The Story Of British Airways Advertising

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British Airways, "The World's Favourite Airline", 1983.
British Airways, “The World’s Favourite Airline”, 1983.

First published in April 2020, here is a ten part series on the history of British Airways advertising from 1974 to 2020.

This starts the formation of BA in the 1970s and its reinvention and privatisation in the 1980s with the aid of Charles & Maurice Saatchi.

It continues with the airline’s attempts to reinvent itself in the 1990s and beyond in the face of rising competition from low cost airlines and global geopolitical events.

In many ways it tells the story of bygone era. The budgets for big blockbuster TV advertising campaigns have gone. Digital marketing and distribution channels allow for more targeted advertising.

As well as telling the story of the development of air travel, they provide an insight into social change. Not all advertisements have aged well and would not be made today.

Before Saatchi: The Hard Sell

Part One: British Airways’ advertising in the early years after its formation in 1974 was the very definition of a hard sell: loud and brash. Then, along came Charles and Maurice Saatchi to change everything.

“Putting People First”

Part Two: We continue into the 1980s with British Airways’ first long haul business class cabin “Super Club”. Landor Associates revamp BA’s visual identity. BA’s training programme “Putting People First”.  

The Wall Street Era

Part Three: British Airways enters its “imperial phase” in the late 1980s with a successful privatisation and a period of overt self-confidence. The airline introduces its Club World long-haul business class brand and reflects “Wall Street” culture.  


Part Four: British Airways produces when of the best airline advertisements of all time “The Face”. The airline runs a viral marketing stunt, unveils “The World’s Biggest Offer” and positions Gatwick airport as “The hub without the hubbub”.  

“Where Is Everybody?”

Part Five: British Airways uncannily predicts a dystopian post-apocalypse future, gives away free Concorde tickets to Lapland and upgrades Club Europe and Club World.  

Project Utopia

Part Six: British Airways unveils a radical, and now notorious, revamp of its corporate identity. PJ O’Rourke gives BA’s British passengers a gentle ticking off. The airline prepares for the turn of the century with the first fully flat beds in business class. 

“It’s Better To Be There”

Part Seven: British Airways recovers from the events of 11 September 2001 and promotes its new Club World service designed around maximising sleep.  

“Terminal 5 Is Working”

Part Eight: British Airways parts company with Charles and Maurice Saatchi and turns to Bartle Bogle Hegarty who help the airline recover from the chaotic opening of Heathrow Terminal 5. 

“To Fly. To Serve.”

Part Nine: British Airways seeks to recover from the 2008 global financial crisis. It delves into the past to relaunch its brand identity with the promise of “To Fly. To Serve.” But it tells passengers not to fly during the 2012 Olympic Games.

The Social Media Age

Part Ten: Airlines enter the social media age. These platforms are a double-edged sword. They enable airlines to reach a mass audience, but are shared with the public at large, leaving them at the mercy of instantaneous judgements by audiences.


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