Airbus builds demand for jet five years before departure

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Airbus Industrie this week launches an international ad campaign for its A3XX jumbo jet -- five years before the first plane takes off.

The European aircraft manufacturer aims to spur early awareness of its supersize model, which could offer casinos, restaurants, movie theaters and private cabins with showers. The A3XX will be the world's largest passenger plane, carrying up to 555 passengers in three classes, when it enters commercial service in 2005.

Airbus is targeting the airline industry and frequent business travelers with its $7 million print and TV effort. The company hopes travelers' interest will put pressure on airlines to purchase the $230 million plane.


"We're trying to make the flier -- be it the captain or the passenger -- say, `Wow, I want to travel on one of those,' " said Mark Wnek, executive creative director of Airbus ad agency Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, London. "So, from the grass roots up, it puts the pressure up the line."

Euro RSCG's campaign plays off a "Seven Wonders of the World" theme. The TV spot features scenes from ancient Babylon. Voice-over says, "They were the Seven Wonders of the World and yet did the Hanging Gardens of Babylon have a cinema?" Later, Greek slaves pour water as young women frolic underneath and voice-over asks, "Did the Temple of Artemis have showers?"

The ad ends with a crowd admiring the jumbo jet with voice-over: "You'll find all these things on the Airbus A3XX, where wonders never cease."

"It tries to convey a real sense of awe," said Mark Phillips, Euro RSCG account director.

Airbus began selling the A3XX last month and said it received interest from carriers including Air France, Emirates Airlines, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. The plane is expected to be used on long-haul, transcontinental flights, such as Qantas' routes from London to Sydney.

No U.S. airlines are believed to have expressed serious interest in the plane.

The new ad campaign won't run in the U.S. initially, but that could change depending on the success of the initiative. It launches in Asia, Europe and the Middle East on TV networks such as CNN, CNBC and BBC.

The effort gives Airbus -- which this month became part of the new European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. conglomerate -- the chance to build its corporate image and gain a leg up on U.S. rival Boeing Co. Boeing Co.'s 747-400 is currently considered the world's capacity leader, with a typical load of 416 passengers.

Boeing has been on an image-boosting kick itself, launching its first-ever corporate branding effort in May and announcing plans to offer Connexion by Boeing, a communications system to add Internet access and live TV on planes.

Airbus plugs its plane not only as a cruise ship in the air, but also as offering airlines a chance to trim operating costs with its large passenger load. Boeing is countering with the offer of a much-less-hyped 747X that could carry up to 522 passengers.


Boeing executives said the 747X offers the same cost savings as the A3XX, adding that they're skeptical airlines will want to purchase amenity-filled planes where casinos and cinemas replace revenue-generating seats.

"We believe that when Airbus says, `We can have a casino or a bowling alley,' sure the technology may permit it; but whether customers really want it and it's the most economical way to operate an airplane remains to be seen," a Boeing spokesman said.

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