New British Airways ads lack the tingle factor

Lucy Handley is a key member of the Marketing Week features team and has also worked in advertising agencies so can bring a unique perspective to client-agency relationships when writing on this topic

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Watching Grand Designs two weeks in a row has exposed me to several new ad campaigns. Perhaps I should be seeking them out anyway, but I try to view these things as a consumer as well as a marketing journalist.

I knew I’d be seeing the new British Airways TV campaign using the line ‘To fly. To serve,’ in the ad breaks, but my flatmates didn’t. They were fairly nonplussed by it, saying ‘the voiceover sounds like an infomercial’ and that the music sounded like piped ‘muzak’.

The recently launched Nationwide ‘Carousel’ commercial ran in the same break, which gave us all the tingle factor. It looks beautiful and magic, showing a family living and working on a bare-bulb lit fairground carousel (although is miles away from how it actually feels to walk into a branch).

While the BA ad trades on nostalgia – and has had a good reception by people commenting on YouTube – for me and my flatmates who between us have flown about 20 times this year, so are in the target audience, it lacked the wow factor and didn’t make us feel warm enough about the brand.

Having worked on the British Airways account while I was at M&C Saatchi (before it moved to BBH in 2006), I know how tricky it can be to get not only the brand strategy right but also the creative executions. Here is an industry that is affected by the weather, strikes, political unrest, environmental activism, huge operational costs and tough competition, so maintaining good service in the face of all this is difficult.

I love the strategy of focusing on the staff and the pride they have in their work – I just hope it gives flight crew a boost given the disputes and strikes that have beset the carrier for the last few years. I also hope that its service can match what it says is its primary reason for being – ‘to serve’ – along with flying.

EasyJet, meanwhile, is about to launch a TV campaign using a photo montage of people enjoying leisure trips to Europe. While this isn’t a big brand revamp, it does one thing really well: remind people that there’s plenty of time to spend the weekend on the continent before Christmas or before they start planning next year’s summer break.

The creative comes across as cheerful, simple and good value, which are the three words I’d use to describe easyJet’s overall proposition, without it needing to sell them to me via a brand campaign.

BA’s print executions do make me feel warm about the brand. They are quite ‘addy,’ but they do get you thinking about the airline as more than just a bus in the air. They say important, professional and careful, which seem to sum up what BA is about.

But I’m afraid nothing will beat BA’s PJ O’Rourke commercials poking fun at British traditions but pointing out that ‘Johnny foreigners’ would still rather fly BA than any other airline. These spine-tingling ads ran in the days that it could still claim to be ‘the world’s favourite airline’ which its size doesn’t allow it to do anymore.

This Wednesday, Marketing Week will publish the top brands for customer service, according to consultancy Nunwood. British Airways has gone up a few places this year, but Virgin Atlantic is seen as miles better by those surveyed. Hopefully the new BA campaign plus a £5bn investment into the airline will help it boost its place in the league table.

But if it was up to me, I’d have run brand ads in a few years time, once the cash injection has really borne fruit.

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