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As recession-hit European business travelers start flying again, the sky's the limit in a $130 million marketing battle kicking off among British Airways, Lufthansa and Delta Airlines.

And the sky is exactly what all three airlines are focusing their ad campaigns on.

BA is spending $40 million on advertising and promotion in TV, newspapers, magazines and posters to reintroduce Club Europe this month with the lure of more space in the air and faster check-in.

A TV spot, narrated by "Star Trek's" Captain Kirk, William Shatner, features an astronaut floating through space onto a BA flight and business class seat, where he is served coffee through a tube in his bulky space suit. Elsewhere on the gravity-free plane, a businessman's glasses float before his face.

Print ads continue the space theme with the words, "Prepare to boldly go where no European business traveler has gone before ... into space."

The airline also has a direct mail program going into millions of homes, travel agencies and other offices, handled by Tuloo Marshall Warren, London.

The recessionary effect has been that companies took a harder look at all travel budgets, said Moray MacLennen, joint managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, London, and responsible for the BA account worldwide. "If they didn't think the product justified the premium [price], they'd sit [in economy]."

At BA, the number of business and first class passengers flying the airline grew by 12% in the second quarter of this year compared to last year, outpacing the 6.9% rise in BA's overall passenger numbers.

Delta has a very different mission with its first pan-European magazine, newspaper and TV campaign, estimated at $30 million and breaking this month. Although Delta has 220 trans-Atlantic flights a week, it has spent very little on advertising.

In the TV spot by Abbott Mead Vickers/ BBDO, London, dozens of planes fly across the Atlantic in an aerial ballet intercut with footage of schools of dolphins playing in the ocean.

"We're focusing on business travellers because they account for 3% of the population [but] more than 45% of seats and over 60% of revenue [for airlines]," said Ian Brocklesby, Delta's ad manager-Europe.

Until now, Delta's advertising in Europe has been limited to pan-European print adapted from U.S. ads by BBDO's Atlanta office.

In a recent survey of Newsweek International's European readers about awareness of airline advertising, Delta didn't even make the top ten. BA and Lufthansa rated No. 1 and No. 2, with 79% and 76% of readers, respectively, recalling their ads.

Lufthansa's new $60 million ad campaign by Young & Rubicam, Frankfurt, is the airline's first global effort. Although the airline won't discuss its TV spots to break next month, print ads running since August use the sky as a colorful background to stress the airline's highly competent flying. Copy superimposed on the sky strives to convey a friendly, reliable image with messages like "Our most important objective remains unchanged. Your smile."

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