Interviews

Abigail Comber, Head of Brands and Marketing, British Airways

After a massive year for BA’s marketing department, Tom Holmes catches up with Abi Comber, head of brands and marketing at British Airways

Tom Holmes

Founder & Chairman

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After a massive year for BA’s marketing department, Tom Holmes catches up with Abi Comber, head of brands and marketing at British Airways.

Abi is responsible for the strategic development of the airline’s global brand and marketing activities, including advertising, sponsorship, brands, design, digital innovation, community relations and relationship marketing.

She has held senior roles within BA's marketing department since 2002, starting her career at BA Holidays in 1992.

 

Creativebrief: As head of brands and marketing at British Airways, what is your primary focus?

Abi Comber: 2012 was an amazing year for British Airways and we saw some real shifts in awareness, consideration and bonding to the BA brand. My focus for 2013 will be to build upon that impetus. 
From a brand perspective, we have the opportunity to innovate and to deliver new and genuinely useful services for our customers.

The arrival of the A380s and B787s to the fleet this year give us the opportunity to give our customers a new experience in the air.

We’re working on some long term innovation plans.

We’re looking at the airport experience and how we can improve that and the purchase of bmi is enabling us to grow our network.   

Creativebrief: You’ve held senior roles within BA’s marketing department since 2002, starting your career at BA Holidays in 1992, what have been the high points?

Abi Comber: Getting great feedback from our customers about their journeys and the part our people play in that is always great, but the highlight of my career was seeing the “firefly” aircraft that carried the Olympic torch to Great Britain, fly over the mall saying thank you to everyone who made the Summer of 2012 an incredible event.

It is always the times when people come together to find solutions that really inspire me, everything from embracing technology to equip our collegues to better serve our customers, to getting relief flights to Haiti full of Aid within 48 hours of terrible natural disasters.

Creativebrief: Any lows?

Abi Comber: Not being able to get to solutions quickly enough. The complexity of the airline industry frustrates me, but fascinates me at the same time.

Creativebrief: Along the way which marketers have particularly impressed and inspired you?

Abi Comber: Who ever embraced the idea of using a Meerkat in an advert for insurance!  I don’t even know who it was, but I salute such bravery. Craig Inglis at John Lewis is the other. A strict level of consistency and quality in everything they deliver with a modern twist in their comms from a music perspective.

Creativebrief: Looking ahead to 2013 what are your predictions for the airline industry?

Abi Comber: The introduction of new aircraft globally over the past few years gives a great opportunity to develop the customer experience on board and integrate evolving digital platforms while controlling costs

I also think there will be more research done into sustainable and cost effective fuel sources, such as our Solena venture (developing sustainable biojet fuel by processing municipal waste using plasma gasification technology) and their long-term benefits.

Creativebrief: How successful a platform was the Olympic and Paralympic Games for BA?

Abi Comber: Our sponsorship of the Olympics and Paralympics has been extremely positive.

86 thousand people engaged with BA on twitter using our Home Advantage Hash tag. The hashtag also received 450 thousand mentions that resulted in 3 billion impressions.

Our facebook page attracted 80 thousand new fans taking the page’s overall fan base to half a million people.

As of October 2011 our Olympic sponsorship awareness was 35 per cent.  In August 2012 after our extensive and successful campaign it was 54 per cent, an increase of 19 per cent. This left us ahead of Adidas (51 per cent awareness) and Visa (47 per cent awareness). This data is taken from the Millward Brown survey, which has been conducted regularly since the Olympic sponsorship began.

We achieved the highest awareness of the BA brand with the public in five years and double the levels of TV ad awareness, far exceeding competing airlines.

The campaign delivered a 30 per cent increase in people who were ‘inclined to fly with British Airways’ and a 20 per cent increase in positive sentiment towards the brand.

A PR Week/OnePoll survey named BA the winner in the battle for memorable Olympic campaigns (August 2012) with ‘Don’t Fly’ cited as the most impactful ad. EDF came second and Adidas third.

 

Creativebrief: London 2012 was billed as the first truly social media games, how did BA take advantage of this?

Abi Comber: Social media is a fully integrated part of all our campaigns at BA. All ideas and concepts that we develop need to be able to work across both traditional and social environments, we simply employ slightly different tactics to bring them to life.

With the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games approaching fast, we needed some bold thinking.

We asked the question: how could an airline, which is normally busy flying people around the world, show its support for the home games and its athletes?

We uncovered an insight about the power of the home advantage and landed on an idea so powerful that it ran against the grain of our business.

With our tongue firmly planted in our cheek, we asked the nation not to fly during the games and to stay home to support our nation’s team.

We kicked things off by flying the Olympic torch into the country.

Then we began our campaign with a competition flying British Expats and athletes families home to bolster the home crowd support.

We laid out a provocative picture outside Heathrow for all to see – Jess Ennis and the phrase ‘Welcome to our turf’.

This was followed up with a TV ad that broadcasted our message of home team support across the nation with a BA aircraft driving from Heathrow to the Olympic stadium and the message: Don’t fly. Support TeamGB/Paralympic GB.

We backed this up with large ‘out of home’ ads, magazine ads and digital banners. Each message rallied the nation into supporting the team. So, for example: ‘The national anthem won’t sing itself’ and ‘scream if you want them to go faster’.

Online, people were taken to a version of the TV ad that let them drive a plane down their street.

We hosted 700,000 people in the Olympic Park at our giant Park Live screen, the TV largest screen in Europe, surrounded by lawns that were hosted by BA staff.

Everyday we reacted to athlete success with messages of encouragement and adulation.

At the close of the games we decided to show our gratitude, thanking the nation the way we know best, with the fly-over of Buckingham Palace.

Creativebrief: Are there any marketing trade bodies you support you’d like to mention?

Abi Comber: Yes, the Marketing Society.