Fly the Branded Skies

Tropes: The Singing Jumbo Jet

Every kind of advertising has—well, let’s call them “conventions.” Airline advertising is no different. This is part of a series of posts on the clichés of airline advertising.

There’s an old joke that, when faced with creating advertising, the British crack a joke, the French get naked, and Americans sing.

If that introduction got your hopes up that this post would be full of jokes, or, even better, naked people, I’m sorry to disappoint. No, this post is about singing—something airlines used to do it a lot.

Today, a song in a commercial is far more likely to be licensed than commissioned. But there was a time when jingles were very popular, and no category used them more often than airlines. In fact, airlines may have elevated the jingle to its greatest heights. This one (by Leo Burnett / song credits) is liable to get stuck in your head:

The secret to why so many airline commercials in the 70s and 80s used jingles lies in their formula. Step one: shoot footage of smiling travelers in all of the airline’s most exotic locations (one of the perks of working on an airline account decades ago must have been the travel). Step two: write a stirring song to accompany a montage of that footage. Step three: work an inane tagline in to the song at the end, and throw in a shot of the plane flying into the sunset for good measure.

You don’t need a narrative, you don’t need to make any claims, and the song keeps the sell very soft. This 1980 commercial (by DDB Updated 9/12/10: It was NW Ayer, just before losing the account to DDB) for Pan Am didn’t even tell you to fly Pan Am. It just tells you to say hello.

Jingles are simple. Inoffensive. Kindof catchy. So it’s not hard to see why every major U.S. carrier ran ads with them in the 70s and 80s.

American did what it did best (by DDB):

Delta loved to fly and it showed (by BBDO):

If you couldn’t fly Continental, you might as well not have flown at all (by Benton & Bowles… I think):

Eastern was “America’s favourite way to fly” (by Lintas):

You couldn’t beat the experience of Pan Am (by DDB — unfortunately none of the actual spots has been posted to YouTube, but here is the song as found on the excellent historical site):

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And Pan Am also flew the world the way the world liked the fly (by NW Ayer — again, from

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Finally, TWA made a simple promise: “You’re going to like us.” I probably shouldn’t make too much fun of this ad, since it was created by the agency I now work for—but I think even David Ogilvy would have thought we could come up with a better tagline.

There are many more—The World’s Going Our Way from Northwest Orient (by Grey), Welcome to America from United (by Leo Burnett), USAir Begins With You (get it? get it?) (by McCann), Braniff is Flying Your Colours (by Gordon & Shortt), Delta Gets You There (by BBDO, which was apparently told to manage consumer expectations)—but you get the point. Really, all these jingles say the same three things:

  1. We like flying.
  2. We like you.
  3. You like us.

With the possible exception of Pan Am’s “You Can’t Beat the Experience,” these campaigns are all basically interchangeable. Tomorrow, you’ll remember the tunes (oh for the love of God… you won’t be able to get them to stop…) but you quite possibly won’t remember which airline belongs to which. If air travel had become a commodity product by the 1980s, it was also promoted by commodity advertising.

Today, even mainline carriers have more distinct personalities; on the inside, you might not be able to tell a United 767 from an American 767, but you would never mistake their advertising. And low-cost carriers like Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America all have very distinct brand personalities and advertising to match.

So it’s probably for the best that the era of the airline jingle is over. But I have a confession to make, one I will vigorously deny to my fellow creatives: I think some of these songs are… well, kindof awesome.

As a young copywriter, I’ve never written a jingle and, the way things are going in the industry today, I quite probably never will. Today we think of jingles as the cheesy bits at the end of local mattress store commercials, but there was a time when they really were considered the pinnacle of advertising. It was a time when it was okay for ads to go all out, when they didn’t have to maintain an ironic distance lest they seem too sentimental. We can never go back to those days and maybe we wouldn’t want to, but that doesn’t mean I can’t miss them a little.

How about you?


  • Fly the Branded Skies

    How could I have missed “You are a National priority?”

  • José Hoover Benavides arana

    Por favor si pueden publicar la letra en Inglés del Jingle “You can´t beat the experience” de la aerolínea Pan Am.
    Please if you can publish the letter in English from Jingle “You can´t beat the experience” of the airline Pan Am.

  • José Hoover Benavides arana

    Estimados amigos, soy un Colombiano, fanático de la aviación comercial, acabo de descubrir ésta pagina web y me quedaré en ella, qué alegría de que exista.

    José Hoover Benavides Arana.

    ENGLISHDear friends, I am a Colombian commercial aviation fan, I just found this website and I’ll stay in it, how happy it exists.Sincerely,José Hoover Benavides Jose Arana.

  • José Hoover Benavides arana

    Muy buena su nota o aporte amigo.


  • Fly the Branded Skies

    I keep hoping I’ll be able to find “You Can’t Beat the Experience” on vinyl so I can write about it, because I quite like it. But it’s on YouTube:

    Here are the lyrics:

    Experience is knowing what to do.
    We’ve done it all before,
    over and over and over.

    Experience to get you where you’re going
    ‘Cause we’ve been there before.
    Fly with the people who know.

    You can’t beat the experience. Pan Am!
    You can’t beat the experience. Pan Am!

    Experience is taking care of you.
    We’ve taken care before,
    over and over and over.

    Experience is fifty years of flying.
    Yes, we’ve been there before.
    We are the people who know.

    You can’t beat the experience. Pan Am!
    You can’t beat the experience. Pan Am!

  • Fly the Branded Skies

    Glad to hear it! You’ll be happy to know I am working on a post about a South American jingle for Braniff.