British Air soon introduced its most famous aircraft, the supersonic Concorde. In January 1976, a pair of Concordes (one from British Air and the other from Air France) took off amid a flurry of media coverage. Spreads touting the stunt, from Tinker Campbell-Ewald, ran in national editions of The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Washington Post and The New York Times. The same newspapers carried four identical teaser ads featuring actor and British Air spokesman Robert Morley pointing out the spreads to readers.
But plans for trans-Atlantic Concorde flights encountered turbulence at the U.S. Department of Transportation, which was responsible for granting the supersonic aircraft landing rights. Environmental groups decried the Concorde as harmful to the Earth's ozone layer, noisy and fuel inefficient.
Concorde supporters responded that the aircraft's environmental impact was minimal and the outcry a product of competitors' envy. The Concorde's proponents won that battle, and in May 1977, British Air inaugurated London-bound Concorde service, with high-speed and high-price trans-Atlantic flights between Heathrow Airport and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
In 1977, British Air also found itself embroiled in a battle over tourist-class fares with rivals Air India, Pan-American World Airways and Trans World Airlines. After an August announcement of a $256 round-trip fare (London to New York), those and a handful of other airlines embarked on a fare war. One ad from British Air agency Tinker Campbell-Ewald touted a $156 one-way trip with a return fare of $10.
But the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board—the primary airline watchdog until industry deregulation in October 1978—did not approve the fee schedules advertised by the airlines, and the decision prompted last-minute changes to all air carriers' announcements and produced headaches for their ad agencies.
After deregulation, however, cheap fares were the rule rather than the exception, and global air travel skyrocketed. But that business was put into jeopardy in the 1980s by the threat of global terrorism. A month after the U.S. raid on Libya in April 1986, British Air rolled out an ambitious $8 million newspaper campaign that featured a host of giveaways-ranging from free trips on its flagship Concorde to $153,000 worth of stocks and bonds-to win back worried travelers.
Howard Marlboro Group, New York, a sales promotion agency, handled British Air's June 1986 "Go for it, America!" promotion, which featured 5,200 free seats-indeed all seats on its scheduled flights-on June 10, 1986. As another part of that promotion, one passenger on each flight that June won a free round-trip ticket on the Concorde. British Air continued the promotion through October, giving away a prize to one passenger on each of its flights. The following year, the British government privatized the airline.
Concern over airline terrorism seemed to be subsiding by early 1988 (although it would peak again in December of that year following the bombing of a U.S. airliner that subsequently crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland). But during those relatively carefree months when air travel began to grow again, British Air hired Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising to create a campaign for the airline's introduction of Club World and Club Europe business-class sections.
In 1990, Saatchi produced a 90-second extravaganza that included a collage comprised of more than 3,000 schoolchildren holding color-coded placards. The spot depicted a face in British Air's red, white and blue motif. On cue, the face, viewed from a helicopter overhead, was transformed into a globe, alluding to the carrier's 38-country reach. The effort was supported by a $22.5 million ad budget.
Move to M&C Saatchi
In 1995, during an acrimonious legal battle between Saatchi & Saatchi founder Maurice Saatchi and agency owner Cordiant, British Air moved its $96 million global ad account to the Saatchi brothers' breakaway shop, M&C Saatchi.
In August of that year, M&C Saatchi launched its first campaign for British Air with four British TV spots touting British Air's World Offers promotion. The campaign featured four watercolorlike cartoons, and each asked the question, "Where is everybody?" The implied response: "Everybody" had taken advantage of British Air's World Offers bargain fares program.
In 1997, British Air announced a three-year, $10 billion investment in new services, products, training and aircraft with the rollout of a TV campaign from M&C Saatchi that introduced the "Speedmarque" logo, a red, white and blue three-dimensional adaptation of British Air's former "Speedwing" logo.
In October 1997, British Airways launched a three-month, $15 million campaign from M&C Saatchi, New York, in 18 major U.S. cities that touted the airline's international reach.
After the crash of an Air France Concorde in July 2000 killed 113 shortly after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, regulators grounded the Anglo-French aircraft based on concerns that its fuel tanks could leak and catch fire if hit by ground debris. Both British Airways and Air France executives worked with investigators in Paris to find ways to keep the planes in service.
In January 2001, British Air modified its fleet of seven Concordes to include armored fuel tanks designed to prevent a repeat of the massive fuel leak that had crippled the French aircraft. Later that year, British Airways relaunched service to New York.
Like the rest of the industry, British Air suffered in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. CEO Rod Eddington didn’t make matters better just two months later. Mr. Eddington apparently had been troubled by actor Bruce Willis' refusal to fly to London for a premiere, prompting a broad statement about the Hollywood community to a London paper. "They want everyone to see their movies and think how big and brave they are," he was quoted as saying. "But at the first sign of trouble they cower under their beds like gutless cowards."
Virgin, British Airways' biggest competitor, responded with print ads that included Mr. Eddington's quote and Virgin’s toll-free number.
In 2004, British Airways made an integrated marketing deal with Viacom's VH1 to sponsor the second season of the buzz-heavy "Bands Reunited." The partnership included product placement in the series, a party-like-a-rock-star consumer sweepstakes and on-air, off-channel and online promotions. The deal sprang from a media buy on VH1, where British Airways had done little advertising in the past.