The Airline Ad Battle

I have been quite surprised at the debate following the BA campaign breaking and the reaction I’ve had already to my previous comments on the work. There is a clear division of quite strong opinion; one camp is very dismissive of the BA campaign and another camp very supportive. It also becomes more interesting when Virgin Atlantic is introduced as another division is between the BA supporters and the VA supporters.

I’m delighted to see this emerge because it helps to underline the vital importance of brand appeal to various audiences. As Bill Bernbach said “If you stand for something you have people for you and people against you, if you stand for nothing you have neither” or words pretty close to my memory of the quote.

When Simons Palmer ‘launched’ Upper Class for Virgin we embraced the values of the mother brand and very deliberately worked hard to differentiate VA from BA. At the time the challenge was awesome as the hold BA had on transatlantic business travel was rock solid and persuading the high priced ticket passengers to switch was a big ask but it worked simply because the brand represented an alternative to BA for a clear target audience. Then RKCR took over and they have maintained a sustained and seamless evolution of the core brand personality with some tremendous work. Credit well deserved to both the client and to the agency.

[To point out an obvious confusion is that BA is both long and short haul,VA is only long haul and easyJet and Ryanair are only short haul. So BA has two 'markets' to operate in whilst the other players have just one in terms of geography. However to avoid an over-complication I'm going to focus on EMEA and the main protagonists in the UK.]

The unknown position is easyJet going forwards, what will they do? They have appointed VCCP after a long drawn out pitch, Carolyn McCall is a smart cookie with a strong pedigree and I would venture they/she must develop a clear positioning for easyJet that shakes off the ‘cheap’ tag as it is owned really by Ryanair plus to avoid going  head to head with BA. An opportunity or between a rock and a hard place?

This is where the brand positioning becomes vital so that all communication channels are working very hard to put that important stake in the ground. For example on the easyJet website is says ‘book your cheap flight here’; I would suggest that language needs to change for two reasons – first I don’t believe for a nano second the flights will be cheap in comparison to the alternatives on offer and second the cheap tag implies poor quality, not want they or I want.

Then we have the news that Stelios is creating another airline called Fastjet. One journalist commented that he would be mad to create a competitor to easyJet but I would bet a large amount of money that this is not his plan. Why on earth would he canabalise business from a company where he owns 35%?

No he has spotted another gap in the market. His initiative back in the 90′s established a new approach to air travel that did provide cheap flights but has created numerous monsters for many people; a scramble for seats, crowded check-ins, high priced food and drinks, poor service, etc., etc. My guess his plan is to zig when the world is zagging and put a new option on the table; an elite brand that flys in and out of wealthy locations such as the South of France for people who can’t bear what he has created with easyJet. Smaller airports, full service, bigger seats, all included, travel with your peer group rather than those you would prefer not to fly with such as the stag party to Prague.

Then we would have the cat amongst the pigeons for sure. easyJet slogging it out with Ryanair in one part of the market, BA and Fastjet slogging it out in the other part. Further the problem for BA is if I’m right Fastjet could cream off the lucrative Club business on BA which would push BA closer to easyJet and Ryanair on shorthaul. What an upset all round.

I wonder if easyJet is having frantic discussions with VCCP at this very moment?

So the airline advertising battle could become far more interesting because any market that segments requires brands to be crystal clear about their customer proposition. I predict we will see more happening and we will see large amounts of money being thrown at the advertising part of the battle.


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