Before Campaign asked me to write something about airport
advertising, I'd never really thought about it. Not because I'm not
aware of it, and not because I never stop to examine it. But because
whenever I do think about it, lugging my Samsonite through the endless
burrows of Gatwick or JFK, longing for the light at the end of the
tunnel, and praying that a jumbo-full of Japanese won't beat me to
passport control, it gives me an uneasy feeling - the disquieting sense
of being an unwelcome eavesdropper on a very important conversation that
I have no business overhearing.
This is a wild guess, but I can't help getting the feeling that the
people who advertise in airports believe the typical business traveller
is a humourless systems analyst on his way to a boardroom somewhere on
the other side of the planet on the brink of making the decision to move
his multimillion-dollar account to a massive global systems provider
whose name he wasn't aware of when he left the car park five minutes
ago. What else could account for the plethora of inoffensive airport
sites devoted to making sure you won't get on the plane without having
registered the 40-feet high logos of Nortel or Compaq or Vodafone?
Because I'm not sure what systems analysts do for a living, I begin to
feel a little unwelcome in these corridors of power.
I am relieved, therefore, when I stumble into three acres of wall space
for Gucci in Nice or Valentino in Milan. I know these brands, even if I
can't afford them. I hypothesise another target - it's the systems
analyst on holiday. And he's going to hire a car. I know this from the
car stuck on the ceiling of Hamburg airport. Indeed, Sixt Rent A Car
strikes me as having some ambitious plans to capture the systems analyst
rental market because it is all over the place. There's a giant Marlboro
Man in the Hamburg departures lounge reminding me that I won't be able
to smoke for at least nine hours. Stockholm has a poster for Madonna's
latest album covering half the car park. I get the impression she's big
The Zurich poster of the snowman looks nice. I'm feeling paranoid and
overheated, and I want to go there immediately, lie down in the snow and
go to sleep. What does Zurich do? Isn't that a city I went to once? HSBC
has cleverly made use of the normally featureless interior of the steel
tube that connects the airport to the plane. I sense that it is going
global. I find this strangely comforting.
The smartest thing I see is at Munich airport where Audi has reserved
parking spaces exclusively for the use of Quattro drivers - on the
vertical faces of several massive granite slabs.
Back at Gatwick airport, I notice that a company called Accenture is
sponsoring the Fast Track through immigration. This is clever
They're not just going for the systems analysts, they're going for the
really upwardly mobile, Fast Company-type systems analysts.
I have plenty of time to consider what a clever marketing move this is
as the sleepy individual at the Fast Track immigration desk processes
the jumbo-load of Japanese that arrived just before me.