By Published on .

When Delta Air Lines asked Europeans about U.S. airline service, it didn't like what it heard. The responses were not encouraging for a company trying to become the top U.S.-based carrier in Europe.

The company needed a high profile ad campaign that would dispel negative perceptions; as one passenger said, Delta is "the second best thing to shuffling on to a London bus . . . You're there to get from A to B. There's absolutely no frill or ceremony about it."


So in 1994 Delta and its agency, Abbott Mead Vickers/ BBDO in London, launched "Synchronicity," a spirited and inspiring pan-European campaign that has boosted business- and first-class cabin sales and helped make the airline profitable in Europe for the first time. The marketer is now one of the preferred airlines among the region's frequent business fliers, according to Delta sales figures.

Company figures show that European revenues shot up $600 million less than two years after the campaign's launch. Spontaneous ad awareness in Germany, Delta's No. 1 market in Europe, rose to 60% from 27%; brand awareness there grew to 79% from 74%. Brand awareness in the U.K. rose to 56% from 48%. In France, it improved to more than 50% from 41%.

Delta entered Europe in 1976, but its presence was low key. Fif-teen years later, the marketer ex-panded by snapping up European routes abandoned by the defunct Pan American World Airways and became the top trans-Atlantic airline by passenger load. Yet, the coveted corporate business-class passengers remained indifferent.

"After we bought the Pan Am routes, the Atlantic became unprofitable because of the Gulf War and the recession," said Ian Brocklesby, Delta's regional director-advertising, Europe.

The uphill struggle required to turn around passengers' poor perception and increase sales was not apparent until 1993 when Abbott Mead became the airline's lead agency in Europe and was given the unenviable, but chal-lenging, task to use advertising to resurrect Delta.

The global airline industry had just suffered the worst economic slump in its history. With the recession still underway, airline travel collapsed. The growth rate in international airline traffic slumped to less than 1% in 1993 from about 7% in 1986. Overseas ex-pansion such as Delta's into Eu-rope had become a headache as operating costs soared.


Wary, cost-conscious leisure and business passengers in Europe stayed loyal to the local flag carriers in Delta's three biggest European markets: Lufthansa German Airlines in Germany, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways in the U.K. and Air France in France.

The TV and print campaign, begun toward the end of 1994, sig-naled a relaunch for Delta. Pre-viously, the airline ran European operations from the U.S. and used only print advertising through BBDO in Atlanta. Newspaper and magazine ads, however, failed to attract the target audience.

"Even when business pas-sengers were aware of Delta, they relegated it to the minor league," said Jeremy Poole, Delta's account planner at Abbott Mead.

Germany, the U.K. and France accounted for about two-thirds of the $25 million yearly budget.


Using TV as the main medium, and a limited amount of print, the campaign hit 24 European countries in three bursts from August 1994 to November 1995. The :60 spot features a host of airplanes taking off in unison from Europe across the Atlantic. That "perfect formation" is echoed by a school of dolphins leaping in harmony in the ocean below. The idea was to communicate to rational, but cynical, business fliers Delta's vast size as an enterprise, the humane side to its high-quality services, plus the never-ending excitement of flying. The spot ends with the tagline "You'll love the way we fly."

"Doing a scene of only planes crossing the Atlantic would have been sterile, so we used something as warm and uplifting as dolphins to balance that and cement Delta's brand identity," said Mr. Poole.


The emotionally charged theme music, "Adiemus," was written for the commercial, and is considered a landmark in airline advertising because of its popularity. It became a Top 10 hit on European music charts and has been used in TV programs including "Baywatch," the international hit series about the adventures of California beach lifeguards.

"There's been a significant change. Not only has our reputation grown with business travelers, the campaign was a hit with our staff in Europe as it lifted their morale," Mr. Brocklesby said.

Fifteen months after the campaign's launch, the number of Delta trans-Atlantic passengers originating from Europe grew 5%. What makes this achievement even more impressive, Delta officials said, was that the 1994-95 media budget had, in fact, been slashed 25% in real terms


Delta wants to follow "Synchronicity" with another pan-European campaign in its effort to become the leading trans-Atlantic airline in Europe.

Most Popular
In this article: