Fly the Branded Skies

Jingle: “Say Hello to Pan Am” (1980)

Say Hello to Pan Am

Listen: Pan American World Airways: “Say Hello to Pan Am”

It’s big. It’s brassy. It’s got pizzaz coming out of its ears. It’s “Say Hello to Pan Am”: the theme song to the most disastrous merger in airline history.

In early 1980, Pan Am acquired National Airlines for $400 million. The merger gave Pan Am something it had long wanted, something it arguably needed desperately in order to survive: a domestic route network. For decades until deregulation, Pan Am had flown overseas but had been barred from flying within the United States. By the late 1970s, the airline was suffering from a lack of domestic feed for its extensive international network and its very future was in doubt.

By the fall of 1980, Pan Am was ready to dispose of the last vestiges of National entirely. On October 6, 1980, they broke a new campaign by N.W. Ayer, and the world said hello to Pan Am.

By one measure, at least, this jingle was a huge success. It sounded a lot like something Sinatra might sing — so much so that the next year he actually did, with new, unbranded lyrics by Sammy Cahn. Getting the Chairman to record your jingle is quite a coup.1

If only Pan Am, newly merged with National Airlines, had fared as well. But by the time the campaign launched, the merger had already turned into a total disaster.

Part of the problem was beyond their control. The merger coincided with a global recession that hit all airlines hard. Soaring fuel prices didn’t help.

But other problems were more predictable. While National did have a domestic route network, it was mostly along a north-south axis up and down the Eastern seaboard from New York to Florida. It didn’t offer the routes Pan Am really needed to feed flights to Europe and Asia. The fleets weren’t compatible. Worst of all was the clash of cultures:

Pan Am employees looked down their noses at the National people; the National people thought the Pan Am veterans were conceited. In the back-office accounting operation, Pan Am people simply threw National ticket stubs on the floor, to be swept up at the end of the day. National people resented wearing Pan Am uniforms. Both groups spent so much time scowling at each other that they forgot to smile for their passengers.2

In a sense, this makes the jingle all the more heartbreaking; you can almost hear the desperate hope in the lyrics: “We’ll fly America — now we can!” The optimism of “Say hello to hopes and plans. / Say hello! Here I am!” is almost painful in retrospect.

In 1980, Pan Am lost $127 million, its worse loss ever although nothing compared to what was to come. In the first quarter alone of 1981, it lost $92.3 million — more than a million dollars a day. Pan Am’s future had not been promising even before the merger; now it was dragging down National too, which had been healthy and expanding.

Over the next decade, Pan Am sold itself off in pieces in a desperate attempt to stay afloat; unfortunately those pieces tended to be the only profitable parts of the company. In December 1991, Pan Am shut down for good.

Sadly, the “Say Hello” campaign was really the beginning of a long goodbye.

Airline: Pan American World Airways
Title: “Say Hello to Pan Am”
Agency: N.W. Ayer ABH International, New York
Written by: Richard Behrke3
Performed by: Tony Roberts
Year: 1980

Just say hello to a brand new world.
It’s just outside your door.
Say hello to a brand new dream,
much closer than before.

All the world is waiting for you.
There’s a change across the land.
Say hello to a brand new world.
Say hello to Pan Am!

Just say hello to brand new friends.
To places far and wide.
To all those people who can fly the world
the way they want to fly.4

Say hello to hopes and plans.
Say hello. Here I am!
Say hello to a brand new world.
Say hello to Pan Am!

(Instrumental break.)

Just say hello to folks back home.
We’ll fly America — now we can!
Say hello to a brand new world.
Say hello to Pan Am!

Come say hello to a brand new world.
There’s more to see today.
We fly the country like we fly the world.
We’re with you all the way.

You know tomorrow’s waiting for you.
Say hello! Here I am!
Say hello to a brand new world.
Say hello to Pan Am!

Updated, June 16, 2013: Added “Performed by” credit based on CLIO Award entry.

  1. It wasn’t the first time a member of the Rat Pack sang a rewritten version of a Pan Am jingle; Sammy Davis Jr. recorded “The Goin’s Great” in 1969. []
  2. Thomas Petzinger, Jr., Hard landing: The epic contest for power and profits that plunged the airlines into chaos, New York: Three Rivers Press, 1996: 134. []
  3. Coincidentally, Dick Behrke grew up with Bobby Darin and played in his band — just like Steve Karmen, another Pan Am jingle writer. []
  4. A subtle reference to Pan Am’s previous campaign, “We Fly the World the Way the World Wants to Fly.” []