British Airways Taxis For London '12 Takeoff
British Airways is busy this year, but the airline will be a lot busier in 2012. The company, which has just launched a major ad push in the U.S. and U.K., is also sponsoring the 2012 Olympics in London.
Frank van der Post, managing director of brands and customer experience at the international carrier, joked that he needed to get approval from the U.S. Olympic Committee before taking the podium to speak at the IMG Sports Marketing Symposium in New York -- a nod to the labyrinthine journey marketers must take to get programs put together around the games.
He was allowed to speak, apparently -- and he did so, explaining why the airline needs the Olympic aura and that buying in as a sponsor was an opportunity not to be missed. He said the competition is fierce both among premium and mid-range carriers. "That puts us in a difficult and challenging position," he said, pointing out that BA is also in expansion mode, having recently moved into a merger with Spain's Iberia airlines, creating the IAG joint venture, and has joint business across the Atlantic with American Airlines.
Another joke from van der Post: He said he would screen the anthem spot for the new $60 million "To Fly. To Serve" campaign following his presentation because "it was very expensive, and now I don't have any money to show it anywhere except at these conferences." That got a warm -- sympathetic -- reception from attendees.
The airline, he pointed out, has supported the Olympics at various times since 1948 -- and this was one not to be missed, since it is the biggest event in modern British sporting history and would capture national attention for five years. "It also lets us target a younger flyer, as well," he said, adding that the three main objectives BA had for the sponsorship were to maximize revenues, build morale and pride, and reposition the brand.
The company has done multiple initiatives around the Olympics since inking the deal, including one for employees that encourages them to challenge themselves to improve in areas like sports, health and well-being, arts, business and entrepreneurship, and community. That program included elements done with comic relief, master classes, and opportunities for employees to go to fashion shows, or to work with Olympians. "Every single director of the company had to make a 2012 pledge," said van der Post, adding slyly: "Mine was that I would keep my job."
To address a strategic brand position around BA as the most British of Olympic sponsors, the company created a program, "Great Britons," for use in the run-up to the games.
The effort was presaged by the company having decided to paint the noses of some of its jets gold after the Beijing Olympics. The "Great Britons" effort includes ads featuring Olympic athletes with a "They Will Fly" headline. "These have shown to be extremely good for us," said van der Post. "We did research on the outdoor campaign and found that 95% of respondents liked it, and 75% feel more positively toward BA."
Another element of the campaign goes beyond sports to leaders in food, art, and film -- pairing well-known Britons in the three areas, including actor and director Richard E. Grant with aspirants to create graphic designs that will appear on 12 British Airways jets, a 20-minute film that will screen on BA planes and at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.
"We are going to continue the momentum," said van der Post, adding that a new ad that will come early next year will focus on the Olympics.
"The Olympic commercial will start early in the new year, in the first quarter, and by the time we are into the Olympics there will be more focused marketing," he said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and as the national flag carrier, it's a shoe-in."