John McDonald is VP-marketing at British Airways, which launched a new ad campaign last fall called “To Fly. To Serve,” created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London.
The campaign, which is BA's largest branding effort in more than a decade, comes at a time when the airline industry is struggling with challenges including cuts to travel budgets, aviation taxes and rising gas prices.
In the following Q&A, McDonald discusses the new campaign and how BA will be investing to improve its operations.
CMO Close-Up: You just introduced a new brand campaign, your largest in a decade. Why now?
John McDonald: British Airways has always been a strong brand, but we wanted to tell our unique story a little louder and to a wider audience. We believe British Airways is special because of its people, expertise and heritage—and because we put the customer at the heart of everything we do. The "To fly. To serve' motto states British Airways' promise and encapsulates our aviation expertise and commitment to customer service, and we wanted to share that message with our customers around the world. It has been a difficult few years in the aviation industry; but British Airways has come out stronger, and this new campaign signifies a new chapter for the airline. Now is the moment we move on confidently and get on with what we do best—serving our customers.
CMO Close-Up: What are the challenges facing airlines these days?
McDonald: This is our first major brand campaign in more than 10 years, and it follows 10 years in which the industry has changed enormously, and we have restructured our business and transformed our operations accordingly.
The airline industry continues to face a number of challenges, for instance, aviation tax is higher in the U.K. than anywhere else in the world.
CMO Close-Up: What is the campaign objective?
MacDonald: This campaign allows us the opportunity to show our commitment to our customers. We're bringing our motto "To fly. To serve' to life in our new ads, showcasing our experience of flying and caring for customers in the air and on the ground, as well as the professionalism and skills of our pilots and dedicated cabin crews. To coincide with the brand campaign, we are investing in our product with a five-year program to benefit our customers.
CMO Close-Up: Which media will you use in the campaign?
McDonald: This is a major multimillion-pound advertising campaign, with print, broadcast and online advertising to support it. We have also invested in social media as part of the campaign and even premiered the (broadcast) ad on our Facebook page. The ad is now housed on our YouTube channel, along with several edited versions of ads that showcase decades of flying know-how and innovation, thoughtful service and coveted British style.
We are continuing to cross-promote content related to the brand campaign on social media channels, including a profile on Claire Bunton, 747 captain and kite-surfing champion. We've also been utilizing YouTube for our Future Pilot Program, with the goal of taking on more than 800 new pilots by 2016. We've already seen thousands of applications as a result, and social media certainly has been a huge catalyst for that.
Beyond the brand advertising, the airline has committed to spend more than £5 billion (approximately $7.8 billion) on customer products and services over the next five years on new cabins, planes and services.
CMO Close-Up: Where will you be investing?
McDonald: As part of our overall business investment to benefit consumers, we will introduce new planes; special cabins for World Traveller and World Traveller Plus passengers; an updated first-class experience; improvements at Gatwick Airport; and upgraded lounges in airports throughout the British Airways network. Investments will also be made in catering and technology to make traveling more convenient and comfortable for customers on the ground and in the air.
More than 1 million customers have already downloaded British Airways apps, which make check-in faster and more convenient. We are now launching a new feature for iPhone users, giving them the ability to book flights on their smartphones. We also intend to make improvements to ba.com which will enable customers to make more changes to their booking online, rather than via the call centers. Customers will also be able to register with the site so their details are stored securely and they can make transactions more quickly and easily.
We have ordered 12 A380s and 24 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, and we expect the first deliveries in 2013. We are also refurbishing 18 of our Boeing 777-200s, which will have all-new cabins similar to the new 777-300ERs. That means more comfortable seats, with adjustable headrests in World Traveller; greater seat recline in World Traveller Plus; [and] a new in-flight entertainment system in both, with bigger screens and more choices.