"To fly. To serve."
Number of staff
About Britsh Airways
British Airways officially came into being in 1974 when the UK government formally merged the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and British European Airways (BEA).
Thirteen years after its formation, British Airways became a private company in a deal led by then chairman Sir John King and CEO Colin Marshall, leading to a flotation that was 11 times oversubscribed.
At this point, marketing came into its own and the airline experienced a much quicker rate of growth, its name proving a powerful shortcut for great British values (conservatism, pioneering spirit, good manners, reliability, trustworthiness) on the global stage. Concorde, the supersonic airliner that began its BA service in 1976, helped reinforce these values. Innovations such as the New Club World and Club Europe brands were launched the year after flotation.
Sporting the Union Jack on its tailfins, the British positioning paid off and it confidently introduced the strapline ‘The world’s favourite airline’ in 1993. Its network grew, and with it, its profits – the airline posted its best results to date in 1996.
Then the brand’s history took a curious and much-documented turn: senior management decided to overhaul its marketing strategy and play down its Britishness in favour of a more ethnically diverse positioning.
To reposition the brand, the marketing team made some bold moves such as dropping the Union Jack tail fins in favour of more exotic, worldly motifs (1997). By this time, challenger brand Virgin was making its presence felt on the scene (it launched in 1984) and promptly grabbed the opportunity to decorate its tailfins with the Union Jack. The bitter rivalry between the two British brands became front-page news when Baroness Thatcher was caught on camera hiding the new tailfin branding on a model aeroplane with her handkerchief, apparently disgusted.
The 1990s was a tricky decade for BA as it battled negative press – from scandals about its ‘dirty tricks’ campaign against Virgin to cabin crew unrest and strikes. The effects on the airline’s profits and ambitions were devastating; the share price dropped from 760p in May 1997 to 150p in September 2001, with chief executive Bob Ayling finding no alternative but to scale back plans for growth, despite a burgeoning global aviation market. Tailfin between its legs, the brand ditched the ‘ethnic’ identity and went back to the Union Jack only four years after the fleet redesign.
Despite a difficult few years, BA still continued to prioritise innovation with launches such as One World, a global alliance with Quantas and American Airlines, in 1999, and the introduction of its own low-cost carrier, Go, in 1998.
However, business was hit in 2001 following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, which left many customers scared to fly. Nevertheless, BA’s efforts to revive its reputation were starting to pay off and the carrier received several awards in 2002 such as Best Airline in Western Europe, Best Transatlantic Airline and Best International First Class by the OAG.
In the years that followed, headline news has included moving the British Airways main base to Heathrow, more strikes, a merger with Iberia (2010), the end of Concorde (2003), a price-fixing scandal and the opening (and severe teething problems) of the BA-run Terminal 5.
The air-travel market continues to prove challenging, with BA last year announcing another restructure, splitting management operations to bring commercial and marketing together, leading to speculation that this may end British Airways’ tradition of ‘big brand’ advertising.
Nevertheless, marketing appears to be gaining positive momentum, with BA being named Business Superbrand and Consumer Superbrand of 2016, for the second and third years running, respectively. Campaigns that have contributed to winning these accolades are the high-profile, feelgood campaign around its sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympics, the relaunch of its brand promise ‘To fly. To serve’ in 2011 and its recent award-winning ‘#LookUp’ campaign.
Waterside, PO Box 365, Harmondsworth, UB7 0GB UK
Sara Dunham, head of marketing, retail and direct
Troy Warfield, director of customer experience
Abigail Comber, head of customer experience
Hamish McVey, manager, brand and customer experience