritage and global recognition” but accepts it has “faced an extremely challenging period”. She adds: “This campaign is about signalling change and reasserting our brand as a truly excellent airline.” 

BBH business director Mel Exon, who works on the BA account, describes the purpose of the campaign as “reinstating the case for the brand as a value-added proposition”. She says: “BA is a very complex business and needed a simple idea to bring to life. It’s great to remind people that BA is about the people.” 

Security issues
Brewin Dolphin Securities leisure analyst David Pope commends the airline for attempting to differentiate itself from airport operator BAA and separate itself from the security issues plaguing Heathrow. However, he doubts the Upgrade campaign is relevant, saying: “An ad campaign will only succeed if BA promotes its brand values in relation to its marketing position. If a company has been found guilty of misleading consumers, it needs to focus on regaining trust.” Whitton says BA is investing in new aircraft, on-demand services and Terminal 5, but it should perhaps go back to basics if it is to repair its reputation.

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