Early in 2018, I took the marketing reins at easyJet. I was gifted a national institution in the midst of a record year of financial performance. A brand going from strength to strength, universally known for offering a great product at fantastic prices, celebrated through tongue-in-cheek straplines and high-energy advertising.
It would have been easy to ride the crest of this wave – some might even say it would be crazy not to. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right?
But tough times were looming – Brexit (not only impacting UK consumer confidence, choice of holiday destination and the value of sterling, but also posing an existential quandary for a brand inspired by a united Europe) and economic uncertainty were coinciding with record levels of capacity in the market. A brand surviving on rational proof-points alone (and predominantly price) in a highly competitive market would surely find itself in a race to the bottom.
We needed to elevate the brand from price alone – to create an emotional connection with our customers. To come of age. Which meant our advertising needed to move on.
In our favour were two things – already strong perceptions of value and a high-net-worth customer base with increasing business travel penetration.
So we set out to appeal on a more emotional level to increase affinity and drive brand consideration – aiming to reawaken a love for travel by taking customers on a flight of imagination.
To drive this change, we needed to make some subtle but fundamental changes to our advertising, starting with our pan-European brand campaign. The team at VCCP created a stunning piece of film depicting a magical journey through our heroine’s daydreams.
It was a thing of beauty. And it deserved a fabulous soundtrack. For years, easyJet had stuck to a successful formula of cheery, high-energy music with broad appeal. VCCP put forward more of the same. We had a safe ad that was very easyJet.
But the agency also put forward a left-field option – a serene, haunting piece. Against this backdrop, the campaign immediately took on a different feel. A sense of calm, taking the listener into a dream-like state, instantly evoking that flight of imagination. It was love at first listen for both Mary Newcombe, easyJet's marketing director, and me.
Decision made. The pre-test results were fabulous, too, so on we cracked. Film finished, music sorted. Good to go.
"Imagine where we can take you. EasyJet. Europe from £29.99."
But I had a hunch. A hypothesis that the price message was superfluous, telling people what they already knew, maybe even holding us back. But it’s our raison d’être, so how could I even contemplate a campaign that doesn’t have a price message?
So I asked if we’d considered whether it was still working for us. Eyebrows were raised. "It’s just what we always do." "We’ve never really thought about it". "What would we do instead?"
Now I’m not brave (crazy?) enough to just drop a key message for a pan-European multimedia brand campaign on a hunch. Especially in light of all the external influences headed our way. So we tested it.
And guess what? It turns out with the price message there, that’s all people recall from the ad. When you remove it, other messages are appreciated and remembered. Including value – so we still convey value without talking about price. Low-cost travel is so strongly associated with easyJet that people still take it out as a key message without us even needing to mention it.
To many, this might not seem like such a big decision. After all, it’s just a couple of words on the end-frame of a TV ad. But as price has been at the core of every piece of communications easyJet has done in its 24-year history, it certainly wasn’t a small decision, nor was it one I took lightly.
Twelve months after the launch of the campaign, I can confidently say it was the right decision. Brand strength is reaching new highs across Europe. We are the first-choice airline for more Europeans than any other. We are hitting record levels of brand affinity. Oh, and worth perceptions are continuing to strengthen too. Phew.
Lis Blair is chief marketing officer at easyJet and a member of Campaign’s Power 100