No authenticity in slick BA ads for T5


In my car this morning, I heard a 30-second ad on my local radio station 2-Ten FM from British Airways which talked about the average time experienced by specific passengers when they checked in for a flight at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 yesterday.

You might recall the disaster of Terminal 5 when it opened in March: baggage system failure, scenes on TV of passengers sleeping on the floor, cancelled flights… a complete fiasco and a public relations disaster not to mention the ongoing and negative reputation impact.

Things very clearly have dramatically improved since then, and my own experience when I first flew from T5 in June was excellent (mind you, I didn’t check any baggage!).

The radio ad I heard is one part of an advertising campaign BA is running – embracing print, newspaper and radio ads – which (in my interpretation of it) seeks to illustrate how well the terminal is working according to the passengers using it and thus will hopefully bolster the airline’s reputation.

As I discovered on BA’s Terminal 5 website, there’s a new section that has some nice photos of the passengers concerned with text talking about the time it takes to get through check-in.

The Wall Street Journal has a good write-up on the logistics of the overall campaign in which everything – print ads, radio ads, etc – is turned around in less than a day, every day of the campaign.

The WSJ has an interesting quote from BA:

[…] The campaign carries a risk for the airline: What if something goes wrong again? British Airways said its answer will be to fess up.

“We would use the opportunity to talk about what we are doing to resolve it,” said Katherine Whitton, British Airways’ general manager of global marketing communications. “We wanted to go out with a campaign that doesn’t set up big emotional promises.”

Sounds a good idea although they could start talking about it now (why wait for a crisis?) and really engage with people using a social media tool like a blog. Perhaps posts with opinion and thoughts of some of the folk involved in the campaign talking about their hopes and fears, running parallel with the campaign itself.

Now that could be right in the area of not setting up “big emotional promises.”

Look at what BA subsidiary Open Skies has been doing with their blog – some refreshingly believable and personal opinion in there, not the equivalent of press releases and other controlled and remote corporate speak.

And I wonder how effective the ad campaign will really be. It’s very slick with stage-managed and nicely polished photos portraying happy and smiling travellers against a backdrop of interiors of an impressive-looking airline terminal.

Will people really find this believable? I don’t want to be overly-critical about what BA’s trying to achieve, but it seems to me that these happy-traveller portrayals shown in the posters and print ads lack that sense of authenticity and genuineness.

Still, as a regular flyer with BA and a long-time Executive Club member, I wish them every success.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Heather Yaxley

    I’m wondering why, accepting the reality of T5 is excellent as you found, it hasn’t generated comment via social media. What would have made you blog about the experience? I presume it didn’t exceed your expectations sufficiently.

    BA/T5 needs spontaneous buzz through social media. Could a corporate blog enable it to stimulate that? Would you have contributed your positive experience in discussions?

    As BA’s own advertised figures show 1 in 10 flights aren’t landing or taking off on time, that’s still a lot of people not yet getting an excellent service.

    Does it need to be more remarkable before social media will really help address this issue?

  2. neville

    That’s a good question, Heather. I guess an “excellent” experience really means “it was ok.” Otherwise, I would definitely have written something here or mentioned it in my podcast.

    Maybe I was influenced by the too-high expectations set by BA’s PR prior to the opening of T5, and then seeing the awful reality in the days and weeks following.

    Re a corporate blog, BA musn’t have such a thing if you’re thinking of the word ‘corporate,’ ie, something that might just be another PR or marketing channel (at least, as how people outside would likely perceive it to be).

    In my view, what BA needs to do with social media in this specific context is see how using such tools to really engage with customers would enable the airline to present a far more genuine and authentic presence than the stream of PR-statement quotes and slick photo-opportunity publicity they’ve embarked on.

    It’s a big leap for them, though. Still, OpenSkies has done some interesting things although they don’t really carry the reputation baggage that BA does.

    And look at what a few US airlines are doing with social media. Experiments to be sure and not always with positive results. But at least they are making genuine efforts to engage using such means.

    Love to see some experimentation like this from BA.

  3. Heather Yaxley

    The issue with BA seems to be its culture which is evident in the “slick” PR and advertising. It seems stuck in the 1980s believing its hype as the “world’s favourite airline”. That era of confidence comes over now as arrogance.

    I don’t actually think it can experiment with social media until it gets over that hurdle. A culture change is needed to enable BA to show a more relaxed and human persona in all its PR and advertising off and online.

    The world has aspirational and luxury brands that can afford to take a high handed approach – BA isn’t one of those. I think it really needs to either deliver the service to match the image, and back off the big budget campaigns. Then maybe it can genuinely engage with social media.

  4. neville

    I don’t doubt what you say re BA’s culture, Heather. They’re not unlike many large organizations in this regard.

    Yet I think BA can experiment with social media if some courageous individuals are willing to take a few calculated risks, and fully understand how to execute within the monolith that is BA.

    You don’t have to change the whole organization to do that. Take one step at a time.

    Sure they can do it.

  5. Andy C

    I use BA and LHR T5 a lot. It’s fair to say a lot of the problems have indeed been ironed out and using T5 is now a pleasurable and efficient experience.

    However, BA marketing just crease me up. Back in April, I blogged about a marvellous BA campaign at Newcastle airport in the midst of all the initial problems at T5 –

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