SIA's Original Ad Man Speaks Out




Ian Batey, the former owner of Batey Ads and the advertising person credited with helping come up with Singapore Airlines’ winning marketing formula, has finally spoken out.

Batey Ads had the Singapore Airlines account for more than 30 years but lost it in 2007 to TBWA. Batey is credited with creating the “Singapore Girl” ad campaign which is arguably the most successful airline advertising campaign ever. It’s successful because it is more than just an ad campaign. Batey came up with the airline’s whole market positioning.

The Singapore Girl campaign clearly positioned SIA as a premium airline that offers superior inflight customer service. The Singapore Girl encapsulated and helped to define that positioning.

TBWA has continued to make use of the Singapore Girl in SIA’s advertising and has largely tried to create ads in line with the original strategy that Batey came up with. Up until now Ian Batey had kept quiet about what he thought of the recent efforts by TBWA and SIA’s marketing department.

He knows he has to walk a very difficult political tight-rope when commenting on SIA, because the fact that his ad agency lost the SIA account in 2007 means anything he says about SIA and SIA’s advertising may be construed as sour grapes. But I think he walked that political tight-rope quite well and made some valid points. In an interview with Singapore’s Sunday Times newspaper (Feb. 10, 2010) Batey said SIA is still positioned as a premium airline and it can still command a premium for its services, because people know they will get a high-level of service on each flight. But he also said he is concerned that SIA may have lost some of its passion. In other words, they are still doing the same things as they did before and sticking to the same tried and true formula, but they have lost a bit of their spark.  He also made it clear that he thinks TBWA’s creative execution of the brand strategy could be better.

I do agree that SIA does appear to have a lost a bit of its excitement and creative edge. And there is a general perception out there that the airline is not doing as well as before. Part of the reason for this is because the Middle Eastern carriers, particularly Emirates, have done so well at attacking SIA at each end – business and economy class.

Emirates does an enormous amount of advertising to promote its ‘business class’ service, which effectively positions it as a premium full service airline. And Emirates does charge a very high premium for its business class fares. But it can command a premium, because the advertising works so well.

I was speaking to the head of marketing for SriLankan Airlines who made the very interesting point that none of Emirates’ brand advertising promotes its economy-class section. It’s all about ‘business class’.

Emirates doesn’t need to advertise its ‘economy class’ because the advertising for ‘business-class’ helps to define the overall perception of the airline.

But what Emirates does with ‘economy-class’ is very interesting. It basically discounts its economy fares. Consumers lap it up, because the brand advertising has created such a great value proposition.

For SIA, that means Emirates is basically squeezing them at both ends. Emirates is winning over the business traveler (great service, enormous route network, good product innovation, etc) and also winning over the economy passenger with air fares that are perceived to be great value for money.

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