Back when I started in this business, at Leo Burnett, the agency had its share of iconic clients and for the most part did iconic work for them. None more so than it’s fabled “Fly The Friendly Skies” campaign for United Airlines. At the time, the agency had just procured rights to the quintessential American anthem, Rhapsody in Blue and in my opinion there was no finer way to advertise an airline. While United has since changed agencies and themes many times over, if you fly the airline they still welcome you to the “friendly skies of United.” They can’t let it go. And why should they? It’s better than anything they’ve done since.

Regarding technology, there are three critical plot points in the 20th century: The automobile. The airplane. And computing. For many years, nothing defined an agency better than a big car or an airline client. And Burnett was cock of the walk in that regard. Then Apple turned everything upside down.

But planes are still a big deal. And when a new campaign for one as big as American Airlines comes out, we take notice. Not like in the eighties and nineties, but still.

“The World’s Greatest Fliers Fly American,” is AA’s new theme, introduced by agency CP&B. The first thing you notice is how serene it all is. No voiceover. Just idealistic, lovely images with superimposed copy. The intent is to idealize the best in fliers, even if the reality of airline travel is anything but. Forget that today’s “fliers” wear ill-fitting sweatpants and eat stinky Whoppers from a paper bag. This campaign is a romantic myth, which, while understandable, is admittedly a push.

Still, I do like its audacious simplicity. Like a soaring eagle, the AA logo casts a shadow over the gorgeous images – the poetic titles a polite interruption. Another word that comes to mind is glossy. On gossamer wings, right?

For the most part the aviation industry has recovered from its lengthy post 9/11 slump. Many are now turning big profits. So we are not talking about saving American Airlines. But I wonder: Is this campaign enough? Will it make a difference? Will consumers change their flying behaviors or even notice at all? I’m not being coy. I really do wonder.

View the rest of the campaign in this story from Adweek.


Early returns on the new Jet Blue campaign from Mullen, featuring the second coming of pseudo-famous fast talker, John Moschitta, have been mixed. Yes, the spots are entirely derivative of director, Joe Sedelmaier’s famous campaign for Federal Express. But so what? Ain’t anything new since the Romans. It’s obvious Mullen was riffing on the old Fed Ex campaign. In addition to bringing back the speed-talking Moschitta (still good at his stupid human trick by the way), the films were made in exactly the same way as Joe’s work: muted colors, locked down camera, comic casting, etc. And guess what? The technique still works. Funny then. Funny now.

As discussed before on this blog, The negative connotations associated with copycat creative is less controversial than it used to be, say back when Sedelmaier was making films. Back then it was called plagiarism. Now we just call it ‘building on’ or ‘mashing.’ Besides, the argument follows, most people under 40 don’t have a recollection of the fast talking Fed Ex guy, so it’s new to them. What’s important is what consumers think of the campaign, not the opinions of jaded advertising critics. That’s the defense, whether we agree with it or not.

It is fair to criticize, however, the strategy behind the new campaign. Is “Mr. Non-Stop” a relevant shill for Jet Blue? Do funny spots about going to a bunch of places, etc, differentiate Jet Blue from Southwest, ATA or any number of other low-cost carriers? For a 21st century airline like Jet Blue, it does beg the question: why such an old-fashioned approach?

My guess is Jet Blue’s modern period is over; its credibility with early adapters collapsing when a slew of delays and service issues beset the airline a short time ago. Rather than attempting to woo back this crowd with design and technology promises, the client and agency go to market with humorous vignettes from a bygone era.

Whether ‘cheap, fast & easy’ is or isn’t a good strategy for them at least it’s not another haughty anthem vainly trying to emulate the brilliant United Airlines work from the 80’s and 90’s. If you’re going to be derivative don’t be boring. Thankfully, these spots are anything but.

You’ve got to hand it to Southwest Airlines and their advertising agency, GSD&M. They keep hammering home clear and obvious solutions to the massive pain in the ass that is airline travel. First, it was the game-changing “Bags fly Free” campaign, promising their passengers zero up charge for checked baggage.

Now they’ve gone after all the red tape and restrictions other airlines dump on us with impunity. “I just want to use mileage to take my family on vacation,” cries the frustrated father. I’ve been there, dude. It’s almost impossible to go where I want to go, when I want to go, using my miles. I invariably end up doubling the amount of miles I have to use in order to get the flights I requested. Sure, it’s bullshit. But I do it anyway. What choice do I have?

Um… Southwest Airlines.

With regard to execution and writing, I know these commercials aren’t anything special. Brightly lit, simply produced and even silly, they are meant to humorously drive home the point that at Southwest Airlines you will not be charged any hidden fees, that your bags fly free and so on.

And they do. They always do. For over ten years the agency and the client have been on point. Frankly, I’d argue that with selling points so potent GSD&M could have picked any campaign in their war room and gotten by just fine.

Which brings me to my second observation. Those killer selling points. I’m curious if the agency had anything to do with them. If so, they are really doing their job. For those aren’t just pieces of copy they are creative ideas for Southwest’s business. When agencies bring those to the table they are transcending any notions of obsolescence. The same can be said for Southwest airlines and its own beleaguered industry.

I presume they are not talking about Mom…

“Bags fly free!” I’ve been extolling Southwest airline’s now-famous tag line for days; been tweeting it as well. I flew Southwest to Kansas City for Thanksgiving. Family of five. Four of them girls. That’s a lot of bags. And guess what: my bags flew free! I’m a big fan of the service (it seems ridiculous and unfair for airlines to charge for suitcases) and I’m an even bigger fan of the phrase. This is a piece of copy that says what it does, in no uncertain terms. There is a noun (bags) a verb (fly) and an adjective (free). Nothing more… for nothing more is needed. The line is as frugal and pragmatic as the airline it was written for.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this tag line is how blatantly obvious it is. Void of any double meaning or clever phrasing, “Bags fly free” is absolutely, positively blunt. It couldn’t be more un-clever if it tried, which, thankfully, it doesn’t. It’s anti-catchy.

As a copywriter, I have always fancied fancier taglines -pithy, arch, and ripe. My favorite tagline of all time is “Nothing runs like a Deere” for John Deere tractors. It’s a beautiful pun. It looks as great on a tee shirt as it does on a TV screen.

“Bags fly free” doesn’t work like that but it is a lightning strike never the less. Airlines are in trouble. The economy is broken. People are angry, worried and scared. Via one delightful promise, Southwest removes a great bit of that angst, positioning the airline above it all or, as their other (cleverer) brand line states, “free to move about the country.”

I can think of two other lines of end copy that work this way, one I like and one I don’t. The first is Geico’s ubiquitous mantra: “15 minutes could save you 15% on auto insurance.” Here is a mantra that also says what it does and does what it says. Geico surrounds the thought with all sorts of crazy, fun advertising (cavemen, geckos, etc.) but the ingenious “15 minutes” line remains at the core of every ad.

The second piece of copy is the one I don’t like, even though I believe it’s effective. “He went to Jared” has been bugging the crap out of me for several years now, especially around the holidays. Unlike the Southwest and Geico adverts, the ads attached to this copy are cloying, girly and annoying. But I do get the message. If I can’t afford Tiffany or Cartier I better get my ass to Jared.

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