Last Friday Singapore Airlines issued a press release about its forthcoming advertising agency creative review, saying that, “Singapore Airlines takes this opportunity to reassure our customers and supporters the world over that the Singapore Girl icon will remain, and there will be no change to the hallmark sarong kebaya uniform”. The story was picked up all over the world and not just in advertising publications. So what’s so important about a pitch for the advertising account of an Asian airline? Answer: The fate of one of the most effective and popular advertising icons in the world and a thirty year campaign that was about the first to use an emotional selling point to drive differentiation and which not only helped make a small airline a world beater, but transformed the image of a nation-state. Advertising has (or had) many pretensions to be a key business discipline and a cultural force and this was one of the few campaigns that delivered.
I was fortunate enough to be a brand planner at Batey ads, the firm that created and managed the campaign up until this review (they have not made the final three apparently). One of my tasks was to work with Interbrand to put a price on the icon and the campaign and we discovered that it accounted for nearly 20% of the asset value of the firm. I also got to work on one of the later campaigns where the line ‘The journey is the destination’ became the latest incarnation of Ian Batey’s religiously honed brand appeal of the ‘romance of travel’. The creative budget and the lavishness of the production values of everything that went out the door of Batey Ads on behalf of the the airline made the efforts of Cecil B De Milne look parsimonious. And it worked.
Thirty years ago, legend has it, Ian and his colleagues looked at research about what people wanted from their airline. In those days in that part of the world, things like “foreign pilots” (i.e. Americans or Australians) ranked highly as did the more normal things like international network and modern fleet. Number 8 on the list was service, which no airline really bothered with and which Ian believed Singapore Airlines could own and transform into a highly motivating reason to fly with them. The airline bought the idea and organised their operations around it. To this day, the Singapore Airlines training school for cabin staff is revered and referenced by any organisation that wants to put service at the heart of what it does.
And year after year, the campaigns and the ‘girl’ (long the subject of accusations of sexism) delivered and the brand became a global phenomena, much mimicked but never bettered. The three agencies pitching, DDB, Publicis and TBWA, have one of the most difficult jobs in advertising. How to refresh the brand for the future, but stay true to the past. It’s the advertising equivalent of being asked to do a remake of Casablanca or restore the Mona Lisa.
[tags]Singapore Airlines, A great way to fly, Batey Ads, Advertising, Ian Batey [/tags]