BA parts company with Bartle Bogle Hegarty

As BA parts company with its ad agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, we take a look back at its most memorable ads of the past twelve years.

BBH British Airways 2012 Olympics Print Campaign
BBH British Airways 2012 Olympics Print Campaign

BA is parting company with its advertising agency of 12 years, Bartle Bogle Hegarty (“BBH”).

BBH has produced what is understood to be its last work for the airline, a new safety video which also seeks to raise funds for its charity partner, Comic Relief.

The advertising and media group WPP (led by Sir Martin Sorrell) has secured the BA advertising account as well as work for other business units of BA’s parent company, International Airlines Group.

BBH won the advertising account for BA in late 2005, prizing it away from Charles and Maurice Saatchi whose relationship with BA dated back to the 1980s.  The Saatchi brothers have been credited with transforming BA’s image from “Bloody Awful” to “The World’s Favourite Airline”.

At the time, such was the prestige attached to the BA advertising account, the move generated huge headlines.  M&C Saatchi responded by taking out a double page advertisement in The Times stating is was “Now taking new airline bookings”.   In 2007, it also remade “The Face” for the now defunct rival airline Silverjet.

It is fair to say it took a while for BBH to get into its stride.  Much of this was due to BA itself. The airline encountered significant operational issues at its Heathrow hub, most notably the chaotic opening of Terminal 5 in 2008. Then followed the financial crisis which depressed BA’s traffic numbers and triggered industrial relations tensions as BA sought to restructure its business.

To 2017, this year has been something of an “annus horribilis” for BA. It has received a torrent of negative publicity for service cutbacks, notably the introduction of “Buy On Board” food and drink on short-haul flights. Furthermore, issues that had dogged the airline in the past, such as industrial relations tensions and operational issues at Heathrow, have returned to the fore.  Frequent flyers have also become weary at service cut backs and a lack of innovation on board.

WPP will need to reinvograte the brand for the benefit of not only customers, but also its staff and opinion formers.  However, as history has shown for BA, an agency can only produce its best work when its client has confidence in itself from putting its best foot forward.

Here’s our run through of BBH’s notable work for BA:

Clouds (2006)

This was one of BBH’s first pieces of work for BA, an ad featuring a cover of John Denver’s “Leaving On A Jet Plane” highlighting BA’s commitment to service at affordable prices.  Some of the items featured such as complimentary short-haul catering are of course no longer offered by the airline.

Upgrade to BA (2007)

“Upgrade to British Airways” was the strapline BBH pitched to BA. This film features BA cabin crew handing out in-flight amentities to members of the general public in the attractive surroundings of Circular Quay in Sydney, highlighting the thoughtful and friendly nature of its service.

The Good Life (2008)

This is an ad that was intended to showcase the opening of Terminal 5 which, before launch, BA promised its passengers would be “So Calm. You’ll just flow through”. It was never shown in the UK due to its chaotic opening.

“Terminal 5 is working” (2008)

Terminal 5 is working - BBH for British Airways, 2008
Terminal 5 is working – BBH for British Airways, 2008

In response to negative perceptions concerning Terminal 5, BBH developed a “live” campaign featuring press, radio and digital advertisements citing operational performance statistics for Terminal 5 from the previous day.

At the time, when social media was very much in its infancy, a “live” ad campaign featuring content gathered from the previous day was considered ground breaking.   Nearly ten years on where every airline is one tweet away from a worldwide media storm, it does not feel so immediate.

Opportunities (2009)

BA was hit very hard by the global financial crisis of 2008. The backbone of the airline’s financial health, long-haul business class traffic, fell away following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

In 2009, BBH created eight TV advertisements for BA encouraging business travellers to fly by highlighting forthcoming events around the world.  The above ad featured the imminent Mumbai Fashion Week.  This has echos of BA’s 2002 “It’s Better To Be There” advertising campaign after the events of 11 September 2001, emphasising the importance of doing business face to face.

To Fly. To Serve. (2011)

In September 2011, BA relaunched its brand with the slogan “To Fly. To Serve.” which has been a long part of BA’s heritage. This ad focuses the role of BA (and its predecessor airlines, Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA) in aviation history.

Don’t Fly. Support Team GB. (2012)

This was arguably BBH’s best work for BA.  A combination of an innovative idea from the agency and a client with the confidence to go with it.

BA used its sponsorship of the London Olympic & Paralympic Games to encourage passengers not to travel and stay home to give Team GB and Paralympics GB the “Home Advantage”.  (To be cynical, by the time the ad aired, most passengers planning to fly during the Olympics would have already booked their flights!).

This ad features a British Airways Boeing 777 aircraft being prepared for take-off at Heathrow.  Instead of taxing to the runway, it makes its way to the Olympic Park in Stratford, passing a number of London landmarks (Trafalgar Square, The Palace of Westminster, The Shard Tower) on the way.

The ad features many nice touches that show great attention to detail, such as the seat belt sign being activated as the aircraft passes a speed bump on the road.

The Happy Lemon, The Happy Jumper, The Relaxed Trainer (2012)

These were three spots highlighting the specific benefits of flying BA in Europe, namely complimentary drinks, a checked luggage allowance, and free seat selection 24 hours before departure.  (We’ll spare you a full explanation of BA’s seat selection policy!).

BA has long sought to differentiate itself from low cost short-haul airlines in Europe but has since effectively given in.  It has introduced “Hand Baggage Only” fares and withdrew complimentary food and beverage in short-haul economy early this year.

Today, Tomorrow (2013)

This campaign was an extension of BA’s brand relaunch “To Fly. To Serve.” but with a much more contemporary feel.  It debuted ahead of the launch of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A380 at BA.  It features a passenger travelling through Heathrow Terminal 5 to board a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  It emphasises the work undertaken by its staff each day to run its operation and BA’s attention to detail and its commitment to innovation.

Technically, in terms of photography, editing and post-production, this is the most impressive work by BBH for BA.

The Welcome Of Home (2014)

This was an exclusively digital film produced by BBH.  It features a passenger Chitra making a trip home from Canada to India to with a surprise for her grandmother.  There is a strong emotional story, focusing on the traditional message that airlines are fundamentally about bringing people together.  India is the second most important international market for BA after the United States.

As far as TV advertising is concerned, there has been something of a hiatus over the past few years.  That is not to say that there has been a lack of marketing activity, but it has been focused on digital marketing and price based promotions for new routes and BA Holidays flight and hotel packages.

Comic Relief Flying Start Safety Video (2017)

This is, according to Campaign magazine, BBH’s last work for BA.  A safety video featuring many well known British public figures that also serves as a promotion for BA’s “Flying Start” campaign for Comic Relief.  At the time of writing it has had more than 2.3m views in four days.

BBH have an archive of feature articles for BA on their blog.  Here is a more extensive look at BA’s ads from over four decades.

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