BA’s ‘To fly, to serve’ campaign – It’s an age thing

One of the interesting consequences of the British Airways ‘To fly, to serve’ campaign is the split of opinion. Based on a random sample of people who have commented I would suggest the two camps, for and against, are based on age. The ‘against’ are broadly under 30, the ‘for’ are broadly over 30.

What has struck me is how much this is a mirror of the advertising industry from an age perspective. The question is, to what extent do people in the adworld use their own experiences and lifestyle to make judgements about all of society?

I’m currently working in the same world as BA and focused on a country. We have a mass of statistics from the airline, the country and the airports. Since January this year 38 per cent of passengers were aged under 35, therefore 62 per cent were over 35; 45 per cent were over 45. Also the older age group is growing.

These facts throw in to sharp focus the reality of the customer base and therefore the process these people go through in choosing flights.

We held some focus groups in the UK earlier this month and the attitudes of the various age groups were also very clear. The younger you are the more you are likely to throw caution to the wind and put up with a poor service if the price is low, whereas, the older you are you are more likely to opt for better service and comfort.

Further the perception of airline choices is pretty shallow, with the exception of frequent flyers who do know the detail. For the majority of people thinking about travel they are making important decisions for, possibly, their main holiday of the year and these are very influential.

Virgin Holidays talks about ‘Rockstar Service’ and the TV spot attempts to imply everyone gets the same level of service but I wonder how many potential customers get put off by the claim?

The point is quite obvious when comparing BA and Virgin; strong brand properties aimed at differing segments of the market. Neither brand can expect to be all things to all men/women so they embrace their natural position in the market. Quite right too in my opinion as this is what good branding is about.

Returning to the question about age groups and the well publicised facts about an ageing population I wonder how this will impact on the advertising industry? I have already flagged the issue elsewhere of how can a 25-year old empathise with a 50-year old? It’s very hard as most people, according to sociologists, find it very difficult to see more than five years ahead.

We all have mental milestones that tend to be five years out at best. I assume this is why the BA work has been so polarising; below a certain age it doesn’t connect – but it knows its audience and avoids the temptation to join the world of Facebook.

If I was going to have a snipe at the ad business, I get the impression there are very few middle-aged planners around these days.This is a shame because there are so many experienced and smart people who could add much-needed intelligence to important business challenges in the wider advertising space.

However Sir John Hegarty’s agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, produced the BA work and John is no spring chicken, although still youthful, talented, energetic and good-looking – damn him.

So maybe John’s numerous circumnavigations of the advertising block helped to avoid the BA work becoming mutton dressed as lamb!

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About Paul Simons

Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.