Penelope Cruz Signs On To Promote Emirates, What Do Airlines Get Out Of Celebrity Ads Anyway?

Emirates has just introduced actress Penelope Cruz as their new brand ambassador. She’ll naturally be compared to the incomparable Jennifer Aniston, who previously held the role.

Cruz comes across as a bit ethereal and removed here, I think, in contrast to Aniston’s approachability.

Aniston debuted with Emirates in 2015 and continued with more work in 2016. In response, cross-town rival (Abu Dhabi is a mere hour’s drive away from Dubai) Etihad engaged Nicole Kidman.

At the time Qatar Airways trashed the celebrity endorsement approach, suggesting that they’d instead promote their airline “from the heart” and instead of talking about themselves, having celebrities talk about their product, they’d talk about the motivations of their customers. But asking ‘where do you want to go?’ and promoting travel doesn’t tell consumers whom to fly. Sure, an airline flies. And they fly lots of places! But that’s sort of like the Checkers fast food burger chain adopting the tag line years ago “you gotta eat.” They satisfy the basic requirements of food, and thus survival. But is that the best you can do?

The point in a celebrity campaign is to associate the brand with something. At its worst, the celebrity’s gravitas rubs off, or their likeability. It’s good enough for this person, I’m sure to like it!

But at its best – and nobody does celebrity advertising like Nike – it creates a brand purpose that makes the product a celebrity. Nike celebrates the athletes they have endorsement deals with. They celebrate greatness in sport. And though they’re selling a commodity (shoes, but in many ways airplane seats are similar) they become something consumers want an attachment to as a result.

For a ‘foreign airline’ it’s especially important to hire on local celebrities, or global celebrities, to make the brand feel less foreign. Although maybe hiring a celebrity ‘with an accent’ a la Penelope Cruz makes Emirates feel vaguely international and exotic, yet in an approachable way?

It seems like the comfort and familiarness, along with gravitas, comes in when Turkish Airlines brought in Morgan Freeman.

And before that it was Kevin Costner.

U.S. airlines rarely go this route, in part because there just isn’t a lot of branding that they do. Delta does ad campaigns, and a decade ago used Donald Sutherland for voiceover. No one has done this quite so well at an airline, though, the way that United did thirty-plus year ago with Gene Hackman narrating.

Still in travel but outside of airlines probably no one has used a celebrity as effective as Priceline utilized William Shatner, really associating him with the brand.

William Shatner Advertising Priceline in 2000 — Before He Was the Negotiator

Five years ago Hilton filmed a series of commercials with Anna Kendrick and they could have really leaned into her relatable, funny, and eclectic personality for a more significant campaign. One-offs rarely accomplish much and so that was a lost opportunity.

The Emirates ads with Jennifer Aniston were memorable enough on their own that impressions lasted well beyond the time people were watching them. How much Emirates gets out of the Penelope Cruz campaign, I suspect, will have to do both with the campaign itself and its duration.

I do find it a bit odd, though, that Emirates has Cruz promoting a first class product that they’ve barely rolled out to their fleet in years. But is is their best product, and they’ve long gone for the halo effect not just of celebrity endorsement but also a top cabin product that’s fantastic while other cabin products are frequently less than competitive. For instance their business seat on much of their fleet still lacks direct aisle access and they were a pioneer of ten-abreast Boeing 777 seating in economy while other airlines still offered just nine.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. To go from Jen Aniston – who is lovely – to someone like Penelope Cruz….Yikes. What a slump.
    Cruz is awful. I mean, I can see what they tried to do here with her (supposed) sexy, exotic vibe, but I don’t think it’s going to click that well with the audience. Bad choice in my opinion

  2. The same celebrities that complain about human rights violations in America take money from foreign corporations and governments with worse track records and stay silent like a mouse while cashing checks

  3. @dude26

    The branding isn’t pitched at self entitled white Americans with a beep for their childhood fantasy comedy actress.

    Cruz represents more than her looks, recognised by various global brands already, or her talents, recognised with an Oscar already, she is an internationally resonant brand asset.

    In short Jen, although financially successful, is of limited brand appeal compared with the talent and sophistication of Pen.

    Marketing to a shallow rich and male white American then go with Jen.

    Marketing to a sophisticated international audience with cultural nuance and connection to international cause then go with Pen.

    The incel comments on this thread prove my point.

  4. @ Mets Fan in NC

    Except in the case of Cruz she has directed her commentary and support across a number international issues including cessation of violence against children including the 10s millions displaced globally.

    It’s unclear why you find such to be worthy of your derision. It’s that very sort of hatred that she has challenged.

    There is sufficient negative and discriminatory commentary from US based readers of this blog to evidence an incipient social cancer in some elements of US society. The shite coming out of DeSantos should send chills down the spine of any decent human being.

    To be fair I haven’t knowingly met any Americans as vile as some commentators herein.

  5. @Garry, Qatar Arways may not use traditional Hollywood movie stars. However, the airline has heavily used its association with European football clubs (Barcelona and now PSG) along with a number of famous football stars.

  6. @Platy
    UAE is ranked 49th in the world with rights towards women. Women have legal status and rights in many case provided their actions are sanctioned and approved by a male guardian.

    The points stands. Many celebrities in US like LeBron are vocal about what they perceive as wrong here while taking boatloads of money from China

  7. Meh, my picture of standing behind the A380 bar is WAY better than that one.

    The bartenders are super accommodating on there. Loved every minute.

  8. Yeah, I’ll do a photo opp of me at the EK A380 bar, ala 1971 American Airlines “Piano Bar” Commercial.

    Everyone wishes for a return of the Golden Age of Travel. I suppose the Golden Age of Hollywood actresses are all dead now. I guess Nicole Kidman and her Australian accent on Etihad was the exception that proved the present-day rule of feeble manners and atrocious accent.

  9. Just cannot stand this Cruz woman. So artificial. So self-conscious! So annoying.
    To the point I seitch channels everytime she comes on.
    Come on Emirates – you can do better than this!
    Pick someone more natural lah!

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