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.
Note many articles have been updated since they were first published.
There is no advertising agency / client relationship more talked about in the UK advertising industry than British Airways.
When BA tendered its advertising account in 2005 such was the interest bookies even ran odds on which agency was likely to secure the account.
Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), founded by John Bartle, Nigel Bogle, and John Hegarty prized the account away from Maurice and Charles Saatchi.
Not that the Saatchi brothers let go of the account quietly. They reportedly revelled in industry gossip that BBH was initially having difficulty pleasing BA. Allegedly a letter was drafted headed “British Airways. Serves You Right.” with the text “Please feel free to use the strapline in your upcoming advertising. Alternatively, simply stick it to the wall and stare at it for the next few months/years.”
The BBH/BA client relationship ended in 2017 after 12 years. BBH which lives by the mantra “When the world zigs, Zag.” would say itself that the relationship was something of a rollercoaster, not least because it spanned the 2008 financial crisis. However, there was plenty of scope for creativity, notably the 2012 Olympics campaign.
Here’s a run through of some other notable work by BBH for BA:
This was BBH’s first TV advertising campaign for BA.
You could say it was a very steady start. The advert 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 a very familiar device in airline advertising, with BA cabin crew handing out in-flight amenities to members of the general public in the attractive surroundings of Circular Quay in Sydney, highlighting the thoughtful and friendly nature of its service.
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 advert 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 by reintroducing the slogan “To Fly. To Serve.” which had been a long part of BA’s heritage.
This advert focuses the role of BA and its predecessor airlines in aviation history right from the very first flight on 25 August 1919. It is notable for its focus on the “hardware” of aviation rather than the softer aspects you usually see in advertising.
“Today, Tomorrow” (2013)
This advert from 2013 was an extension of BA’s brand relaunch “To Fly. To Serve.” but with a much more contemporary feel.
The advert debuted ahead of the launch of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A380. 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.
The advert uses a “micro to macro” style of filming, featuring close up shots of the details of flying, panning to wide shots of the aircraft in motion.
The film is directed by Martin Krejci, with cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle and features the soundtrack “Experience” (Starkey Remix), by Ludovico Einaudi.
Technically, in terms of photography, editing and post-production, this was the best work by BBH for BA.
Remarkably, until this year, this was the last major TV advertising campaign for BA. This in part a reflection of the fact that much advertising and marketing activity is now focused on digital and relatively longer form story telling on social media.