Brand Saga: British Airways – taking flights of heartwarming stories, the India Chapter

British Airways India advertising journey

Even as the world has come to a standstill, British Airways is flying high, carrying the heritage of over 100 years in operation. We take a look at the British Airways advertising journey in India of delivering heartfelt campaigns along with their flights.

While uncertain clouds continue to loom over the aviation & the tourism industry overall, aviation brands have continued to stay active on social media, appealing with their consumers emotionally. For British Airways, however, emotional storytelling has been a way of marketing, rather than a mere tactic. This Thursday we do a throwback of the legacy of British Airways advertising journey, marking 90 years of its presence in India.

British Airways – The Centenarian

For many, it’s still an unsolved puzzle that how an airline that got its origin traced to 1974 can celebrate its 100 years of operation in 2019. The facts state that British Airways, UK’s national airline was formed in 1974 with the merger of the two largest UK airlines, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and British European Airways (BEA), and including also two smaller regional airlines, Cambrian Airways and Northeast Airlines

To minimize the confusion, London AirTravel.com, tracing the history of British Airways (BA) mentions that BA has not operated under one name for 100 years. Over time, aircraft and airlines have been transferred through various airlines. In truth, it is the 100th anniversary of international civil aviation in the UK.

British Airways traces its history back to Aircraft Transport and Travel Ltd which began flights from Hounslow Heath to Paris on 25 August 1919. British Airways advertising journey too goes way back, if not a century.

The First Flight to India

The British Airways Heritage Museum in London has recorded many memories of its flights to different countries and mentions India as one of the key milestones. One of the memoirs reads, “We began our journey to India 90 years ago and have never lost the pioneering spirit,” said Christopher Fordyce, regional commercial manager, British Airways, South Asia.

It was on November 10, 1924, a testing flight funded by Imperial Airways (a precursor to British Airways) left London for India and finished its trip in seven days finally culminating the journey on March 17, 1925. It was also mentioned as India’s first commercial flight in 1929.  It is also reported that British Airways has been counting miles to India since the iconic Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to India.

BA’s Love for India- Advertising Reckons

Fuelled by love, admiration, and emotions, British Airways bet big on creating ‘bonds’ with its consumers that last long and are not restricted to their travel period. It’s one such airline that has found itself amidst major controversies and corporal rivalries but has always been successful in conveying the brand purpose and its dedication towards its flyers through its advertisements since its inception. British Airways advertising journey has played an integral role here.

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While offshore it has left the ad world amazed owing to its classy campaigns – whether it be the viral Saatchi & Saatchi’s first major work for British Airways in 1983, a big-budget cinematic TV advertisement, signaling BA’s intention to be “The World’s Favourite Airline. Or ‘Arrive Home’ – an advertising campaign from the early 1990s highlighting one of the best aspects of business travel – getting back home and many more that followed.

If we look closer, the earlier advertising by British Airways, though on foreign shores, was all about aviation and its specifications. As mentioned, the adverts were typically the very definition of a hard-sell, very direct, and very forceful.

Moving beyond just promoting its global reach and network, British Airways in 1985 kick-started advertising for its in-flight services and experiences and the guest treatment that felt like family for its flyers. By this time, the creative agency Saatchi & Saatchi had established BA as a worldwide carrier and it was time for the brand to market its services aggressively putting the competition behind.

India has always been known as the ‘sensitive country’ where emotions play a bigger role in forming loyal relationships and the idea has been extended in various brand promotions over the years. British Airways was no behind. It decoded the art of storytelling quite early and managed to pull off tearjerkers and emotions filled brand campaigns to date.

The brand used emotional appeal to promote itself in India with a strong emphasis on family bonds. The first breakthrough campaign it came up with was ‘British Airways India- A Ticket to visit Mum’. And thus started the British Airways advertising journey in India.

Before highlighting the campaign insight, take a look at the impact it had on the overall brand identity of British Airways back home. Reportedly, the direct sales on the official website during the year 2012-2013 were up 65% vs. It is mentioned that not only did the Visit Mum platform stemmed the losses it was facing in 2012, but BA gained 3.3% market share (at the expense of Lufthansa and KLM/Air France) in just four months of launching the campaign.

Coming back to the insight that triggered the heartfelt saga – “Don’t claim to be one of us, show you understand us.” In a case study submitted on aef.com, the brand claims that the business challenge at the beginning of 2013 was clear: to grow revenue for North America we needed to win over new audiences traveling to destinations outside of the UK.

After conducting various researches and hearing out people, it came to the conclusion that people often changed the subject from planes to people and in-flight entertainment to events on the ground. The flight was merely a means to an end, the A-to-B they were willing to tolerate to get home. With these findings, British Airways decided – let the rest of the industry argue about whose Hindu meals are more authentic, and convince Indian expats that British Airways understands that it’s never been about the flight, but about making the effort to make the journey.  

