LONDON – I hate to pick on British Airways, even for small things. There are few brands dearer to me. But when you have great affection for a classic brand, when they get annoying, you need to call them out on it.
First, let’s get a few things clear. I learned to love British Airways back in 1973, when I took a first trip to the U.K. on a B.O.A.C. 707 from Kennedy to Heathrow. I remember so many details about the day, even as I was only eight years old. I even kept some of the miniature playing cards. So when I saw, for the umpteenth time, an a British Airways ad on Facebook encouraging baby boomer parents to spend the “kids inheritance” on a trip, I got annoyed.
The ad is an annoying ploy for boomer parents to spend it away and booze it up at the top of the Shard while the kids are home in the U.S. The idea? Spend it away and booze it up at the top of the Shard while the kids are home in the U.S. As if London is a sort of Las Vegas or something? Talk about marketing tearing down the brand.
You see, the U.K. is the world’s best family destination ever, with its mix of history, technology, music, royalty, museums, transport innovations and food. I don’t need to explain that. The country is also the world’s best couples’ trip, also patently obvious, and not needing a nasty instruction to ditch the kids. In fact, the genius of the destination is that you can have a couples trip all the while bringing kids along; a trip to a museum or castle is appealing for every generation in different ways. Ditto with plays, countryside, stately houses, parks and such. Part of the brand of the U.K. is its universality, its appeal to all types of people and ethnic groups, and every age. The Anglosphere is universal the world round; the Facebook campaign, instead, pitted one U.S. group against each other.
The marketing problem arrives from the advent of Facebook advertising. Back in the day, the British Airways image would be created by lovely advertisements, carefully constructed, in publications and in the occasional television advertisement. A deft advertising agency would never establish a campaign by pitting parents against children, or marketing something negative. For instance, if BA decided to market to retired couples coming to Europe, which is a legit goal, it would construct a set of ads and images that showed attractive people in their 50s and 60s at famous destinations in England, for instance. It would never put a negative out there, not to bring the kids; instead it would show the result, namely a happy, relaxed couple, he with a bit of gray hair.
However, with Facebook, it probably comes out of a different marketing area, and the results of the campaign are seen separate from the overall marketing goals of the country. So my guess, and hope, is that this one slipped through the cracks. The ideal situation is for the wealthy parents to feel a bit guilty in their couples trip to the U.K., and be SO enjoying of the time that they say, instead, “My, what a beautiful and noble place, and wouldn’t it be fun to share this glory with the downline generations!”
The campaign, which obviously targeted people 60 plus who “like” things about Britain and have UK friends, was decidedly anti family. In the U.S., there used to be a bumpersticker that would appear on the back of RVs. It would say “I’m Spending My Kids Inheritance.” What was slightly funny about the RV bumpersticker was that the sort of folk driving RVs sporting the sticker were not actually NOT spending much money.
Of course, no child resents their parents taking a trip abroad, and this was not an outrageously offensive promotion. It is just dumb, a missed opportunity created by people who do not know any better. The notion that a large, expensive trip would be done at the expense, of say, a grandchild’s education, or even a family trip abroad, is wrong. Perhaps I was one of the lucky ones in this generation; my parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles believed deeply in the need for educational family trips abroad. They thought it vitally important that they TAKE us kids to the U.K. to see our shared history and support us understanding the greatness and beauty of our home country. I would not have cared so much about the UK if parents had not, in 1973, invested in a B.O.A.C trip to the U.K.
The antique but still true notion of advertising and marketing is that you want to show the consumer what they want to be, and not do it in a way that antagonizes your other customers.