Sell you brand, not your category

I’ve been meaning to write about BA’s poster campaign for ages. A new poster I saw at Heathrow on the way to Jburg today reminded me to post on it. It’s an example of a brand mistakenly selling the category, in this case air travel, rather than selling the brand. 

IMG_0347The message of the poster in question is that old adage that face-to-face meetings are still the best way to get business done, even in our digital age. They quote research from Harvard Business School to back this up. So far, makes sense. But what the poster fails to do is say anything about why BA is the best carrier to get you to that meeting. In effect, BA is charitably selling the idea of air travel, benefiting all airlines. Jolly nice of them to do so. But not good business sense, surely?

Contrast this with the classic 80’s BA ad that I still remember, as I’m sure many people do (of my age at least 😉 ). You can click to watch it here if you're on the website:

Three guys await the arrival of a colleague they’re competing with and who they want to out-smart. "Two years in New York and he thinks he can tell us how to run the show", complains one. "I've fixed it," replies another, “He's traveleling overnight on the 'red eye'. By the time he gets here he'll be exhausted. Like a lamb to the slaughter".

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In walks the rival in question, straight off his flight. Only he's out-smarted the bad guys by flying BA Club World overnight, so he arrives in great shape, ready to kick ass. When the lead baddie asks "Pleasant trip?" with an evil grin, BA Man replies "Yes thankyou".
Voiceover: "New Club World from BA deliver the business man ready to do business." Genius.

There is one exception to this rule of selling your brand, not the category. And that is when you are the dominant market leader, with 50%+ market share. In this case, you get the lion’s share of any market growth. Examples would be Gillette in shaving, where they have a 70% share of blades. Very different to BA, who have a much smaller share of the highly competitive air travel market. In conclusion, spend money growing the market only if you get the majority of any growth. Otherwise, stick to selling your brand.