Last week, British Airways released a short film (commercial?), called Fuelled by Love, that lasts six-and-a-half minutes, and has since become a hit on the internet. As of writing, the video has already garnered close to 1.2m views on YouTube. On Facebook, where the video was also posted natively, it has received over 250,000 views, more than 3000 shares and some 450-odd comments. Even in mainstream media outlets, the response appears overwhelmingly positive — clearly a win for British Airways as it seeks to charm the Indian market, which tends to be emotional. We are reminded at the end of the commercial that the airline has been “loving India back since 1924″; hence the marketing hashtag that accompanies it is #fuelledbylove.
It’s worth noting, of course, that the brand received a hammering a couple of months ago because of a social customer service faux pas involving Sachin Tendulkar, one of the biggest sporting icons from India. The new ad seems to have gone some way, it seems, in reversing the negativity surrounding that incident — demonstrating the fickle nature of social media users.
Lessons from British Airways Fuelled by Love
Based on the commercial, here are five things airline marketers would do well to note:
- Tell stories: Gone are the days of flashy advertising in 30 to 90 seconds, where disjointed images or a really short statement was put together hastily. Instead, a well-developed story truly strikes a chord with audiences, as this commercial, and a number before it, have done (see this four-minute Turkish Airlines commercial for instance). Content is king might sound clichéd, but it’s true.
- Brand takes the backseat: Content that strikes a chord with audiences is often subtly branded. When the story appears at the forefront, audiences embrace it more willingly, since it doesn’t come across as yet another company trying to sell yet another thing. Instead, building an emotional connection becomes important.
- Take advantage of digital platforms: Brands no longer need to restrict themselves by time or form or content, as digital platforms open new possibilities for story-telling and brand-building. A six-minute short film as commercial would have been unthinkable a few years ago; the age of YouTube (over a billion people use it now) makes it possible. Are airlines looking into further possibilities such as interactive 360-degree storytelling?
- Hire local talent to tap their networks: Neeraj Ghaywan (interview below), the award-winning director of the commercial, is a much-loved figure on the independent film scene in Mumbai, India. Tapping him to direct the film was a masterstroke by British Airways — not just because of his loyal following and network that loved the ad, but also because him helming the project gave the ad even greater authenticity.
- Don’t ignore criticism: The film smartly does away with boring Indian clichés and sets it in an unexpected location — Hyderabad, thereby doing away with stereotypes such as Punjabi households et al, that receive far too much coverage in the mainstream anyway. However, while many love the sugar-sweet story, not everyone enjoyed the “emotionally manipulative” story. The worst mistake for a brand to make in such instances would be to follow the crowd that’s cheering and settle into a formula that works right now. They must remember social media is fickle; today’s love could be gone tomorrow.
A new advertising grammar is evolving. It’s no longer about product features, but brand ethos and emotional connection.
— Neeraj Ghaywan, director
Did you know?
We went behind the scenes with Neeraj Ghaywan, the acclaimed Indian director of the commercial, and he let us in on a few little-known facts about the ad:
- It took five months to shoot the commercial, because making the Dreamliner 787 available was difficult during the busy pre-holiday and holiday season. The film was finally shot aboard a 747.
- The crew considered shooting in-flight to make it appear more authentic, but the duration of the flight would have been too short; there was no opportunity for “recces”; and the lighting difficult to arrange. Hence, they decided to wait until a plane was available for two days in the hangar.
- The film was shot in London; in the British Airways hangar; and in Mumbai where sets depicting Hyderabad were created.
- The titular characters were non-actors who were auditioned for the film to give it an authentic feel.
- This was the first time narrative fiction was used in a BA commercial; the previous two hit commercials (Go Further to Get Closer and A Ticket to Visit Mum) were both shot documentary-style with no staging and real people.
If you’re on the internet, and still haven’t seen the ad (how? why?), here it is.