British Airways puts accent on heritage in ads

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M&C Saatchi's latest British Airways campaigns put the emphasis on the British -- even though they mark the agency's first global work done Stateside for its longtime client.

The airline is on a marketing tear with new work from London-based M&C Saatchi's New York office. This week it breaks a TV campaign for its new business class flat-bed sleeper seats; and the following week the airline premieres a high-profile branding campaign, the centerpiece of which is a big-budget spot inspired by Stanley Kubrick's movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."

According to William Harford Jr., VP-business marketing and marketing services at British Airways, the company expects to spend about $30 million on the initiative.

"We wanted to get a better understanding of the brand, so we did some research," Mr. Harford said, "We found that British Airways, for consumers, meant outstanding British service. We wanted to go out and support that."

DURING EVENTS

The branding campaign will hit broadcast TV during high-profile events such as Wimbledon and the Summer Olympics, and include radio as well as print advertising.

The 60-second TV spot, directed by Gerard de Thame, shows U.S. and Russian astronauts in a cluttered, low-tech space station, trying to eat food in vacuum sealed packs. Meanwhile, in a spacecraft as classy as a Rolls-Royce, two British space travelers dine elegantly on crumpets and watch cricket. The tagline: "The British simply know how to travel."

The radio campaign, meanwhile, echoes the humor of British comedy troupe Monty Python. "Today's moment in British travel history," says an announcer, who introduces listeners to Victorian British travelers in untamed places eating cucumber sandwiches and drinking tea.

Marty Cooke, M&C Saatchi's chief creative officer in New York, and his team of Michelle Rouffa, copywriter, and Jim Carroll, art director, worked on the campaigns.

A separate TV effort will debut for the airline's new flat-bed seat in business class. The airline began phasing in the seat, which converts into a completely flat 6-foot bed, aboard its planes in May. While the branding effort was designed for a U.S. audience, this flat-bed product work will eventually run globally.

GOING NATIONAL

Traditionally, British Airways has focused heavily on spot TV in the U.S. markets it serves. But the company will employ national TV that reaches beyond its 21 markets in its new brand effort, including ads during NBC's Olympics coverage this fall. "When we have the right message and the right budget, we will take it to a national audience," Mr. Harford said.

And at the right time. British Airways struggled mightily last year, posting its first annual loss since 1987, which led to the dismissal of its CEO, Robert Ayling. The airline's officials placed part of the blame on heightened competition for travelers between the U.S. and the U.K., where rivals include American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways, among others.

And it was with those competitors in mind that British Airways set to capitalize on a distinctive British taste in the new work. The American carriers can challenge British Airways in seat size and cuisine, but can't adopt a British accent.

"You couldn't put Delta, American or United on this work," said Mr. Cooke.

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