Singapore Airlines’ Excellent New “Understanding Your Needs” Campaign

At the end of last month I pulled together some of the best historical airline ads I know of. Frankly it’s fun (for me, but I’m a bit nuts for this stuff) cruising through Youtube for these things, and I think it’s an amazing thing about our world that it’s all available there a few clicks away.

Looking at those ads it struck me how bad most airline advertising is, and I don’t think it’s because the ad agencies aren’t creative or the airline executives make bad customers.

Instead it’s because it’s hard to differentiate their products in mass media. How do you communicate in a meaningful way on television why you should choose United over American?

Airline advertising is hard because to the median consumer there isn’t a dime’s bit of difference between the different carriers. They don’t have a brand, a unique selling proposition, and when an airline tries to claim one it doesn’t come off as credible.

An airline might advertise to convey information, like “we have a whole bunch of new flights from your city!” But except for airlines that won’t pay to be included in computer reservation systems, customers will simply see the non-stop options when they go to book a flight.

Two of the better ads in that post, I thought, were Continental and Alaska Airlines trying to differentiate themselves as full service and not nickel and diming customers. There was a clear message or reason to pick those carriers. Of course the business model didn’t last, Continental stopped offering free meals in coach domestically. People didn’t love the meals when everyone got them for free on all airlines, and they weren’t choosing to fly Continental over competitors because of those meals. But at least there was a clear message.

United could never run its earlier ‘Friendly Skies’ ads anymore, showing flight attendants who were so genuinely enthusiastic and caring and who seemed to revel at being able to make passengers more comfortable on their trip. It just wouldn’t be credible.

And yet my rule of thumb that airline advertising is bad doesn’t always hold, and certainly doesn’t for some non-U.S. airlines. That’s because some of them do have a brand (and those that don’t can more credibly claim one — since US customers won’t be as familiar with their offerings).

Virgin Atlantic can try fun and sexy. Singapore Airlines can say there is something special and unique about their service.

And Singapore’s new ad campaign does just that. Their theme is “the lengths we go” and Lucky last week linked to the first video in the series.

It’s called “Understanding Your Needs” and it’s touching — and only somewhat a stretch to imagine a Singapore Airlines flight attendant making a journey to find your favorite tea and then serving it just the way you like it.

And you could almost imagine a Singapore flight attendant attending films in India to bring you just the right one on your flight.

Singapore Airlines has good food, good inflight entertainment, and good service. So the commercials capture something that’s ultimately true about the airline even as they take quite a bit of creative license in illustrating those things.

And that makes these actual, bona fide, good airline ads — which at least hold the potential to have customers say “I want to choose to fly Singapore” rather than flying on a different carrier for a given trip. It offers to promise of a better experience, that is actually believable.

Way to go Singapore! (And I say that because I’m strange and I really like watching airline ads.)

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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. I hate to admit it but it really is an industry where customers select by price and only price. I seem to remember a timeframe in which AA tried to diffrentiate itself by offering more legroom in economy. We know that consumers ignored them and pursued price.
    Those that will point out business class fares might remember that many paid fares (not FF trips or upgrades) are paid by employers and their airline decisions are based on contracts that go back to discounts and/or free perks.
    Those that stress alegiance to an airline based on FF perks might consider that they would ditch a FF plan for another if the new airline offered a better chance of upgrades, another form of price competition.

  2. According to SQ management, they’re trying/starting/attempting to shy away from the mystical sexually-objectified Singapore hostess. This ad, in my opinion, still objectified them, but that is just my opinion.

    And this might not be surprising, but the marketing department in SQ is actually one of the largest departments.

  3. Charles – that is not true globally. I do know highly logical people that are willing to pay a hefty premium for their favorite airline. For loyalty/comfort/IFE/FF miles/flying A380…

    However, I cannot comment on the US market…

  4. My problem with the Singapore ads is that they seem to over-promise. There’s no way the service is going to be as attentive as portrayed in the ads. I’ve never flown them, but am doing so in a couple of months. From experience, though, I know those ads are setting my expectations too high, and I’m likely to be disappointed (and, heck, all I’m really hoping for is that the flight attendants come by with something to drink every once in awhile!).

    Your piece made me look at the youtube videos for United ads. It is amazing how far USA airline service deteriorated in 30 years. Like look at this ad from the
    80s. Unimaginable, right?

  5. First of all, that SQ FA in the second video is just stunningly beautiful. But I digress. The reality is that I enjoy the ads, too. But as a marketer myself, I don’t enjoy them because of the Singapore girls, but because they show me that SQ understands their market very well. In a business that is competitive, being able to charge a small premium over competitors is priceless, and the ad tries to establish that.

    And judging by my own experience, I think SQ is indeed succeeding in many ways. I have flown both Thai and SQ to Asia in coach with wife and kids, and SQ is miles ahead in my opinion in terms of seat comfort, inflight service, IFE, and overall presentation.

    If I had to choose between SQ, CX, TG, etc for coach travel to SE Asia, I would fly SQ every time.

  6. I think the second video is of films in Italy, not India – seems to be tied into the Venice Film Festival (hence the red carpet shot. But it is a Bollywood / Indian film on the screen.

  7. @ LK – yes, second video is Venice. There’s also a third ad centered on Scottish leather. Also, SQ YouTube channel has making-of videos.

    FWIW, according to that making-of material, all three ladies featured in the ads are real flight attendants. Now, of course, FAs don’t go on exotic journeys to pick tea/movies/leather but SQ is known for its generally high level of service so these ads aren’t too extreme.

    Anyway, the ad/promo video I really, really love is BA’s “Visit Mum” one. The full 5-minute version is a tear-jerker –

  8. Charles a further comment that would dispute people choosing largely on price.

    Many of the best customers for airlines are staffers in large corporations.

    Large corporations will often (generally) negotiate deals with multiple carriers as it is unlikely that any single carrier has all the routing and availability their staff need.

    For any given routing the individual passenger will likely have more than one negotiated rate, and likely a number of valid reasons to not choose any negotiated rate for example ‘chosen routing was cheaper than in policy option’ or ‘preferred carriers had no availability at time of booking’

    This gives the individual corporate traveller considerable latitude in choosing the carrier for any given routing for example they can often go a week later TATL where virgin upper class happens to have better availability or pricing than the negotiated rate on american business.

    Most corporates will rely on an outsourced travel agency to police these choices. That travel agent has to balance satisfaction of the individual traveller with following the rules, and is often in a weak position to deny an individual traveller’s choice.

    This leaves the individual corporate traveller considerable freedom to choose, and comfort convenience and frequent traveller plan benefits will naturally share weighting with price.

  9. @iahphx I wouldn’t plan on being disappointed. I’ve had the absolute best service on Singapore. Unbelievable service, just as good as the video. But in coach you always have the risk of finding a bad apple. However, business and first are never a let down. Just read Ben’s reviews. I feel like his reviews are very representative of Singapore Airlines as a whole.

  10. Re “Singapore Girls”:

    Years ago I was told by an SQ executive that, yes, they did indeed choose their female FA’s for their youth and good looks. They were expected to be there for only a few years, after which they normally would leave to marry. Once married, end of employment. Too bad. They are still about the most attractive FA’s in the industry.

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