Fly the Branded Skies

Tropes: Those other guys…

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.

Say you’re a regional airline trying to compete against the established mainline carriers, and you want to make a television commercial. What do you do? Simple! Follow this easy four-step process.

Step one. Cast an actor with comical features to play a businessman. (Bear in mind the advertising formula discovered in the 1980s: large nose + wide-angle lens + close-up = comedy.) Pepper in a few characters from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Step two. Shoot a commercial in which the businessman flies on a different, fictional airline. Make the other airline resemble a train to the gulag.

Step three. Add a comic soundtrack, preferably using a tuba.

Step four. Record a sardonic voiceover that starts with “Those other guys…”

Follow these steps, and what do you get? You get this. (Agency: Livingston & Company)

In fact, Alaska Airlines is something of a master of the genre with a whole series of spots from the 1980s directed by Joe Sedelmaier. There’s this one, forecasting the future of flying. It’s a frightening world where triplets with beards sit side-by-side in the front row.

Or this mock advertisement for Skyhigh Airlines. (I have to give credit for not saying “On other airlines, the only thing that’s sky-high are the prices!” Admirable restraint.)

Skyhigh Airlines has even made several more recent appearances in Alaska Airlines advertising, including this spot from just a couple years ago by WongDoody:

Get the Flash Player to see this content.

While Alaska Airlines was running its attacks against “those other guys,” Wien Air Alaska was running attacks against Alaska Airlines. (Agency unknown)

But this trope isn’t limited to Alaska. This 1974 spot, from Southern Airways (Agency: McDonald & Little), was also directed by Joe Sedelmaier. In fact, it was his first.

And here’s another Joe Sedelmaier spot, this time for Pacific Southwest Airlines (Agency: Della Femina, Travisano Partners):

Sedelmaier may be retired, but the genre hasn’t been. This 2007 spot for Continental could’ve been made by him: (Agency: Kaplan Thaler Group)

So could either of these spots from Southwest: (Agency: GSD&M)

Or this 1988 ad for Wardair: (Agency: JWT Toronto?)

Of course, this trope only works for low-cost carriers and regionals. You can’t talk about “those other guys” if you’re one of those other guys. But if you’re a small guy going up against the big guys, it helps if you can do it with a sense of humour. It’s a lot less heavy-handed than, say, representing the competition as an evil black octopus taking over American cities.

Then again, it worked for Mohawk Airlines