British Airways' most recent TV campaign implores consumers and businesses to give up their recession-inspired thriftiness and make the most of countless 'opportunities' across the globe. The big question is whether the airline has genuinely spotted an 'opportunity' to boost its coffers, or, alternatively, whether it is the last roll of the dice as the desperation to fill its aircraft grows.
The past 18 months have thrown up a catalogue of crises for BA; few companies have suffered so publicly from the recession. First, the carrier endured a disastrous opening to Heathrow Terminal 5 in March 2008, at almost exactly the moment that the bottom fell out of the global economy.
In the second half of 2008, 450 members of its senior management took voluntary redundancy, while this June, the company was forced to ask 30,000 of its UK employees to work without pay for up to four weeks.
Services have been cut back, including the removal of meals on short-haul flights, while BA has been unable to tie down a merger or alliance with the likes of American Airlines, Iberia and Qantas. Chief executive Willie Walsh is un-equivocal that BA is fighting for its survival.
Abi Comber, BA's manager for brand, proposition and insight, says the airline was forced to focus its efforts on convincing potential travellers to defy the recession.
'We need to get customers moving, and give people a reason to travel and the tools to travel with,' she says. 'Flying is associated with good times, so we have to stick up for what travel brings, as well as how we can help customers through difficult times.'
Simon Calder, travel editor of The Independent, believes the campaign will be successful. 'People will say this is the last roll of the dice but it is nothing like it,' he says. 'The campaign gets across the message that going abroad is great. BA is one of very few extremely resilient brands in the UK.'
However, the fact that the campaign promotes a generic concept of travel, rather than the specific benefits of flying with BA, will undoubtedly please its rivals. Casia Zajac, head of communications at the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), said the campaign was welcome after a 'tough year' for the industry.
Few airline brands have shifted marketing strategy as a result of the economic conditions. Virgin Atlantic has persisted with its brand-led advertising, with a six-month-long TV campaign celebrating its 25th anniversary. Meanwhile, in the short-haul market, easyJet and Ryanair continue to fight tooth and nail via price-led campaigns.
Comber defends the lack of visual BA cues in the TV ads, claiming the campaign is intended to show how the airline can help. 'Customers want to know what BA can bring them, what opportunities there are that BA can help with,' she adds.
Peter Knapp, executive creative director at branding agency Landor, is sympathetic to the strategy but fears the timing may not be right.
'The campaign is a rearguard action against the "staycation". It does not promise anything specific, or talk about flat-beds or other incremental benefits,' says Knapp, who has worked on branding projects for BA as well as bmi and KLM.
'Judging the timing will be the critical thing,' he cautions. 'Have people had enough of bad news yet? It may be six months too soon for consumers to be looking to get out of their cocoons.'
However, BA's trouble is that it cannot wait six months for things to improve. In the first three months of this financial year alone it racked up an operating loss of £94m, and the pressure on this campaign to bring in bookings is enormous.
Should the push fail, it is hard to see Walsh allocating such a generous budget in the future.
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk