For the world's airlines, the past three years have been a long nightmare. Buffeted by the continuing fallout from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a sluggish global economy and price competition from upstarts, established airlines are facing unusually intense financial pressures.
Needless to say, it has not been a great time for advertising. Many airlines have sharply cut spending.
With their remaining budgets, airlines have generally turned away from traditional "image" ads extolling the quality of their service or that warm and contented feeling of their passengers. Instead, they have focused on price, or specific features like the angle of recline on a business-class seat.
But as air travel picks up a bit, a few full-service airlines are once again trying the image approach. The campaigns seek to distinguish the major airlines from their low-fare rivals, while conveying a sense of security to nervous post-Sept. 11 travelers.
Last spring, United Airlines, a unit of the UAL Corp, introduced an unusual animated television ad campaign by Fallon Worldwide, part of the Publicis Groupe. It used the voice of Robert Redford and said, "It's time to fly."
Several Asian airlines have also stepped up their use of image campaigns as long-haul traffic rebounds.
And last week, Lufthansa introduced new advertisements that take what Harald Eisenaecher, vice president for marketing, called an emotional approach. That is a departure for Lufthansa, whose recent ads have highlighted fares and services like Flynet, the carrier's airborne Internet access.
"During the crisis years, we couldn't focus so much on quality and differentiation," he said. "But those are very important elements for a network carrier."
* In the US, airline ad spending fell to US$678 million last year, from US$2.4 billion in 2000
* The trend is reversing though: in the first six months of this year, ad spending in the US reached US$375 million
* Lufthansa plans to expand ad spending to close to pre-Sept-11 levels this year
* United Airlines launched a new campaign last spring
* Several Asian carriers have also boosted advertising as long haul traffic rebounds
The campaign, created by the Berlin affiliate of the Interpublic Group of Companies' McCann-Erickson agency network, will include print, online and outdoor ads, as well as direct marketing. It employs simple images that are easily adaptable for more than 40 markets.
One print ad shows a sleeping couple aboard a plane. Beneath the Lufthansa logo, clearly visible on the seat back, the ad reads: "Pilots who are perfectly trained. Mechanics who double-check every bolt. Flight attendants who leave you in a land of dreams. All for this one moment."
The ads include the company's previous slogan, "There's no better way to fly."
"Customers are very much the focus, not aircraft metal or speed or something," Eisenaecher said.
Media spending is being managed by WPP Group's MindShare unit. In euros, Eisenaecher said, it comes to the "low double-digit millions." That will bring Lufthansa back to roughly pre-Sept. 11 spending levels, he added. Like other carriers, it had cut back sharply.
In the US alone, airline ad spending fell to US$678 million last year, from US$2.4 billion in 2000, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, an industry research firm. In the first six months of the year, it reached US$375 million.
Another major European airline, British Airways, which in the spring introduced its first brand campaign in about four years, was forced to pull the ads from television and radio last week amid service disruptions at Heathrow Airport in London. Dozens of flights were canceled because of a shortage of ground staff, leaving thousands of people stranded.
Apparently, images of a businessman being flown by British Airways to meet his family on vacation -- backed by orchestral music and the tagline "the way to fly" -- did not blend well with television news reports of angry travelers.