Celebrating British Airways’ centenary in the year of Brexit was always going to be a difficult.
BA’s retro liveries will keep the #avgeek community happy, but the most delicate marketing challenge is creating a meaningful message that captures the mood of a nation riven by divisions following the Brexit referendum.
“Dear Britain,” BA’s #BA100 video starts, raising hopes that it might use the opportunity to talk some sense into the country hurtling towards a 29 March deadline to leave the EU without a plan in place.
No such luck. Instead, BA tells Britain “we love you”, then goes on to explain why, albeit in a slightly non-committal manner.
“Maybe it’s your big hearts?” asks Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space.
Swimmer Ellie Simmons continues: “With all your different views on the world.” You can say that again.
“We love the way you tell it like it is,” says actor Riz Ahmed, possibly alluding to an occasional British preference for taking a binary view on complex issues.
“The way you pick yourself up when things get tough,” the next speaker observes, perhaps reflecting the producers’ hope that Brexit would have been resolved by the time the film went public.
“You’ve led revolutions, of all kinds. Yet you won’t shout about it. It’s not in your nature,” the video goes on, suggesting this segment might have been written pre-referendum.
“How you follow your own path,” the video then notes, finally hitting the nail on the head.
A surprise appearance by Winnie the Pooh provides some comic relief, but also seems the safe option when the story of another fictional bear – Paddington – might have more pertinent things to say about the UK in 2019.
BA is undoubtedly between a rock and hard place with its marketing effort and at least managed to produce something that probably won’t offend anyone.
The reality is that while the overwhelming majority of businesses view Brexit as a negative development, few are willing to speak openly about it as they fear the commercial impact of being seen to “take sides”.
Therefore, BA presumably rejected a #BA100 video narrative that finds it in Brexit limbo with no clear idea about the status of open skies agreements that underpin its services.
And one where BA’s ownership structure is in doubt as a result of the same vote.
And one where running a British-based airline in 2019 tends to involve making sure a significant chunk of your assets aren’t actually British.
And one where business planning in general is difficult because no one has a clue what the UK’s future relationship with the EU will be.
And one where a sizeable chunk of the UK population has sent a clear message that it has reservations about the country’s openness to foreign visitors.
Towards the end of the #BA100 film, the carrier’s need to play it safe sees it wheel out the ultimate British stereotype, as actor Olivia Colman highlights the fact that Brits like tea.
It then ends the film with the message: “We love you Britain. You make us who we are.” One is left to imagine the gritted teeth through which this was might have been said.
Granted, this is just the beginning of a year of celebration for the flag carrier and the first output from what will be a much wider campaign.
But in what might be the biggest challenge for BA’s marketing department amid its home country’s Brexit divisions, a true celebration of the carrier’s history surely demands a recognition that open borders are at the heart of international travel.
As IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac is keen to remind people, aviation is “the business of freedom”.
Dare we suggest a #BA100 initiative involving colourful tailfins that celebrate the destinations BA serves?