Helen Edwards on Branding: Come fly with me

Helen Edwards
Helen Edwards

British Airways and easyJet's big-money ads couldn't be more different - yet neither hits the mark.

Compare and contrast the seduction techniques of two airlines lavishing big money on advertising right now.

In its 90-second TV spot, British Airways comes over as the greying habitue who has travelled to places you can neither spell nor locate on the map. He is Captain Sensible, extending flaps and reaching rotation for as long as he can remember - and he does like to remember. 'Of course, back then, it was all VC10s', he'd explain, 'when we were BOAC.'

It's reassuring and manly at first, but then you find yourself glazing over.

In the more intimate medium of print, he leans forward, and comes closer. 'Did you know,' he asks in a whisper, 'that a 747 aircraft has roughly six million parts - three million of which are rivets?'

No, really, how interesting. Well, perhaps it is, to the boys who like to assemble Airfix kits in their spare time, but, to this girl at least, 'come up and see my rivets' is not a killer line. Nor do sticks of rock with 'to fly, to serve' through them set the pulse racing.

EasyJet takes the opposite approach. Younger, frothier, more energised, like Tigger with a bit of aftershave, this would-be seducer tries - 'never mind about me, let's talk about you.'

It's clear that easyJet has been doing some careful listening to the answers in its focus-group sessions, where it has learned that flying is as much about 'why' as it is about 'where'.

So when its new TV spot asks 'Where are you going?', the answers are not 'to Paris' or 'to Prague', but 'to seal the deal' or 'to meet someone special'.

With its pacy editing and urgent track, this is the ad that makes you want to get up and go, but not necessarily with the brand that's paid for the airtime. In the end, it's the generic, wrapped in a bit of orange.

What's hard to see in either campaign is the potential return on investment. Brand reassessment looks to be at the heart of both strategies - but in each case you suspect that it's partly to convince themselves.

BA wants to declaim that its troubles are behind it, and that upstart rivals are not fit to share the same airspace. The effect of these ads, though, with their earnest 'it's what we do, it's who we are' headlines, is to render the brand not so much assured, as embalmed.

How perverse of agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which can inject glamour into a Manchester beer, to wilfully delete it from a brand in a category where it is already latent.

EasyJet's lurch to the generic, meanwhile, seeks to signal that it has come of age, and moved on from its price-obsessed adolescence. You can't help think, though, that 40 seconds is a long time in which to give not a single reason for choice.

These campaigns show that advertising is still a tough discipline to get right. One comes straight out of the brand model, the other straight out of the focus group. It is the combination that is so hard to achieve.

There is an airline, though, that shows them how to do it, that touches the consumer hot buttons, plays with insights, hints at reasons for choice and dresses it all up with sassy brand appeal. 'Virgin' and 'seduction' in the same sentence - well, it won't be the first time you've seen that.

Helen Edwards, PPA Columnist of the Year (Business Media), has a PhD in marketing and an MBA from London Business School and is a partner at Passionbrand, where she works with some of the world's biggest advertisers

30 SECONDS ON ... THE BEST AIRLINE ADS

The new British Airways spot has inspired some hot online debate about the best-ever airline ads. Here are some of the contenders:

- BA's 'Face': the 1989 Saatchi commercial that had swimmers forming lips, women in blue forming an eye and the airline's staff in a multi-cultural love-in.

- TWA's 'Up, up and away': a late-60s spot that captured the glamour of global air travel, to the tune of US band The 5th Dimension's biggest hit. Much parodied since, but a real blockbuster at the time.

- Singapore Airlines' 'Singapore girl': launched in the early-70s, this gets the prize for consistency and connection to reality. The advertising leads, but the brand delivers - SIA has won more awards than any other airline, including 17 consecutive years as 'World's Best Cabin Crew Service' in the Business Traveller Asia-Pacific Awards.

- American Airlines' 'Late nate': simple, single-minded communication about priority boarding for business flyers, made memorable by the hapless Nate and his inability to be on time for anything - except his flight.

- Aerolineas Argentinas' 'Shadow': a two-minute, schmaltzy story of dreams, the power of belief and cute children who 'catch' a plane.

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