The Best Airline Ads of All Time
The best airline ads have a lot of work to do. Beside a house and a car, plane tickets are amongst the more expensive items a person might buy in their lifetimes. Quite often, once the initial obstacles of trust in the brand are overcome, customers don’t always consider their feelings about the brand when buying.
That’s because there are so many other considerations taken into account. The scheduling of the flights. The number of stopovers required. And above all, the price. After all, it’s difficult to justify paying a premium for a plane ticket when the flight is short. Is two hours of discomfort really worth hundreds of dollars? Particularly when the option is just as likely to be just as uncomfortable, or perhaps marginally better.
Similar to other big ticket product categories like automotive, the marketing efforts of airline companies aren’t geared toward instant sales. Instead, the goal is to join the consideration list. So when the customer is ready to purchase, their brand is already ‘pre-qualified’ as a trustworthy option.
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'Flying' shots have been incredibly expensive
In the days before reliable CGI, a shot of the carrier’s plane was an enormous undertaking. You would need a plane fast enough to keep up with the powerful engines, as well as the ability to shoot out of a window. The plane would need to fly far enough to have an attractive background that wasn’t the industrial areas around airports, as well as not interfere with the flightpaths of other airlines in the air at the time. And the weather would have to be absolutely ideal.
That’s one of the reasons that shot isn’t seen very often. The other, far more important reason is that the outside of the plane isn’t the product that’s being sold. Because except for the livery on the tail, planes are interchangeable. They’re all white, and look pretty much the same.
Instead, you’ll find that the best airline ads focus on the experience, the destination, the fulfillment of dreams, the joy at returning home and more. Travel is an incredibly emotional and fertile creative challenge
Airline Ad Approach One: The Romance of Travel
No one puts as much easy glamour into their communications as Air France do. And they do it without using celebrities or the rich and famous. Rather, they imbue all their advertising with an effortless chic that is approachable, aspirational and wonderfully French.
If you’ve read more of our ‘best of’ series of articles, you’ll know how often we talk about the power of ‘tone of voice’. This is another excellent example. Tone of voice goes beyond the literal spoken voice of the communications. It goes deep into the fibres of the brand. Casting, wardrobe, colour palettes and the pace of editing all feed into the tone of voice of a brand. Air France is an outstanding example.
Usually in advertising, we say that each piece of advertising should be about just one thing so that the message is clear. And for many product categories, that’s absolutely true. However, when you look at these films from Singapore Airlines, you can see that they are actually about many things.
Sure, the messaging is about the careful and attentive service you will receive from this airlines. But there is much more going on. The joy of curiously uncovering the world’s hidden treasures is engraved in every frame of the film.
Singapore airlines have built an incredibly successful advertising platform focused on the air hostesses. When I was but a junior art director, a cynical older creative tried to convince me that the brand strategy was about an underlying male fantasy of subservient asian women. Honestly, he was overthinking it. But the truth is, it was smart of Singapore Airlines to lean into a gentle, demure characterisation of their air hostesses. It tells a story of a smooth, hassle-free flight experience. Certainly a lucrative brand positioning.
United Airlines: A Life
Every time you write a script, you should always consider whether it might work better as an animation.
You can see how the below script for United Airlines could well have been made with actors on location. But there’s something about choosing to use an animated technique that brings the concept to life so beautifully. It’s so easy to put ourselves into the emotional space of the protagonist, and appreciate the yearning to reward himself with adventure and new experiences after a lifetime of work.
The ad is more than 20 years old now, but it could have been made yesterday. Indeed, if United Airlines took the opportunity to run this exact ad during superbowl next year, I’d bet you dollars to donuts it would do brilliant things for their business and their brand.
Aerolineas Argentinas: Night Flight
Using the words of the celebrated writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery, best known for The Little Prince, Aerolineas Argentinas have made one of the greatest airline ads here, bringing the romance of flight back to a world with small seats and sub-standard meals.
It’s not about the romance of travel. It’s about the magic of flying. It is a wonderful piece of film. It doesn’t try too hard. Rather, it strikes a perfect balance between the people on the place, and the trajectory of the plane itself.
Airline Ad Approach Two: The world at your fingertips
British Airways: Face
I feel obliged to include this piece of work, although honestly the decades have not treated it well. For a very long time, this was considered ‘the greatest ad of all time’™. Perhaps it was because of the enormous expense of producing it in a pre-CGI era, or the (entirely credible) ambition of the creatives. But to me it is a symbol of the bloated, self-important advertising industry on the 1980’s. It prioritized spectacle over strategy. Dazzle above intelligence.
