Fly the Branded Skies

Jingle: American “Doing What We Do Best” (1975)

We're American Airlines. Doing what we do best.

Listen: American Airlines: “Doing What We Do Best”

One of the amazing properties of jingles is how they can become integral parts of their brands over time. For example, Alka-Seltzer first used “plop plop, fizz fizz” in the 1950s — today, they’re still using the tune in their advertising.

By holding on to this branding element, you gain the freedom to vary others. This jingle, “We’re American Airlines. Doing what we do best,” is a perfect example. Campaigns evolved, tastes shifted, the tagline changed, and the account even switched agencies, but this melody — or variations derived from it — were a part of American’s advertising for more than 20 years.

In 1975, American Airlines launched a new television spot about a flight attendant who ditches her cat to find the blue horizon:

“Doing what we do best” became American’s tagline, and Tom Dawes’ music for the campaign was sent out to American’s employees on a 7-inch record. On the reverse side, American’s VP of marketing (and future CEO) Robert Crandall delivered a somewhat uninspiring speech about the campaign.

Listen: American Airlines: “Message from Bob Crandall”

Notwithstanding Crandall’s dubious oratorical skills, the music had serious legs. In the recording above, you can already hear some variations on the theme. It starts folksy, then it goes into elevator music territory before it passes through a funky phase and ends up truly anthemic. Agencies often produce longer cuts of their jingles, sometimes to use in applications other than advertising, but also so that they can produce different edits of a longer piece to suit different tonal needs.

For example, here’s a spot from 1979, with some futuristic and high-tech computer sounds at the beginning to show how futuristic and high-tech American is:

The underscore for the voiceover uses the same melody as the all-singing version of the original spot, with some new instrumentation. Then the tag at the end is sung, just as in the original spot. This spot, from 1980, is similar: a more sedate instrumental bed, followed by the sung tag at the end:

By 1981, the campaign had been running for five or six years with variations of the same music. It was time for a change. DDB hired Harley Flaum and Marek Norman to produce a new, more energetic jingle. But it retained the same sung tag:

Also by 1981, American Airlines had moved to Dallas and was looking for a local agency. DDB New York, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, resigned American and picked up Pan Am. American went to the Dallas office of Bozell & Jacobs.

Bozell kept the “Doing what we do best” tagline, and its associated music, for two more years. Flaum and Norman composed a new jingle, using the same tag. (On a non-musical note, this spot’s end card is finally set in Helvetica, like American’s logotype; brand consistency in the 1970s and 1980s wasn’t what it is today.)

“Doing what we do best” had a very good run — nine years. In 1984, American introduced a new tagline: “Something special in the air.” But to maintain consistency, they continued to use the same theme in the tag. The “We’re American Airlines” portion of the tag was exactly the same. The tune for “Something special in the air” was a little different, to accommodate the different rhythm of the line, but it was melodically similar to “Doing what we do best.” The copyright record for the new piece lists Flaum, Norman and Tom Sellers from the jingle house, and Jud Chapin, a creative director at Bozell.

Sometimes the “Something special in the air” spots kept “We’re American Airlines”:

Sometimes “Something special in the air” wasn’t even sung, but an instrumental version of the tag was retained:

And for at least some spots in 1987, an arrangement of the original song was used with new lyrics:

As time went on, fewer and fewer American Airlines commercials employed singing. But the “Something special in the air” melody was retained as a sound logo until the tagline was retired in 2000. Here’s a late example (a somewhat eerie one, because of the last shot):

Even in the hands of different agencies and different composers, even applied to different campaigns and different taglines, this song had staying power. It evolved and adapted. In fact, it became so intertwined with the American brand that vestiges of it were still in use 25 years later.

Airline: American Airlines
Title: “Doing What We Do Best”
Agency: Doyle Dane Bernbach, New York
Written By: Thomas Dawes
Year: 1975


I love flying far and wide
to see the land I love.
Climb to find the blue horizon,
the sun and sky above.

It’s my flight, and I know it’s right,
and I just smile inside.

From the sunrise in the east,
to the sunset in the west,
we’re American Airlines,
doing what we do best.

(Instrumental bed)

Doing what we do best. (American Airlines!)
Doing what we do best. (American Airlines!)
Doing what we do best. (American Airlines!)
Fly awayyyyyyyyy…

Nothing like the sight of morning light
from high up in the sky.
Or when the shadows climb the mountain
as an evening turns to night.

So many things to say and do,
together, you and I.

From the sunrise in the east,
to the sunset in the west,
we’re American Airlines,
doing what we do best.

Doing what we do best…
Doing what we do best…
Doing what we do best…
Doing what we do best…
Doing what we do best…
Doing what we do best…


  • NYBORN2012

    Great campaign. Times have changed, but solid advertising lives on.

  • Baylink

    This campaign is one of my top 5 of all time; especially the anchor spot.  I was also pretty impressed by this fan-made :90 using a late mix of the music and a bunch of current HD promo footage:

  • Bren

    every time I see AA planes I tend to sing that little tune. where American airlines, doing what we do best. I think its the catchiest of all the tunes and the airlines.