British Airways turns 100 with 'a love letter' to Britain that definitely isn't about Brexit

British Airways is kicking off its 100th birthday celebrations with a star-studded campaign that explores 'modern Britishness' and national pride. Despite its timing, just two months ahead of the most significant political upheaval facing the country in modern history, the airline's chief marketing officer Hamish McVey wants people to know it's got nothing to do with Brexit.

"We'll leave politics to the politicians," he said. "We're focusing very much on the story we want to tell in this moment in time, which is confident one about Britain and what it means to be part of modern Britain today."

It marks the airlines's first major brand campaign since 2012’s 'Don’t Fly' which encouraged Brits to stay at home and support Team GB and ParalympicsGB at the London Olympics.

At the heart of the push is a big budget TV ad, 'Made by Britain'. It features a cast of homegrown talent including Olivia Colman, Anthony Joshua, Garry Oldman, Nicola Adams and Grayson Perry. The stars are shown boarding a plane dubbed BA100 as cabin crew, pilots and engineers carrying out the final touches in preparation for take off.

The celebrity line up, chosen to reflect all corners of Britian, are shown reading out a specially-written 'love letter' to Britain recounting the values and characteristics they feel make the isles a special place.

Created by WPP's dedicated BA agency Team Horizon (which comprises teams from Ogilvy and Wavemaker), the new ad will run in the UK and US to deliver the message that it’s the airline’s customers who have made it what it is today.

Though it's underpinned by a sense of pride in British principles, McVey told The Drum that the carrier wasn't seeking to make any kind of statement that could be aligned with Brexit.

When asked if he thought customers would draw a correlation between the two he said: "We're prepared, they may do that, but even if Brexit wasn't happening we would still be telling this story and that's the important point.

"If you put Brexit to one side, Britain's got so much to celebrate - the people, the skills, the talent, the amazing products we export as a nation. So, there's a fantastic story to tell about Britain and we've been a huge part of that over the last 100 years and we'll continue to be."

McVey's assertion that BA wants to "leave politics to the politicians" follows on from HSBC being forced to deny accusations that its recently launched 'We Are Not an Island' campaign was "anti-Brexit" following scrutiny on social media. Other brands, like Jigasw, have also associated themselves with Brexit championing the country's diversity and waving the flag for immigration.

'Bringing Britain to the world'

McVey said BA's campaign, which will run in various forms across TV, digital and also aims to celebrate how BA "takes the world to Britain and brings Britain to the world", but it's a brand promise that faces being somewhat damped in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Post-March, European carriers will have to show they are more than 50% EU-owned and controlled to retain certain flying rights in the bloc after Brexit. BA's parent group IAG - which is a UK-headquartered Spanish company with an array of global shareholders - reportedly sought to get around this by showing how its individual airlines (including its Spanish brand Iberia) are domestically owned through a series of trusts and companies, but Brussels is understood to have vetoed the idea.

IAG says it is "confident "it will comply with the both EU and the UK ownership and control rules post-Brexit.

Despite its parent company's assurances and the BA brand abstaining from any political commentary in its creative, budget rival Ryanair has been vocal in its criticism of Brexit. The Irish firm ran a promotion ahead of the EU referendum in 2016 offering pro-EU voters cheap flights home to make sure they got to the ballot box. Its chief executive Michael O’Leary also donated money to the cause and has recently warned investors that Brexit could impact 2019 profits.

Despite the uncertainty around what Brexit means for them travel brands like Tui and Virgin, joined British Airways in continuing with marketing activity during the key January trading period.

British Airways will be marking its centenary in various ways throughout 2019, including by honouring customers with 100 acts of kindness as part of its 'BA Magic 100' initiative.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.