BA100: 80. “Surprise, Surprise”

100 Years Of British Airways: Surprise, Surprise, BA’s viral cinema marketing stunt.

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British Airways "Surprise, Suprise" Cinema Stunt, 1991
British Airways “Surprise, Suprise” Cinema Stunt, 1991

This article was published in 2019 in a series on the history of British Airways and its predecessors Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse all 100 stories in number order, by theme or by decade.

Many have been updated since first published.

Long before the era of smartphones, social media and carefully planned “flash mob” viral stunts, here’s a stunt developed Saatchi & Saatchi for BA in 1991.

A British Airways Holidays advert for romantic weekend breaks begins playing at a cinema before the screening of a film.

Everything starts as expected featuring a couple on holiday in Paris. It all looks perfectly predictable with footage of a couple walking arm in arm along the River Seine in Paris with French accordion music playing in the background.

An actress planted in the cinema audience playing the character of Michelle then pretends to recognise the man on screen as her boyfriend, Nigel, cheating on her with the other girl, Amanda, on screen.

Standing up, she starts shouting at the cinema screen to get his attention. He then recognises her in the audience and tries to explain away the situation to both her, and the girl he was in Paris with.

The actress has none of it, dumps her boyfriend, and storms out of the cinema to applause from the audience.

The voiceover then hastily wraps things up for BA Holidays. The stunt was repeated in cinemas around the UK (although the actress was asked to leave in one cinema by a staff member unaware of the stunt) and, although it took approval from Lord King for it to be signed off initially, it generated significant press coverage for BA as well as winning numerous awards.

You can continue reading our 100 part series on the history of British Airways and its predecessor airlines Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA in numerical order, by theme or by decade.

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