Saatchi pilots British Air on his very own ego trip

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Advertiser: British Airways
Agency:M&C Saatchi Agency
Rating:1 1/2 stars (out of 4)

I dreamed I was Maurice Saatchi in my Maidenform bra.

OK, that's a lie, and lucky thing . . . or I might have found myself in the global-ad debut of the M&C Saatchi Agency on the hard-won British Airways account.

Even as the Saatchis' nightmarish divorce swirled in the headlines alongside the Charles and Di royal estrangement, the British Airways business seemed to symbolize the brothers' triumph over bean-counter myopia. Turns out, all it really symbolized was Symbolism.

With a capital S--sort of Fellini's ``Satyricon'' meets ``Citizen Kane'' meets ``The Wizard of Oz'' in a $1.5 million exercise in overwrought surrealism. The 60-second series of intertwined dreamscapes has all the scale of previous BA extravaganzas, but little of the weight.

The opening shot is of a paunchy middle-age couple romping in a pond, and the viewer is thinking . . . hmmm, early January . . . Weight Watchers?

But then fireworks explode overhead and we are transported to a pyrotechnics-laden Kabuki theater--or is it Chinese theater?--whose backdrop opens to reveal a vast steppe, littered with 20-foot-tall, armor-plated dollar signs, each shouldered by a modern Sisyphus pushing, pushing, pushing until, whizzing by, comes a little boy astride a giant windup toy alligator--or is it a crocodile?--which in turn is passed by a terrified young man being chased by steed-mounted men in speed-skater outfits down a snowy embankment--no, down a Gobi sand dune--into the shadow of a Sisyphied dollar sign on the desert floor--no, on a mountain summit--dissolving to a laptop computer-generated sales curve on a seatback of an airplane.

And now we're thinking, no, too surreal for Weight Watchers. Maybe a promo for a midseason replacement show: "The Jung & the Restless''?

But then, oh Auntie Em!, we see that the plane passengers are the same folks from the dream sequences. The Kabuki actress is a theater architect. The kid on the alligator, shades of Rosebud, is a grown man with a small windup toy. And Sisyphus is a numbers-crunching MBA.

Now a gentle female voice-over says, ``Every year, the hopes dreams and ambitions of 30 million people fly British Airways. No one knows the business mind better.'' Then the tag: ``The world's favourite airline.''

Requiring the world's best psychiatrist. Does the client really believe this pseudo-psychological flight of fancy is provocative, as opposed to pretentious and confusing? Dream on.

Under Saatchi & Saatchi, BA global spots were big productions in support of simple ideas: all of Manhattan being airlifted to the U.K., a pampered red-eye traveler arriving fresh and sharp for a corporate ambush, hundreds of multi-ethnic extras clad in primary colors, converging in a desert to form a gigantic smiling face.

The logistics were complex, the messages always powerfully plain. This new spot, by contrast, is an enigma, cloaked in a mystery, embarked on an ego trip.

In a week of lurid divorce news, how oddly reminiscent this is of England's other royal circus. At 30,000 feet, British Airways is like the Prince of Wales himself: still plenty of highness, but ever less majesty.

E-mail Bob Garfield at EFPB35A@prodigy.com.

Copyright January 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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