Monday, 9 July 2012

British Airways: Strong idea - Wrong idea


Over the next few weeks I will be looking at how various brands have tried to exploit the vast amount of sponsorship pounds they've spent on the Olympics. For some this will be a salutary experience, for sponsorship is like marriage: where it works it works, but in many cases it's sponsor in haste, repent at leisure.

When it's all over, the post mortems round the boardroom tables will reveal, despite the persuasive patter of the marketing guys, that the tangible effects were limited to an improvement in internal staff morale, and in some cases client (trade) relationships. Except in very well organised instances, with a  high level of  data gathering activity, aka direct marketing,  any commercial effect as far as the consumer is concerned is likely to be difficult to justify for the money spent, non-existent or short lived.

In the sponsorship game, popular marketing theory dictates that a company should spend £10 on advertising the sponsorship for every £1 it spends on the sponsorship itself. This is to make "full use of it".

This has two effects: firstly, it allows the fee-hungry ad agencies to persuade their (generally complicit) client marketing departments to indulge in quite extraordinary levels of advertising activity around the sponsored event. Secondly, it often allows the long term thinking about the brand to yield to the short term of the sponsorship message: this in itself  encourages either sloppy strategic thinking and/or the game of torturously trying to combine the values of the brand and the event into one manageable whole.This is why we will see a lot of ads but we will either not remember them, or not understand what they're for. In the worst instances, we will see, as in BA's case, that sponsorship has played havoc with the brand message to the point of unintentional absurdity.

So for the next few weeks, prepare yourself: we are going to see an increase in activity of a generally dubious nature as brands make full use of their sponsorship deals. I'll be trying to keep up via this
blog, starting with a review tomorrow of the remarkable campaign behind the Olympic Torch.


BA embarked on a strategy that culminates in the message Don't Fly.If you haven't seen the ad here it is.

It's a well shot film, the plane driving through London and the special effects are intriguing: in this sense many could call it a "strong" idea. But a strong idea can also be a wrong idea. Indeed an idea can be nearly right, and then fall alarmingly on its sword.

By asking its UK customers not to fly, BA is showing the problem that sponsors have in trying to make their brand coallesce with the event: BA and their ad agency have struggled consistently to find a link in all aspects of the campaign they have run, not simply in this commercial. Their press campaign has been partly on a different strategy but equally flawed.

And the problem is clear: in terms of the UK audience, BA are sponsoring  something happening in this country when their main business is in flying people in and out it.There is no reason for BA to fly us in , we are already here.

What the brand is good at and in business to do - eg flying people in - could be well directed at a foreign audience and would have resulted in a campaign based on the following strategy:

Fly people from abroad to London to experience the Olympics in true British style.
This is essentially a campaign to foreigners, and the commercial BA have produced, with a few word and scene changes, would be perfect for the foreign market. (In fact, I assumed this film was made for overseas' use and then badly re-voiced for the UK, probably for an awards competition, but the BA Youtube page says it's UK only).

Given that this would not fulfil the UK domestic side of things, BA could have considered a few other approaches eg

Connect the emotional spirit of the Olympics with the spirit of BA.
Cliche potential, but an epic of Chariots of Fire flavour is not beyond BA. Think Nike/Rooney.

Offer an escape for those for whom the Olympics ( let alone the weather) are a turn-off
Clearly this is a delicate strategy, but could be easily pulled off: 80% how great the Olympics are and 20% well, if we still can't convince you, why not fly to Barbados with us? (As it happens, the rival airlines such as easyJet are adopting a get away from the Olympics/weather approach in the sure knowledge that BA have boxed themselves in and cannot respond).

Gently ask people to put country before holidays
This is the (misguided) approach BA took, but they allowed someone, somewhere along the line, to turn delicacy, which might conceivably have saved it, into crudity. Don't Fly is simply too crude and emphatic summation for the subtlety that this idea might entail. The writing, rather than the art direction, of this thought is the real villain of the piece, the crystalisation of the idea into Don't Fly. (There is an additional flaw: the message is that being there, at home in the UK, is somehow either more involving or more supportive. Like, er, there are plenty of seats available in the stadia, and that, er, the Olympics won't be wall to wall in every bar TV and internet connection in the world).

At I show how most advertising ideas will work if they appeal to our emotional and quite primeval sub-conscious brains, and, additionally, are characterised by what I call "tribal leadership messages". This allows marketers a frame of reference to create - and judge -potential campaign ideas, and reject those that do not fit. In this instance, the one thing that people need to rally behind and follow into the future, the rallying cry for the brand and its business - is not just counter-intuitive it is actively designed to dissuade people from following the objectives of the brand.

It is exactly the opposite of To Fly. To serve.

Gracious-minded folk would say it is all a bit tongue in cheek and of course it's not meant to be taken literally. Creative types will have been  hyping it in the corridors of  Cannes and Carnaby Street as the potential creative award winner of tomorrow, for its "brave" stance. Ordinary domestic and business consumers will be either passively non-plussed or actively mischievous, seeing in the slogan Don't Fly an albatross of significant proportions to hang round this once great brand's neck.

In fact, now you mention it, it's odd how little this ad has actually been shown on TV.

Has someone at the top of BA seen the light and stepped in to ground it before it's too late?

Stop press. News just in: Nike changing slogan to Just Don't It, L'Oreal to No way you're worth it, MacDonald's to I'm Hating It

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PS Here is the standard BA response to all enquiries about the message in this ad:
Thanks for your comments. The ad is a tongue-in-cheek way of encouraging people to get behind our athletes for London 2012. We understand people will still need to fly during this time and we will be happy to welcome them on board. However, we will be equally happy to fly people after the Games if they decide to stay home and be part of the #HomeAdvantage. We think the song makes a great soundtrack to the ad and the Games and we hope it is a rallying cry everyone can get behind.

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