In a world of budget airlines and skyscanner, price is often the dominant narrative when it comes to booking flights. It is therefore interesting to see British Airways putting emotional brand values front and centre, in the form of a new ad campaign with the message ‘We love you Britain. You make us who we are’.
The cinematic ad opens with cabin crew, pilots, engineers and passengers preparing for BA flight 100. Celebrities and ordinary people state why they love Britain as they make their way to the flight and find their seats.
Grayson Perry loves Britain ‘with all your different views on the world’ and Paloma Faith loves Britain’s ‘sense of style’. Others talk of loving Britain because ‘you follow your own path’, ‘tell it how it is – politely of course’ and ‘we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off when things get tough’. The campaign aims to celebrate British people and culture.
It latches British Airways brand values to the British values that we, apparently, collectively believe. It bangs the drum for national pride and delights in our national treasures. At a simplistic level the piece implies; a love of Britain can be expressed through a love of British Airways or put another way; British Airways loves the things you value so you should love British Airways.
British Airways is driving brand momentum by flying the flag of Britain’s cultural identity but appropriating a nation’s values is an assumptive statement to make. While many big brands have embodied a nation’s values to great success, the continued success and continued growth of the brand becomes dependent on the rise and maintained faith in that collective cultural identity. But as we all know, now more so than ever, nations like the UK and US face an identity crisis.
Take the United States. American values have been manifest in one sugary drink; Coca Cola. Coca cola stood for the ‘feel good’, the ‘joy’ of a perfect American lifestyle; it embodied the dream. Today, Coca Cola is tackling an increasingly health conscious public that has started to shun sugar as well as a more overtly divided America where the perfect life is less clear cut.
We can see embracing cultural mores can assist a brand’s growth but also undermine its position if cracks start to appear in the collective psyche. A brand channelling national values can be deeply loved, cherished and become part of the cultural fabric. But it can also be vulnerable to people not believing or subscribing to the assumed collective value. A brand wrapped in the values of a nation treads a fine line between affirmation and alienation.
In the UK Tesco’s new discount chain Jack’s leverages a growing desire to support the British people and economy. Their strapline, ‘Proudly support Britain’s food producing communities’, firmly declares their belief in supporting British produce. This narrative differs from the British Airways line but communicates a similar idea of brand support equating to supporting Britain. The Jack’s approach doesn’t have the explicit values called out by British Airways but it does play on national pride to drive brand engagement. You can argue also that the Jack’s approach is safer than the British Airways’ one of co-opting British values which are open to multiple interpretations.
Presumably British Airways has done their research and found we all agree with the ascribed British values. Personally, I struggle with the idea that ‘we tell it how it is…’ or ‘pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off when things get tough’. On the contrary we find it difficult to be direct and need a collective whinge when things get tough. A communication strategy based on holding a mirror to the nations collective identity is perhaps risky in turbulent times or reassuring but one thing we probably can all agree on, as the British Airways ad says, is the British drink ‘..rather a lot of tea’.