It goes without saying that a lot is riding on M&C Saatchi's first
British Airways ad since 11 September. The business traveller brief is
arguably the most crucial that the agency has ever undertaken for
A recovery in the airline's overall passenger numbers over the past few
months disguises a continuing shortfall in this crucial area. The vast
majority of BA's income comes from these premium flyers and their
numbers have stubbornly remained about 20 per cent down since
Presumably a significant portion of the missing flyers are American -
and so it's rather surprising that this campaign is initially limited to
the UK market. The creative certainly does not seem designed for a
Stateside run later on. Rather it implies that big-shot Americans don't
have to move from their plush Manhattan offices as eager puppy-like
Brits will be only too happy to dash over the pond competing for their
This may rankle a bit, but it's a sensible strategy nonetheless.
Americans are not yet in the right frame of mind to be persuaded on
board by an ad but they might think differently if lots of UK executives
start turning up. On the other hand, there's plenty of anecdotal
evidence and theory (mostly based on this country being used to
terrorist threats) that suggest Brits may be more open to flying and
even consider it a point of national pride to do so.
You sense that the ad is pandering to the British stiff upper lip by its
otherwise laughable presentation of the chap who is prepared to fly.
He appears out of thin air to the strains of BA's Lakme theme with
bright eyes, a firm handshake and an accent straight out of the Battle
of Britain. "Chocks away, ginger! Made it through the terrorist cordon
OK. Here to show you our flowcharts." He's a flyer in the Biggles mode,
a shining example of British business unbowed by evil threats.
Are corporate executives likely to be inspired? Not necessarily. The
number of business flights has stayed low largely because so many of the
previous total were borderline necessary in the first place. How many
agency executives can put their hand on heart and honestly swear that
all their foreign trips in, say, 2000, were worth the air fares? A lot
of fat has been sensibly trimmed from travel budgets in the economic
conditions encouraged by 11 September. If it is to loosen corporate
purse strings once more, BA needs to come up with concrete reasons why
"to be there" is really better than the phone, fax or video-conference
system. Not just for the one-off deal-making cases, but for all those
less crucial trips.
This ad offers no real arguments on this point. Instead it offers up a
caricature of how and how not to establish a working relationship that
could come straight out of a corporate video. The ad contents itself
with appealing to guilt rather than logic. Plenty of executives have
changed their travel policy over the past months and are most likely in
the dark as to how this has affected their business. The ad's cartoonish
treatment exploits the nagging doubt that we are somehow missing out,
the fear that some faceless rival is in the US while we're not, the
paranoia that we're behaving like the muppets at the end of this
Corporate insecurity being what it is, this could work. But it has to
work now. The longer business passengers resist flying, the more likely
they'll realise their world didn't end when they stopped paying a tax to
BA. Then the airline's future strategy would really be in trouble.
BA needs to forestall a possible sea-change in corporate habits. It's
relying on Biggles to do so.