Magazine article Marketing

BA Seeks to Lift Brand above Turbulent Past

Magazine article Marketing

BA Seeks to Lift Brand above Turbulent Past

Article excerpt

BA chief Bob Ayling's sudden exit from the troubled airline has led to renewed focus on the brand's future

It is probably no coincidence that BA's ejection of its pilot last week comes in the run-up to the airline's annual results. These are expected to show a full-year loss of over [pounds]200m, the first since privatisation.

Bob Ayling can blame tumbling profits on fuel prices and over-capacity in the US, but BA is just not in the health it enjoyed in the mid-90s.

BA emerged from privatisation as the UK's highly profitable flag carrier, with a reputation for quality service. Its expensive ad campaigns embodied confidence.

Now it's the airline everyone loves to have a pop at, whether it's Richard Branson, EasyJet founder Stelios HajiIoannou or journalists waiting for the much-delayed London Eye to open.

Confused direction

Since Ayling took over as chief executive in 1996, the brand seems to have lost its way. Perhaps the biggest indictment was the vacillation between whether it was still a distinctly 'British' carrier or a reborn 'global' airline.

When Ayling unveiled BA's new global corporate identity in June 1997, the ethnic liveries were to consolidate the 'world's favourite airline' in the new global village.

Now the tailfins are being repainted with Union Flags and the most recent corporate ads featured PJ O'Rourke's ode to Britishness. More importantly, Ayling's alliance with American Airlines has hit regulatory opposition.

Positioning aside, the lasting impression is of a strategy reversal which generated reams of negative publicity.

Ironically, Ayling seems to have put BA's marketing back on track over the past six months. It has come out as a premium airline and is investing millions in planes for business and 'super-economy' travellers. Meanwhile, budget brand Go mops up the low-cost end with style.

Last month BA announced a [pounds]90m two-year investment in e-commerce to lift online sales from the present 1% of seats to over 50% by March 2004 suggesting a new confidence in distribution strategy.

But new web travel brands are already flourishing and challengers such as Virgin Atlantic and Easy Jet speak with a sense of attitude, enterprise and value-for-money that BA must covet.

Ayling's replacement must quickly accelerate this megabrand back ahead of the game.

We asked two marketing experts to give their diagnoses and prescriptions for BA's ills.

Tony Anderson, retail marketing director at Egg, was formerly marketing director at EasyJet and before that a BA marketer. …

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