100 years of British Airways (sort of): eight classic ads from the pioneering airline

Campaign rounds up the most notable work produced by the airline as it turns 100.

Aircraft Transport and Travel: the first of several companies that combined to become BA
Aircraft Transport and Travel: the first of several companies that combined to become BA

On 25 August 1919, the world's first daily international scheduled air service between London and Paris launched and what would eventually become British Airways was born.

The road to the BA we know today was convoluted; the first company, Aircraft Transport and Travel, was taken over in 1921 by Daimler Airways, which merged with three other airlines in 1924 to form Imperial Airways. In 1935, a competitor emerged in the form of privately owned British Airways Ltd, formed from the merger of another three smaller airlines.

But the competition was short-lived. Following a government review in 1939, the two companies were nationalised to form British Overseas Airways Corporation. British European Airways was introduced in 1946, offering European and domestic flights. 

Over the decades, the two airlines worked side by side, marking key moments in aviation history. The introduction of jet-propelled planes saw the first non-stop flight from London across the Pacific Ocean and BEA’s Trident made the world’s first fully automatic landing carrying commercial passengers. The government merged the two airlines, along with two other smaller ones, to form BA in 1974.

To get bums on seats, Saatchi & Saatchi was appointed in the early 1980s to handle advertising. And no doubt to its delight, the agency discovered that more people were usuing BA to fly across the Atlantic than the entire population of Manhattan (which was 1.43 million in 1980).

And so this breakthrough ad was born – the first of many classics from BA.

Manhattan (1983)

Using the latest special effects at the time, this spot depicted the whole island of Manhattan landing in the UK.

The face (1993)

Instead of using aircraft images, Saatchi & Saatchi focused on the beauty of bringing people together for this ad.

A crowd in a desert moves into formation to create a face that then smiles and winks, while a voiceover (by actor Tom Conti) said: "Every year, the world’s favourite airline brings 24 million people together."

PJ O’Rourke (1999)

Under pressure from Virgin Atlantic to stop calling itself "the world’s favourite airline", M&C Saatchi recruited US satirist PJ O’Rourke to poke fun at Brits’ reserved nature. O’Rourke joked that "you should be proud" that 17 million foreigners opt to fly with BA, "but that wouldn’t be very British".

Famous faces (1999)

BA celebrated the famous faces who have boarded its flights in this ad.

The work, by M&C Saatchi, was a mixture of filmed and archive footage featuring well-known passengers, including Sir Winston Churchill and former racing driver Damon Hill. 

Don’t fly (2012)

As London hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games, this campaign by Bartle Bogle Hegarty implored Brits not to fly – even with BA – but to stay at home and support Team GB. 

Magic of flying (2013)

OgilvyOne waved its digital magic wand to help BA highlight its range of destinations. 

The lovable child in the digital out-of-home execution at London's Piccadilly Circus pointed at overhead planes, while data on that aircraft including its flight number and destination appeared on the screen.

It’s coming home (2018)

A bit of wishful thinking from Ogilvy UK.

BA shared an image of a branded boarding pass on its social media in the hope of England beating Sweden in the World Cup quarter-final. Passenger name? Football. Destination? Home. It may have worked once, but Gareth Southgate's side weren't so lucky a few days later when they were knocked out in the semi-final by Croatia.

Made by Britain (2019)

The film, created by Ogilvy UK, is a love letter to Britain, with A-list stars including Olivia Colman and Anthony Joshua travelling alongside people from all walks of life.

According to the brand, the characters represent the diversity of modern Britain and subvert the notion of a single British identity.

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