This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of British Airways and its predecessor airlines, Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse the full series of 100 stories in numerical order, by theme or by decade.
By the early 1980s, television advertising was a well established marketing medium for BA.
However, the adverts themselves were typically the very definition of a hard-sell, very direct and very forceful:
The “Manhattan” advert from 1983 was a radical departure in many ways.
This was one of the first major TV advertising campaigns Saatchi & Saatchi made for BA bearing the slogan “The World’s Favourite Airline”.
It was also a quantum leap in terms of ambition and production values. The whole campaign accounted for half of BA’s £25m advertising budget for the year.
In a very cinematic advert, directed by Richard Loncraine and produced by James Garrett & Partners, to the surprise of onlookers, the island of Manhattan is seen flying over suburban London as it is directed to land at London Heathrow.
BA used the fact that the volume of passengers it flew across the Atlantic each year was greater than the population of Manhattan. By Saatchi & Saatchi’s own admission, they did not want to use shots of BA aircraft or cabin interiors.
Every year more people choose to fly with British Airways to more countries than with any other airline. In fact, every year we bring more people across The Atlantic than the entire population of Manhattan.
Although the advert is now seen as one of BA’s best, as the first major “conceptual” advertising campaign for BA, it received a mixed response at the time, even from within the advertising industry and the airline itself.
“A brilliant pyrotechnic execution” said Richard Kiernan, executive vice president at Grey Advertising to The New York Times, “but I don’t know what they are trying to tell me.”
“I don’t understand the darn thing,” said Robert E Jacoby, chairman of Ted Bates Worldwide. “It has such an emphasis on making British Airways memorable that it takes away from the message.”
The essence of this advert is a credible factual claim, but presented in a bold and confident way. This advert was also much more a statement of intent, as well as fact. The airline knew it had work to do to meet its claim to be “The world’s favourite”. It was also not just aimed at passengers, but also City investors to prepare the airline for privatisation.
Speaking to The Times newspaper in 1984 BA’s then Marketing Director Jim Harris said:
We still have to prove to people that it is a justified claim and that is what we are setting out to do. We think there are many reasons why it is already true, but we would like it be absolutely beyond any doubt in most people’s minds. We want, literally, to be the first choice – the airline most people choose to fly.