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From “Fly Me” to “Still Red Hot”: The Most Iconic Aviation Advertising Campaigns

Remember a time when flying included glamorous flight attendants, silver-service and more bags of complimentary peanuts than you could shake a stick at? No? Me neither. Regardless, we keep on flying. It may be for work or leisure, but we have places to get to – and often, a choice on who we fly to arrive there.

Aviation advertising has always been a juicy prospect for the marketing world, despite advertising some fairly similar products. Let’s be honest – at the economy class level of service, you could argue that there isn’t a terrible amount of difference between different airlines. Yet, somehow, the madmen of the advertising world seem to make sitting in a small, cramped tube for 12 hours an exciting prospect. Advertisement campaigns are not only big business for the airlines in question, but can also bring in more accounts for the agencies they contract.

While the allure of flying certainly seems to have worn off for many, you can’t deny that airlines – or the advertising agencies that work with them – have a knack for creating vibrant and engaging campaigns. Regardless of whether you think they are good (or in some cases, rather crass), these are the ten most iconic aviation advertising campaigns of all time.

British Airways: The Face

Created by Saatchi & Saatchi, this unique British Airways advertisement, filmed in a desert in Utah, recreates a giant face from a sea of human bodies, who come together in unison. The interesting thing about this advertisement is its entirely abstract nature – there isn’t even an image of a plane in the advertisement (although a pilot does make an appearance, and the sound of the Concorde closes the advert). However, it is clearly about bringing people together – the purported motto of the campaign. This £2M advertisement remains of the most memorable airline campaigns of all time, reportedly seen by 600 million people in 70 countries.

National Airlines: Fly Me

Sex sells, just ask National Airlines. Well, you would ask them if they still existed – they were folded into Pan Am in 1980. Regardless, in 1971, the perky blonde in the ad above – stating ‘you can fly me morning, afternoon or night, just say when!’ – did wonders for the bottom line of National Airlines, as did her similarly attractive flight attendant pals Diane, Terri and Marissa. National claimed a 23% increase in passenger numbers in the year following the campaign. The jury’s out on whether their ‘Take Me, I’m Yours!’ campaign was quite so successful, but then again, a middle-aged male was probably not going to attract the white-collar market National Airlines was seeking.

United Airlines: Rhapsody in Blue

This isn’t a campaign itself, rather, it’s the use of a catchy piece of music in a consistent way over the years. Since 1980, Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin has been used in the advertising of United Airlines (who were the first organization to receive a license to use the tune) and has come to be associated with their operations. The psychedelic video above is one of the more bizarre United Airlines advertisements to feature the famous piece, with most American’s recalling the cartoon series of adverts more readily. Some of United Airline’s advertisements have been rather dark in mood, or even color palette, and Rhapsody in Blue adds a nice dramatic, cinematic touch to the clips in which it features.

Air New Zealand: Nothing to Hide

In 2009, the airline industry was in the midst of an unbundling exercise with ancillary revenue becoming the buzz-word of the day. Air New Zealand claimed that a number of airlines were not being honest about their ‘hidden extras’ and thus launched the ‘Nothing to Hide’ campaign. This popular advertising campaign featured a range of Air New Zealand staff wearing little more than a pair of underwear, and body painted uniforms. Controversial but memorable, and coupled with a semi-naked safety video, it was also a low-cost approach to advertising, with the staff involved not being given any extra pay for their work.

Southwest: Remember What It Was like Before Southwest Airlines?

Ah, those hot pants. The image of them is seared into the minds of everyone that has experienced this 1972 advertisement from Southwest Airlines. Giving the ‘big boy’ airlines a run for their money, Southwest Airlines managed to attract a whole new clientele to travel, and it continues to operate as a successful airline today. While it may no longer offer the ‘free cocktails for everyone’ mentioned in this 1971 clip, its low-cost service (coupled with fares that include checked baggage – a rarity in the U.S.) is a welcome presence in the American aviation market.

Singapore Airlines: The Lengths We Go To

While other airlines focus on product, Singapore Airlines has long focused on the service offered by its famous ‘Singapore Girls’. It’s no surprise that the ‘Lengths We Go To’ campaign, launched in 2013, focused on the individualized service offered to its valuable customers – which in this video, happens to be providing the perfect cup of in-flight tea. While Singapore Airlines advertisements have a tendency to focus on the beauty and grace of their attendants, they’re universally popular, and a testament to the marketing pull of the iconic Singapore Girl.

Braniff: Air Strip

You might assume Braniff International took a leaf from National Airline’s book with this zinger, but this advertisement – complete with jangly soundtrack and suggestive unzipping – was actually released in the 1960s. While this clip makes me wonder just how hot that poor attendant was under all those layers of polyester, Braniff International carved itself a very particular advertising niche, for which it achieved a reasonable amount of fame. For a period of time, it worked well for their target market of male businessmen, before the end of the plain plane worked so well that it took out the plane altogether.

Qantas: I Still Call Australia Home

Despite the creepy children-of-the-corn undertones to the singing, many people fondly recall this advertising campaign from Qantas, which ran all the way from 1997 until 2004 (including during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games). Regarded as one of the airline’s most successful advertising campaigns, this advertisement was released in 1998, and was created after a Qantas Marketing Manager allegedly was inspired hearing the National Boy’s Choir in concert on Christmas Eve. First aired during the opening ceremony of the 1998 Commonwealth games, and costing $3M – those kids were actually flown to the various destinations in the clip, in case you were wondering – it was a big gamble, but it paid off.

Emirates: Hello Jetman

Without focusing on a product or service, this 2015 advertisement from Emirates demonstrated one thing – Emirates wasn’t afraid to do things a bit differently. Featuring two jetpack wielding stuntmen flying beside an Emirates A380 soaring over the skies of Dubai, its iconic imagery made it a viral hit, as well as hitting traditional news media worldwide. While Emirates love affair with the A380 looks to be over soon, this advertisement will serve as a reminder of when the great (white) elephant ruled the skies of Dubai.

Virgin Atlantic: Still Red Hot

In 2009, 25 years after launching, Virgin Atlantic saw an opportunity to remind the British public just how it all began. With a £6M advertisement that features in a well-coiffed team of airline staff in an iconic red uniform strutting through a dreary Gatwick in the 1980s, this advertisement had both its fans – and its critics. All publicity is good publicity, right? ‘The campaign was estimated to have driven 20% of overall revenue while it was being aired, which approximately equals payback of £10.58 for every £1 invested. Not too shabby at all.


[Featured Image: Screenshot]

Comments are Closed.
dliesse December 27, 2019

All a matter of opinion, of course. I would have included Western Airlines ("The Only Way to Fly"), United's "Fly the Friendly Skies", and the Qantas ads with the koala ("I hate Qantas!"). And those choices should illustrate that yes, I've been around long enough to remember when onboard service was real service.

JimInOhio December 27, 2019

And who can't remember the add/music video for America West... R.E.S.P.E.C.T? All done by employees, too.

arcticflier August 9, 2019

Great blast from the past when PC culture had not yet destroyed good fun!

Airnzder August 9, 2019

No airnz crew ever get paid for being in safety videos or tv commercials. Crew have to be on a day off/annual leave to record footage. In fact, if you see crew at an event outside of an aircraft, they will be unpaid and doing it on their day off.

Dr.Ells August 9, 2019

What a rude reporter. She just offended almost all of us. Not remember being given snacks? Hopefully, she will always have to sit in the back of the plane. She should go the way of some of the finally-disappeared reporters from here, who were insipid and egotistical, too (I’m too kind to list them by name).