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.
Introducing our new brand ambassador, Penélope Cruz!
The Academy Award-winning actress has been a frequent flyer with Emirates for many years. Now, she's taking that passion to new heights as the star of our latest ad campaign. pic.twitter.com/kRkwar36uc
— Emirates (@emirates) May 25, 2023
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.