For a story I wrote for the New York Times< in the summer of 2011, I spent a week training to be a flight attendant with Emirates. Every day, I walked from my hotel in Dubai to the metro stop and boarded a train to the aviation academy near the airport. I was wearing my student uniform; black pants and a red polo shirt with Emirates emblazoned in gold thread on the chest.
In this attire, I was a magnet to people who wanted to talk about the airline. To a person they were enamored of Emirates. This was very strange to me, accustomed as I was to the general ire and discontent Western air travelers feel about the airline industry. But I have learned elsewhere in the world there are airlines that people love, Love, LOVE. Both Emirates and Etihad Airways based in nearby Abu Dhabi are two such carriers.
That's what makes Etihad's new television commercial so interesting. It is a one minute, narration-free love song right back to its passengers where they live -- from Australia's beaches, to Bangkok's waterways, Abu Dhabi's deserts and Germany's wineries. Believe what you see and Etihad's passengers will find the beautiful sounds, foods and cultures of the world served up at 36,000 feet.
Bobby Darin croons these words:
The world is full of beautiful things
Butterfly wings, fairy tale kings
And each new day undoubtedly brings
Still more beautiful things.
The world abounds with many delights
Magical sights, fanciful flights
And those who dream on beautiful nights
Dream of beautiful things.
While airplanes and geese take flight, wine barrels and wine glasses are filled, hotel maids and flight attendants turn down beds.
If, say, United or Air France were to try this tactic, viewers would be hooting before Darin completed the first verse. But for airlines like Etihad, pitching the inflight experience is more important than so many other items on which airlines compete, or so I am told by Shashank Nigam, an airline marketing strategist and CEO of SimpliFlying, as I reported recently in APEX Editors Blog.
"By drawing parallels to the life of a business traveler on the ground, and amenities offered by Etihad Airways in the air, the ad demonstrates that a premium lifestyle is well catered to by the airline," Shashank said. "Etihad has done a good job of being subtle, yet clearly showcased its premium offerings."
Etihad boss James Hogan told me earlier this week that the airline was pleased to be launching a global campaign. The ads will air on television stations in seven countries. But the message may not be for everyone, as Shashank observed. The concept of air travel as lux experience is part of the unrelenting race by airlines around the world to capture premium passengers.
By contrast, Etihad's focused advertisement in 2010 featuring its brand ambassador, Indian screen superstar Katrina Kaif hits all the right notes by speaking to India's class-transcending, national appreciation for music and dance. Sure, the star is carrying on in the premium lounge, but after an airport experience like this, who cares where one sits on the airplane?