BA brand comes through industry turbulence

The multi-million pound “To Fly. To Serve” brand campaign and widely praised London 2012 activation activity may not have made British Airways the “world’s favourite airline” but it has led to a marked improvement in the way the airline is perceived by the British public over the past 12 months.


It is just over a year since the airline launched “To Fly. To Serve” , which had at its centre a cinematic television spot created by BBH that highlighted service improvements and the airline’s rich heritage.

It came at a time when the airline’s stock was low. Memories of the fumbled opening of Heathrow Terminal 5 were still relatively fresh and a near two-year long industrial dispute with cabin crew had only just come to an end. It also faced a challenge reassuring passengers that its merger with Iberia under holding company International Airline Group (IAG) was not going affect its levels of service and identity.

The difficulties were reflected in the brand’s perception rating. According to YouGov’s BrandIndex, its Buzz score – the net balance of positive or negative things people have heard about the brand – was -0.58 on the 4 October 2011, putting the airline 21st in a chart of 25 aviation brands.

A year on, and the story is very different. BA’s Buzz score is now second only to Virgin Atlantic, with a rating of 8.12. The airline also now leads BrandIndex’s index score – an average of how customers rate the brand in terms of general impression, quality, value, reputation, satisfaction and whether they would recommend it – with a score of 27.33.

“To fly. To Serve” was followed by a series of campaigns to support the brand’s London 2012 sponsorship. Despite taking the arguably counterintuitive decision to run campaigns encouraging people “not to fly” and instead stay in the UK “to support the home team”, the activation campaign was widely considered to be among the best efforts from official sponsors.

Tim Williamson, former TUI UK marketing director and now chief executive of Irish tour operator The Travel Department, says both “To Fly. To Serve” and the 2012 campaign helped differentiate BA from airline rivals that focus on routes and aircraft, while “dissing itself” by encouraging people not to fly during the Olympics was a “bold” but canny move.

“Airlines set the [marketing] bar low but relatively speaking it [“To Fly. To Serve”] is a good campaign. The ads are better territory for them as it has come back to the customer. Where it was before was a bit generic. Destination-based, where it was going to and flying from. Talking about themselves is much better.

“It is playing catch-up with the likes of Virgin Atlantic still, which has been talking about service and customer experience for a long time, but it does put them a step above those that talk about route networks or aircrafts”.

Financially, BA is in a relatively robust position. The carrier, along with all airlines, continue to endure serious hits to their bottom line from fuel prices and depressed consumer confidence borne from the Eurozone crisis. In spite of such headwinds, BA made an operating profit of €13m in the half year to June 30 in stark contrast to IAG stablemate Iberia, which made an operating loss of €263m for the same period.

The carrier has also been buoyed by the the revenue-generating opportunities presented by the acquisition of BMI mainline, which provides it with 56 additional slots at Heathrow.

Douglas McNeill, travel and transport analyst at Charles Stanley Securities, says: “As a business, BA is doing relatively well. I say relatively well because the airline industry is a tough place to make money at the moment…… Profits are down but there is a lot to grapple with so making any money is credible in the present environment. It certainly compares well against IAG partner Iberia and big European airline rivals such as Air France KLM.”

McNeill also points to the improvements the carrier has made to its fleet, part of a £5bn investment in infrastructure and customer experience improvements being rolled out.

Abigail Comber, British Airways’ head of brands and marketing, says the investment, Olympic ad campaign and BMI acquisition have made it a “momentous year” for BA.

She adds: “All of these elements combine to give British Airways a really strong brand identity and demonstrate to our customers that we’re investing and working to give them a great experience.

“The moves up the [YouGov BrandIndex rankings] is proof that people are enjoying flying with BA and they like our brand. We can’t ask for more.”