At the end of last month I pulled together some of the best historical airline ads I know of. Frankly it’s fun (for me, but I’m a bit nuts for this stuff) cruising through Youtube for these things, and I think it’s an amazing thing about our world that it’s all available there a few clicks away.
Looking at those ads it struck me how bad most airline advertising is, and I don’t think it’s because the ad agencies aren’t creative or the airline executives make bad customers.
Instead it’s because it’s hard to differentiate their products in mass media. How do you communicate in a meaningful way on television why you should choose United over American?
Airline advertising is hard because to the median consumer there isn’t a dime’s bit of difference between the different carriers. They don’t have a brand, a unique selling proposition, and when an airline tries to claim one it doesn’t come off as credible.
An airline might advertise to convey information, like “we have a whole bunch of new flights from your city!” But except for airlines that won’t pay to be included in computer reservation systems, customers will simply see the non-stop options when they go to book a flight.
Two of the better ads in that post, I thought, were Continental and Alaska Airlines trying to differentiate themselves as full service and not nickel and diming customers. There was a clear message or reason to pick those carriers. Of course the business model didn’t last, Continental stopped offering free meals in coach domestically. People didn’t love the meals when everyone got them for free on all airlines, and they weren’t choosing to fly Continental over competitors because of those meals. But at least there was a clear message.
United could never run its earlier ‘Friendly Skies’ ads anymore, showing flight attendants who were so genuinely enthusiastic and caring and who seemed to revel at being able to make passengers more comfortable on their trip. It just wouldn’t be credible.
And yet my rule of thumb that airline advertising is bad doesn’t always hold, and certainly doesn’t for some non-U.S. airlines. That’s because some of them do have a brand (and those that don’t can more credibly claim one — since US customers won’t be as familiar with their offerings).
Virgin Atlantic can try fun and sexy. Singapore Airlines can say there is something special and unique about their service.
And Singapore’s new ad campaign does just that. Their theme is “the lengths we go” and Lucky last week linked to the first video in the series.
It’s called “Understanding Your Needs” and it’s touching — and only somewhat a stretch to imagine a Singapore Airlines flight attendant making a journey to find your favorite tea and then serving it just the way you like it.
And you could almost imagine a Singapore flight attendant attending films in India to bring you just the right one on your flight.
Singapore Airlines has good food, good inflight entertainment, and good service. So the commercials capture something that’s ultimately true about the airline even as they take quite a bit of creative license in illustrating those things.
And that makes these actual, bona fide, good airline ads — which at least hold the potential to have customers say “I want to choose to fly Singapore” rather than flying on a different carrier for a given trip. It offers to promise of a better experience, that is actually believable.
Way to go Singapore! (And I say that because I’m strange and I really like watching airline ads.)
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