How Airlines Are Ruining Their Own Image

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Some airlines just need to fire their marketing manager.


The airline industry's reputation has taken enough of a hit these days: from bankruptcies to bomb scares, runway troubles to flight disruptions from volcanic ash. They should be working overtime to restore their images. But some airline ad campaigns are the public relations equivalent of a crash landing. We've singled out the best of the worst airline ads-some in bad taste, some a matter of poor placement, some lost in translation, and others a simple case of comedy gone terribly wrong.

Here are ten ads that will leave you scratching your head and wondering who in their right mind cleared them for takeoff?



Air New Zealand Bares It All

Air New Zealand has nothing to hide and is willing to prove it -- by covering its pilots and stewardesses in body paint. The commercial's visual play on words is obviously meant to be brow-raising in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge sort of way, highlighting the fact that Air New Zealand flights have no hidden fees for checked baggage or in-flight drinks. But the parade of pilots and stewardesses wearing nothing more than a coat of paint is unsettling, as if alien pod-people have taken over the aircraft. And since the naked staff are actual crew members, and not paid actors, these painted pod-people could be coming to an Air New Zealand flight near you. Be afraid, be very afraid.


South African Head Banger

1Time, a low-cost airline out of South Africa, likes to keep it real with its darkly comedic commercials ("one time" is a South African expression for "for real!" after all). In this short film, a man repeatedly slams the overhead compartment shut over an outsized cardboard box. The camera pans back to reveal another passenger's nearly decapitated head wedged into the compartment. Cue slogan "Now with extra headroom." We appreciate the creativity guys, but this is stepping over the line. And I'm not sure it's good business to depict an apparent sociopath with a sketchy cardboard box waltzing onto your plane, even in the name of humor. Leave the dark comedy in your NetFlix cue, 1Time.


ANA Anime Explosion

Anime is a national obsession in Japan so it's no surprise that the nation's most popular airline, All Nippon Airways, would pitch itself with an animated commercial. But you'd expect that the commercial would make sense. Or not. The instant the main character steps off the plane she's thrown into a magical world of Technicolor roses, moonbeams, and Freudian father figures on flying white steeds. Cue cheerleaders with pompoms, Botticelli's Birth of Venus, and a little boy with a jetpack. Now the slogan "The art of the arrival." Unless ANA is starting non-stop flights to Never Never Land sometime soon, all landings after this one will be a real disappointment.


Spirit Airlines: Repeat Offender of Bad Taste

Spirit Airlines has a long history of ads with an eye for adolescent humor. Their "Eye of the Tiger" advertisement from last December, an exploitation of the much-publicized Tiger Woods affair, looks as if it were thrown together by a bunch of interns giggling over latest issue of US Weekly. The low-budget Photoshop job depicts a tiger in a golf cap smashing an SUV into a fire hydrant. Profiting off of someone's personal turmoil is a definite new low for the airline. You'd think Spirit would have learned their lesson after the backlash from their "Return of the M.I.L.F" campaign (an adolescent acronym for Many Islands Low Fares) or from the employee protests over their sleazy commercial featuring a seductive housewife and her boy-toy lover ("Think that's low? Check out our fares" is the closing tagline). But it seems that the airline is operating on the "any press is good press" model. And, by the way, that asterisk after the "Eye of the Tiger Fares" now stands for a fee of up to $45 for carry-on bags.


Southwest Sells Corona with Mexican Fantasy

Listen up, airlines. Rule 1#: Don't advertise that you have to pay for alcohol on your flights. Most travelers are old enough to remember the bygone days when hopping on a flight meant endless tiny bottles of vodka or a wide variety of cold beers. Southwest has brazenly broken this rule touting the fact that they now serve Corona Extra onboard for a whopping $5. To add insult to injury, the commercial is as cheesy as its Mariachi soundtrack. The tired "it's-always-a-party-with-alcohol" model shows everyone morphing into Mexican attire at the mere thought of beer. There's even a brief cameo of a woman in a Hawaiian grass skirt, which makes you question the airline's sense of geography. All of this is forgivable in the end, considering the fact that Southwest prides itself on its quirky low budget ads (Exhibit A: This commercial in which the baggage crew whip off their shirts to reveal the slogan "Bags Fly Free" spelled out on their hairy chests). What is not forgivable? Charging $5 for a beer on an airplane.


Cross Your Fingers on Uzbekistan Airways

This Uzbekistan Airways advertisement depicts a plane rushing headlong into a dense cloud with the caption "Good Luck." Maybe the ad was meant to be a sweet sendoff, a farewell wishing its passengers a pleasant flight and many safe returns. But instead it gives the impression that the pilots are crossing their fingers on takeoff. And clouds meant to appear dreamy seem to be menacingly engulfing the plane. The image is less "good luck for a great trip" and more "good luck, you'll need it."





Too Much Paint Can Be a Bad Thing

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's... Mickey Mouse? It's true that many airlines' aging fleets are in dire need of a new paint job, but dolling up a 747 from nose to tail with garish ads for everything from Pepsi to Bvlgari watches is in bad taste. That's not to say that the artist's don't do some amazing work in their creation of aircraft livery, especially with makeovers like Qantas Airways' recent "Wunala Dreaming" airplane inspired by Aboriginal art. But more often than not, the paint jobs come across as a cheesy, wasteful, and downright desperate grab at advertising dollars. Not to mention how distracting it must be for air traffic control when they see a giant Mickey Mouse flying straight for the airport.


India Airlines Spar in Billboard Battle

Airlines in India have a long history of public feuding and this billboard battle at a busy intersection in Mumbai is just one example. What begins with a pleasant "We've Changed" billboard from Jet Airways, one of the more established discount airlines in India, is topped by a snarky response ad from competitor Kingfisher Airlines "We Made Them Change." Not to be left out, Go Airlines, a newcomer among India's domestic carriers, joins in the antics, adding their "We've Never Changed. We're Still the Smartest Way to Fly." The towering ad battle appears downright gentlemanly next to previous billboard campaigns, such as Kingfisher's side-by-side comparison ad with GoAir, "Go Degraded" vs. "Go Upgraded." We just hope other airlines don't join the fray. If this one-upping goes any higher, it could disrupt flight patterns.

Beat the Terrorists with Ryanair

Can terrorism be a motivator for air travel? Ryanair, the low-cost Irish airline, ran this oldie as a full-page ad in the Daily Telegraph back in 2006, complete with a classic wartime photo of Winston Churchill. Kudos for the nostalgic throwback to the WWII posters of yore, but in the post 9-11 world, Churchill chomping on a cigar with a look of determination isn't endearing enough to overcome the initial jaw-dropping reaction to seeing "terrorist" used in an airline ad. Besides, you can't be both sincere about the message (i.e. if you let the threat of terrorism prevent you from flying, then the terrorists win) and poke fun at the real threat of terrorism in the skies at the same time.

Turkish Airlines Escalator Goof

What better way to advertise your airline than to show a plane soaring proudly through fluffy clouds...and straight down into the awaiting ground. That's what happened with this unfortunate misplacement of an escalator ad for Turkish Airlines. Instead of pointing the plane up, showing it taking off, the plane appears to be nosediving into the floor at the bottom of the escalator. It wouldn't be so bad if Turkey's national airline weren't still rebuilding its reputation after a tragic crash landing at the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in February 2009. Does no one check these ads before they're printed or placed!?



Photo Credits: Uzbekistan Airlines "Good Luck" Photo - Clément Guivarc'h; Simpson's Airplane - Kevin Koske
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