British Airways unveiled their big new commercial recently, as part of their £20 million advertising campaign:
It has a Downton Abbey/Mad Men retro vibe, mixed with a go-getting drive to the future; we’re meant to admire these brave ‘young men’ (as they’re always called – not ‘young people’ and certainly not ‘young women’) as they venture forth to build ‘superhighways in an unknown sky’.
For all the gorgeous visuals, the overwrought narration destroys any chance of nostalgia by continually reminding us what we should feel, eventually descending into a mish-mash of increasingly similar-looking shiny planes (including, amusingly, the Concorde, which conveniently zooms out of sight at the end lest we start thinking too hard). It could have been much more powerful if they had just a little bit more confidence in themselves.
It reminded me of two, better, time-travelling commercials that also try to impress viewers with their company’s longevity:
Hovis’ attempt is better simply because it’s more interesting and doesn’t have any godawful narration. However, the fact that it has practically nothing at all to do with bread is perhaps not the wisest of choices.
As an aside, these sorts of ‘historical vignette’ stories always make me wonder what would happen next, after the present day; might the little boy jump into a driverless car and then zoom off on a spaceplane to avoid the AI civil war in 2030? Speaking of vignettes, Hovis is clearly hitching its wagon to what it feels are all of Britain’s finest moments like suffragettes, wars, the 60s, miners’ strikes, and, bizarrely, the millennium fireworks celebration. One might have thought that a gay pride parade wouldn’t be amiss, but perhaps that’s too risque for such an old brand.
Then there’s the master:
I still remember watching Honda’s ‘The Impossible Dream’ commercial for the first time. Not only did I immediately go and download Andy Williams’ song, but I watched the video again at least a few times. Unlike Hovis, it’s actually about what Honda makes – cars, vehicles, and other transportation devices – and unlike British Airways, it has enough confidence in its message and audience that it doesn’t need to tell people what to think.
One can only imagine what British Airways’ advertising geniuses would have put on top of it:
Those first young men, the pioneers, the drivers, building superhighways across an unknown land … roaring across roads to go really fast … they didn’t have seatbelts or shit like that, they drove where they were no traffic lights … they drove motorbikes, small cars, big cars, fast cars, and hey, even a motorboat! We follow them to fulfill an unbreakable promise*, the same four words stitched into every uniform of every engineers who builds our stuff: The Power of Dreams.
Luckily, that didn’t happen and we got a good commercial instead. And while I’d be the first person to be cynical about what commercials are meant to do (often, to get us to buy things we don’t need), I’d rather watch a good commercial than a bad one.
(*Is it wise to make ‘unbreakable promise’ in a commercial? I suppose if it’s as vague or uninspiring as BA’s “To Fly. To Serve.” then it doesn’t really matter)
Sadly, someone at Honda decided to update ‘The Impossible Dream’ last year, adding on some boring scenes with robots and completely robbing the commercial of its dramatic, uplifting, and frankly inspired (since, after all, the song – and the video – is about Don Quixote) ending. Somehow, a guy slipping into a nice jacuzzi doesn’t elicit the same emotion:
I’ll leave you with a final commercial I discovered while trawling YouTube that proves that at least someone at British Airways once had a sense of humour, even if they presumably got fired five minutes after this aired:
Have I missed any good time-travelling story commercials? Let me know!