It was 20 years ago this week British Airways launched what is commonly thought as one of the greatest marketing disasters of all time.
As part of a company wide rebranding exercise, the company replaced its long standing “Landor” aircraft livery with approximately 50 different tailfins featuring designs representing the many nations served by BA, such as tartan for Scotland and calligraphy for China.
The exercise was carried out with the best of intentions. At the time BA was the self-styled “World’s Favourite Airline”. This was because it carried more international airlines than any other airline. 60% of its passengers originated from outside the UK. The plan was to present BA to the world as a modern, warm and caring airline.
This seemed fitting with the times. Tony Blair had secured a landside victory for New Labour in a General Election and there was a confidence in the UK’s contemporary culture, exemplified by the rise of Britpop.
Whilst the designs we well received by BA’s international passengers, they were not so well receive back in the UK. The label “ethnic tailfins” stuck. The former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously took exception to the sight of a model BA aircraft at the 1997 Conservative Party conference and covered its tailfin with a handkerchief. “Maggie Puts BA Into A Tailspin” was the front page of the Daily Mail the following day. This was the death knell for the rebranding exercise. Virgin Atlantic, which at the time always seized the opportunity to joke at BA’s expense, painted the Union Jack and the decal “Britain’s Flag Carrier” on its aircraft. Continue reading “British Airways “World Images” Tailfins: 20 Years On”