You don’t see a whole lot of advertising from US airlines these days. Perhaps that’s because decisions about whom to fly are made on the basis of corporate contracts, frequent flyer programs, schedule or lowest price.
American spent a bit of money on ads during bankruptcy and in conjunction with Disney’s Planes.
But beyond that, it’s a rarity. It used to be much more common, you could hardly watch television without it. Even five years ago it was ubiquitous.
Sometimes New York heats up with airline ads,
ContinentalUnited needs to convince that Newark is really New York, Delta needs to convince you that they’re the biggest and baddest even though before acquiring a minority stake in Virgin Atlantic they had only three daily flights to Heathrow.
If you aren’t in New York, though, do you see airline ads regularly?
Airline advertising is hard. What are you trying to accomplish? Convince people that flying is great, they might as well do it with your competitor. But what do you have to really differentiate your product from other airline offerings? Some airlines need brand awareness, need you to know they exist, but those airlines aren’t likely well funded enough to buy much television time. (They might make outrageous ads that they hope get picked up by the news.. or by bloggers.)
There are some basic categories that ads fall into, most failing to give you a reason to fly the airline — and those that do give you a reason rarely managed to drive business.
Airline Commercials That Sell Flying
In the first half of the last century you had to sell people on flying. Sure, they might not pick your airline but the biggest issue wasn’t getting them on your plane, it was getting people into a plane at all. It was expensive, it was scary, and it was new.
In 1933, it took a 20 minute short film to educate your customers about what it meant to fly. Sure, you only mentioned your brand, but there really wasn’t any comparison to other airlines.
But the idea of selling flying hasn’t really gone away. Ad campaigns such as United’s “It’s Time to Fly” may be feel good, but they never got across the reason you’d want to fly United.
If you’re going to do that, you had darned well better be United. Because Rhapsody in Blue is Awesome. And you had darned well better have Gene Hackman doing your voiceovers too:
… because if you’re American Airlines and you tell everyone you know why they fly, that you’re watching them, then it’s just kind of creepy (in a “long before it was cool for the NSA to read your e-mail” kind of way).
Airline Commercials That Try to Sell Their Destination
Come to Canada! Sure, you could fly Delta, United, or American to get there but we have Canada in our name…
Airline Commercials That Sell Features and Benefits
Americans have a bit of an inferiority complex about Europe, things from Europe are often just seen as better. I’ll never forget the shampoo and soap dispensers mounted in the shower of the low end motel my high school debate team used to stay at in Bakersfield — it was branded “EuroBath” — and TWA featured
EuroBathTransworld Service. They pitched themselves as European. “Wines of the world over Washington, Continental cuisine over Colorado, foreign films over Phoenix.. Get a Taste of Europe at 30,000 feet.”
Alaska Airlines is a full service airline, they won’t nickel and dime you. Which really matters when you’ve got to use the lavatory.
Continental Airlines isn’t taking away pillows, and will still feed you at meal time. Sure, you used to make fun of airline meals. They always seemed gross. But we’ll still give them to you!
Some airlines have tried to say that their people are just better, friendlier, warmer – the kind of people you want taking care of you. (No one would try that sort of advertising today, because no one would believe it, but United used to be the Friendly Skies.)
Maybe you just want to be funny and kind of offensive to catch your viewers’ attention while you point out that your fares are really, really cheap.
Or to get the point across that you have fully flat beds that offer privacy:
Airline Commercials That Sell Sex
Southwest started out its existence selling sex. They put flight attendants in hot pants. Their stock ticket symbol is LUV. And their original automated ticket machines were called “quickies.” So it’s no surprise their commercials were similarly imbued:
Braniff believed that “even an airline hostess should look like a girl.”
There’s nothing quite like Avianova, though.
Unfortunately this commercial isn’t for an actual airline.
I’ve spent way too much time down memory lane on YouTube but there are some great memories. Watching the TWA video all the way through there are other commercials, like promoting their domestic business class “for just $10 to $30 more” that’s comfortable even for seven foot tall basketball players.
I miss good airline ads, but that doesn’t mean they make business sense. Virgin America could probably leverage television in a few markets with its brand, but it’s expensive and the don’t make money…
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