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Last Updated: Friday, 5 October 2007, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Making faces
BA's ad, left, and Silverjet's, right
BA's ad, left, and Silverjet's, right

AD BREAKDOWN
The Magazine's review of advertising

THE AD: Business airline Silverjet

THE SCHTICK: Recreate British Airways' famous "walking face" ad - with fewer people.

THE BREAKDOWN: BA's classic advert, in which a crowd assembles in a desert to form a face which then smiles and winks, is one of those commercials which has become a cultural reference point. It was arguably the crowning image in the airline's efforts throughout the 1980s to reinvent itself as the "Worlds' Favourite Airline", having been seen by many as a rather tired equivalent of British Rail.

It was this advert which cemented the Flower Duet as The Official Tune of the airline - an aural shorthand which the company uses to conjure visions of serene travel. It's so recognised it was even used in a 1999 advert which initially appeared to be for BA but turned out to be for the Ford Galaxy.

The Official Tune is still going strong - BA's current advert shows stewards and stewardesses waiting on people as they holiday in Sydney Harbour, and still uses a version of the Delibes duet.

Mouths
Two mouths: BA's is on the left
But from this weekend a different version of the same tune is to be broadcast, with a recreation of BA's face, for a rival airline.

Using the same music on different adverts is nothing unique - indeed the current ads for Lexus Hybrid and Scottish Widows both use versions of Albeniz's Suite Espagnol - and on at least one occasion this week, played back to back.

But Silverjet goes further than that. A minnow by comparison with BA, the airline is trying to carve a niche for itself by offering business class on its transatlantic route. So in an apparent tweaking of BA's nose, it has gone to enormous lengths to recreate the famous face. The twist is that instead of a cast of hundreds, just four people are used to make the face. No queues and crowds here, the thinking goes, just the select few.

No low cost

What separates this film from the kind of cheeky adverts used by low cost airlines is that - tiny cast aside - this is no cheap production.

Behind this cheeky homage is some adland politics, involving the agency which made it - M&C Saatchi (until recently BA's longstanding ad company). It was also directed by Hugh Hudson, the man who behind the original. The location was the same. They even employed the same cameraman.

Times shot of Saatchi advert
Saatchi's 2005 advert
Two years ago next week, BA sensationally sacked M&C Saatchi, ending a relationship which went back 23 years. The next day, the spurned agency took a double page in the Times with snapshots of the memorable adverts the Saatchis had created for the airline over the years.

At the top of the list was a newspaper cutting from 1982 which read "BA IS BLOODY AWFUL". At the end of the sequence, another which said "BA becomes the world's most profitable airline." The pay-off line said: "Now taking new airline bookings. MCS@MCSAATCHI.COM."

Silverjet's chief executive Lawrence Hunt answered that call, and having been satisfied by his lawyers that there was no problem with copyright, plans to run the advert here and in the US between now and Christmas.

"As a small fledgling airline we have got to make an impact," he told the Magazine. "Suffice to say this was made for a fraction of the cost of the original ad."

Being cheeky to BA is one way of getting maximum bang for their buck - a tactic Silverjet is no stranger to, having run an internet-only advert which showed two women coming out of the same aeroplane toilet.

BA's ad on left
Locations were matched
Hugh Hudson rose to the challenge of remaking his own film. "When I first got sight of this script," he says, "I thought 'This is interesting. Parodying my own commercial of 18 years ago... Shooting a re-make with a twist for a new airline who's trying to take on BA, a leviathan of an airline, appealed to my sense of irony and humour. And much of my work in feature films has been along these lines. Chariots of Fire, Greystoke and Revolution are all about people standing up to the establishment."

For their money, BA is pretty relaxed about the advert. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," a spokesman says.

But the completed film displays the trouble taken - another director might have been tempted to ape the look of the original rather than recreating the event. But Hudson was determined to create the face on a "grand scale" albeit with only four people instead of hundreds. Joanna Lumley plays the voiceover role originally performed by Tom Conti.

The only thing spoiling this ad is the payoff line. Where the original "British Airways. The world's favourite airline" can even makes one's spirits rise, this has "Silverjet. Very Sivilised" which is a poor play on words, looks tacky, and feels cheap.

It will become obvious very soon to most viewers that this is a reference to the original advert. But in our culture, such overt borrowing is rare. So how many of those viewers will twig that this is for a rival to BA? Most will surely assume that, because this looks like a BA ad and sounds like a BA ad, whatever the name at the end, it must in some way be a BA ad.

