Iconic Ads: British Airways – The Face

This ad for British Airways came literally out of nothing. Fink was staring at the carpet and this idea came about.

British Airways commissioned Saatchi & Saatchi to create a new advertising campaign in 1989 after the airline had carried more than 24 million passengers.

And it was Graham Fink and Jeremy Clarke, the creative duo who were working on the account

They had put in a lot of effort. Around 30 scripts had been rejected by the BA team. And they had just come back to their office after one more round of an unsuccessful presentation.

That’s when, the idea came to the team, specifically Fink almost fully formed and in a matter of minutes. Fink was staring at the floor. He cannot remember if there were shapes in the carpet, but suddenly he saw it, thousands of people coming together.

And what a presentation to BA it was! After some other ideas, this idea was presented last.

A crumpled piece of paper with a sketch of a disconnected smiling mouth, an eye and a nose, as well as a written face, was pulled out.

It took roughly six months after the script was written before they were given permission to make it. As a result, “The Face” happened.

It was always a matter of whether it could be made at all. Fink and Clarke were not deterred by the fact that the plan looked hard to realise.

There was no CGI then. They had to get it all on camera. There were going to be thousands of people in the ad film. So they wanted a good director.

Fink wanted the famous director Micheal Cimino. And soon enough, the script was sent to Cimino. Two weeks later an answer came back, Cimino wanted US$1 million just to read the script.

That, of course, did not happen. However, a director daring enough to take it on and capture the entire thing on camera was still required, so the Saatchi team chose award-winning director Hugh Hudson instead.

They searched down the choreographer for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics opening ceremony to do his part because the film had thousands of people dressed in patriotic colours and tastefully organised into different formations.

It was shot near the salt flats near Moab, Utah, over nine days. At the time, it was reportedly the most expensive commercial ever made -over a million pounds!

Except for the roar of Concorde at the end, there are no images and sounds of aircraft. To the sound of “Aria On Air” by Yanni & Malcolm Mclaren (an adaptation of the Flower Duet from Léo Delibes’ 1883 opera Lakmé), the voice-over by Tom Conti, says “Every year the world’s favourite airline brings 24 million people together.”

The advertisement was seen by 600 million people in 70 countries. It got millions back in terms of the PR it generated.

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