But, having said that, it worked. This ad was incredibly famous at the time, and did wonderful things for the British Airways brand. So, perhaps it does deserve it’s place on this list after all.
British Airways: Look up
The child-like wonder that comes through this piece of work is magnificent. How on earth this didn’t win the outdoor Grand Prix at Cannes is beyond me. It did win Gold, but it deserved better.
Airline Ad Approach Three: Give the brand a personality
Tone of voice is the great brand differentiator. We spoke about it a little earlier in reference to Singapore Airlines, who might easily have been included in this category.
These airlines have carved out a unique personality and way-of-being that make their communications distinctively their own. It isn’t just smart advertising. It’s smart business too.
Air New Zealand: Flight Safety Videos
For a small airline from a small nation, this advertising strategy is incredibly intelligent and has been brilliantly effective. The national airline from a country with a population the size of Seattle simply can’t afford to advertise globally. Superbowl ad budgets are so far beyond them the idea is laughable.
So, they came up with a unique strategy. Make onboard safety videos that are so good and brimming with brand personality that the films become viral.
Not only is every person taking an Air New Zealand flight charmed with a memorable video, but the shareable nature of the videos mean that the brand personality of Air New Zealand is shared globally without the need for a multi-national ad budget.
For a completely different brand personality to the warmly quirky Air New Zealand, look at Virgin Airways.
They’ve built a sassy, sexy and youthful brand voice. Richard Branson believes that getting on a flight can still have some glamour and excitement that epitomised air travel in the 1960’s. Is it possible to make air travel ‘cool’? Virgin seem to think so.
This piece isn’t part of a grand strategy, but it’s a perfect little moment of fun. Enjoy.
Airline Ad Approach Four: National Pride
No one does this better than the advertising Qantas makes for it’s home market of Australia. This campaign has been running for decades, and for Australians it will never get old. ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ by the late Peter Allan is such a perfect embodiment of Australian attitudes. It’s incredibly beautifully done.
Airline Ad Approach Five: The dreaded corporate history
Corporate history ads are usually a snore-fest. More often made for the ego of the company board than to achieve a real business objective. That being said, there have been some excellent ads made that tell the story of a company. Most notably in Automotive. Mercedes-Benz is the best example.
Just about every airline has put their own potted-history onto film. Most of them just blend together as pretty much the same ad. KLM, on the other hand, have done a fine job here. They avoided the corporate voice-over, and somehow told a story that is greater than just the story of the company.
Airline Ad Approach Six: Dominate a time of year
In a similar way to some brands choosing to focus their marketing efforts during a particular time of year – winter sporting gear in winter, diet products in the new year – it can be a good idea for an airline to focus their marketing efforts in peak travel times. It’s not just about purchasing media at those times. Rather, it can be something much richer and more compelling.
Westjet have built a reputation for their Christmas stunts. It’s proof that great advertising is founded on great business strategy.
Latam Airlines from Argentina created this beautiful Christmas moment too.
Airline Ad Approach Seven: Glamour
There are some airline brands that sell themselves as premium offering by focusing on their business and first class experiences. The idea being that the halo effect of the care given to the front end of the place will raise the perception of the brand as a whole.
The middle eastern brands – Emirates and Etihad – are most notorious for following this strategy. And it makes sense for them. They are new-ish national carriers, and they have made a great deal of investment in new planes, new airports and even new cities in recent decades.
Newness, luxury, and the finer things in life make sense for their businesses.
Most communications in this realm are dull product demonstrations. Happy people with glasses of champagne and subservient air hostesses. There are some exceptions though. See them below.
Emirates used Jennifer Aniston as a spokesperson. Honestly, these aren’t ‘amazing’, but they’re pretty good and they used the talent well.
Airline Ad: Business Travel
Business travel is a category of it’s own. British Airways is the MVP, particularly with their still classic ‘Red Eye’ ad below. Not expensive to produce. Just damn good writing. It’s 30 years old, but I haven’t seen anything close to as good as this since.
Did we miss one?
We’d love this to be a comprehensive resource, so if you think there’s a campaign we’ve missed that deserves to be here, please reach out and we’ll do our best to include it.
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