Ad Breakdown is compiled by Giles Wilson


Below is a selection of your comments.

I would have thought that mis-identification would be the primary problem here like the Cook Electric ads from Ardmann Animations people won't think of Silverjet but BA.
Charles Brown, Aberdeen, Scotland

A lot of the admiration for adverts such as the original BA one mentioned in this article and the similar Halifax ones (where the people in the add end-up forming a house) surely comes from the number of people involved. While viewers may understand the use of less people is designed to indicating less crowding, I for one am less impressed with the co-ordination of four people compared to the hundreds in the original advert. Having the face wink and then turn in the world as quickly as it did with so many people involved is part of what makes the ad so iconic. This new advert would do well if it was advertising a low-cost arm of BA, but as an advertising campaign for a competitor of BA, it just strikes me as indicating them as a cheaper alternative in more than just price.
DS, Bromley, England

Was it to save money? On the four person face, the people use their arms to make up the parts. On the 'classic' face the people used double sided cards so some of them needed to flip them over to make the face 'wink'.
Helen, Leicester

Nothing will have the same effect as the original, which was similar to watching Concord flying over
Shanta ulendra-villars

I thought it was very funny especially as Ba is running such dreadful advertising at the moment. I guess the fact it is being reported and commented on shows it is doing its job. I look forward to the next one
Emma Oxley, London

BA will no doubt be very happy. You can't get better advertising than getting it for free! The music and the crowd making the winking face is iconic to BA and this could backfire on Silverjet. One should imagine they consired changing their company name to 'British Silverjet Airways' and painted the Union Jack on the aeroplane's tail fin as well!!
Pete thomas, Ashford

For Silverjet, this is money wasted, as it is really advertising for BA. BA will be very happy - in fact, as the BA adverts are so bad at the moment this will actually help! Taking on BBH to do the advertising was a terrible mistake.
Robert A, Windsor

I think it is a very clever advert. Yes! at first I thought it was BA but then Silverjets name appeared. A nice advert, nice music and reached the same effect with less actors.
Peter, London

Congratulations. Silverjet have shown how they are abreast of changes in consumer demand. This ad which combines a fresh spirit, intelligence, originality and humour. No longer are the public impressed by 'big' - they now want 'small but perfectly formed', exclusivity at a sensible price. Excellent work and congratulations to all involved.
Diane Humphrey, Buckingham. Buckingham

I assumed the advert was for a new part of BA - a premium service, but then I'm too young to remember the orginal advert.
Ruth, Staines

Public flogging for the managment
kevin, herts, uk

How many readers had never heard of Silverjet before they read this article? The ad is already working.
Mark Boulton, Brackley, uk

Oh how unfortunate. I thought the ad was, given the circumstances, quite admirably executed up until the 'Silverjet - Very Sivilised' end. It felt like my whole childhood flooded back seeing the BA ad again. I remember watching with admiration the BA jumbo 747 take off time and again. Lamentably Silverjet honoured then ruined a very 'sivilised' ad. I'll remember to fly BritishAirways next time.
Jenson, Highbury

I saw the ad for the first time today, before reading this article, and had these thoughts exactly: it's a BA-related ad because it looks and sounds and feels like BA, and the payoff line is decidely tacky for an "elite" product offering. Very poor. Don't see anything ironic or humorous about it, I'm afraid, Mr Hudson.
Clare, London

I think silverjet are mising the fact that its BECAUSE of all the people in the original advert that made it so impressive. They are wasting their time and their money!
Abby Yarwood, St Helens

A big mistake to make, this will heighten the BA brand and do nothing for Silverjet but make them look faintly ridiculous. BA has, with and without M&C Saatchi, been coming up with great ads for year. They really appeal to the emotional side of branding and Silverjet are foolish to try and ‘steal’ this iconic ad.
CW, Newcastle upon Tyne

Not 'iconic'. Consult a dictionary.
Richard, Birmingham

I would say this is 'parody with a purpose'. Anyone who has had to fly out of Heathrow in recent months will appreciate the message that Silverjet is getting across here.
john peters, swindon

Is it one of those magic eye things cos it don't look like no face to me yet! It's got more shadows than Hank Marvin.
Martin, Manchester

I have to say that it is a bit like listening to a mediocre cover of one of your favourite songs. In addition, why insult our intelligence by butchering the world "Civilised" for the craven purposes of creating a nonesense branding phrase. While I appreciate they are trying to be clever, it just comes across to me as cheap.
Kort Mueller, London, UK



 


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