Given that BA was losing out to other major carriers on its routes to India, how could it make BA the favorite airline for Indian expats planning a trip home? The client and data analysts discovered a business opportunity for India, while ethnographers and planners worked in the community to get a unique perspective on the audience. This translated into a creative idea that touched people on a deeply emotional level and a media execution that reached millions.

Also Read: British Airways’ #FuelledByLove soars with a strong script

Staying true to the British Airways advertising journey so far, the company further informs that the initial idea was to find one such mum in Mumbai and ask her to cook her son’s favorite meal to be delivered to him in New York City, courtesy of British Airways.  The story is narrated by Alka and Ratnesh, a mother and her son- there were no professional actors hired to do the part, no live sets which did not involve any plane or passengers. The five-minute-long video conceptualized by O&M New York captured the spirit of Mumbai and ‘maa ke hath ka khaana’.

Then came the Valentine’s Day of February 2014, leveraging the occasion, British Airways went onto creating yet another sentimental saga with an aim to introduce India specific initiatives & enable the international airline to create an emotional connect with the audience.

The campaign titled ‘Go Further To Get Closer’ narrated the story of Sumeet Gupta and how the airline helped him surprise his wife Chetna by giving them an opportunity to get a break from the daily work chaos and come closer to each other. The five-minute-long film was produced by Ogilvy and directed by Vishal Punjabi of the Wedding Filmer.

Further to the campaign launch, the airlines rolled out a quiz  ‘How close are you?’ quiz on its official Facebook page. As part of it, couples were encouraged to answer light-hearted questions about their partner and tag him/her on their social circles with the hashtag #MrAndMrs. Three winning couples were to bag a special return trip to London by the brand.

Eeek so this happened 💛15 years married 🤪 we deserve a break 💓Crystal is the traditional gift for 15 years so we…

Posted by Lisa McGill Photography on Saturday, July 20, 2019

Another gem from 2014, ‘The Welcome of Home’ campaign featured the real-life story of Chitra, based in Canada as she prepare for her much-awaited trip home to India. The bigger objective was to highlight the emotional journey that Indian expats go through and long to see their family back home.

British Airways had teamed up with the award-winning documentary filmmaking duo Wilkins and Maguire to bring to life these thoughts.

In 2015, BA introduced the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft to fly the London – Delhi route as part of its heavy investments into new aircraft and services for customers. The development was followed by the launch of ‘Wings to a Dream’ campaign conceptualized by SapientNitro. It captured some of the touching moments between grandchildren who surprised their grandparents with a trip to London.

Amplifying it’s messaging further, the airlines promoted the campaign on social media with ‘#WingstoDream’ and ran a contest inviting people to send pictures with their grandparents for a chance to make their dream holiday come true along with a reason as to why their grandparent deserved to fly.

Spinning yet another creative storytelling gem in 2016, the British Airways – Sapient Nitro duo joined hands with Masaan fame Neeraj Pandey to helm a story that went viral.  ‘Fuelled by Love’ in 2016 was based on a real-life incident of a UK based cabin crew member who develops a special bond with one of the customers during her maiden trip to India.

Many brand custodians applauded the film for its director’s touch, the casting – especially the ‘grandmother and subtle display of emotions, simultaneously revealing the in-flight experiences of every flyer with the crew members from the first-person narrative.  

The film revolved around the subject that while service is driven by purpose and efficiency, true care is only fuelled by love. Real crew member stories were shared on its social media handles in the form of short videos and photo essays, following the campaign launch.

Later in 2017, ‘Discover the London you don’t know’ recreated the magic of storytelling through the eyes of a young man from Chennai who discovers his grandfather’s journal which talks about his adventures in London. 

The three-minute film conceptualized by OgilvyOne Worldwide New Delhi pitched London as the ultimate travel destination which offers a wide variety of experiences and while being immersed in legacy, provides young millennials with its contemporary delights.

In terms of social media marketing, British Airways doesn’t have a separate page of India specific content on social media but is touted to integrate the medium effectively for its campaign promotions and amplify the thought further.

While internationally the brand roped in best-loved personalities, including Gordon Ramsay,  Thandie Newton, Rowan Atkinson, and others to feature in its campaigns, in India it stayed away from celebrity representation and relied on real stories with real people capturing the emotions of joy and care the brand proffers.

As the vintage airline celebrates its 100 years of existence and 90 years of operations in India, we take laud the British Airways India advertising journey which encapsulated exceptional storytelling spanning decades, creating a strong footing in a new country & market.


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