Aer Lingus embarks on €2m journey to modernise its brand

Jazz tune, Chris O’Dowd and the Irish ‘travel gene’ - the story behind its new TV ad

It features a voiceover from Chris O'Dowd, stars real cabin crew and is soundtracked by a modern recording of the big band classic Sentimental Journey. The new television advertisement for Aer Lingus is somewhat less sentimental, though, than the serene, soft-focused commercials from its past.

The Smart Flies Aer Lingus ad, which debuted on Wednesday, is Aer Lingus's biggest brand repositioning for many years and the product of "a journey" on which the airline embarked in 2014, says chief revenue officer Mike Rutter.

The ad shows "smart travellers" making their own journey from A to B, taking the best routes they can with the assistance of Aer Lingus crew. Gone is any 20th century sense of awe at the wonders of air travel. Instead, it's all done in a vaguely humourous tone. The ad has "tested very well" with one of its key targets – Ryanair customers.

The ad centres on the idea of an Irish “travel gene”, says Rutter: “It’s meant to pay homage to that, without us getting ahead of ourselves.”


The choice of Moone Boy and Bridesmaids actor O'Dowd "will resonate well in Ireland" and show that "we're not trying to put on airs and graces".

Passengers may soon be very familiar with the music used, Sentimental Journey, as performed by the Metropole Orkest, a jazz and pop orchestra based in the Netherlands, as "it will become the Aer Lingus music", says Rutter.

It will be used across its advertising and will eventually be a feature of the on-board Aer Lingus experience.

Sentimental Journey was a number one in the US in 1945 for Les Brown & His Band of Renown with Doris Day on vocals – it was Day's breakthrough hit.

The song was later recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Ringo Starr, Rosemary Clooney and others, although the Metropole Orkest take is a jaunty instrumental with lots of whistling.

Aer Lingus will spend about €2 million this year on the campaign, which was developed by its newly appointed creative agency KesselsKramer and produced by Dublin-based Sweet Media.

More than 100 people were involved in the making of the ad, which was filmed last month at Dublin Airport and the airline's Hangar 6.

The ad, which has both 40- second and 20-second versions, will run across RTÉ, TV3, UTV Ireland, TG4 and the RTÉ Player until June 6th, before returning to screens in the autumn. It will also appear online and be pushed on social media.

The original lyrics to Sentimental Journey begin "Gonna take a sentimental journey / Gonna set my heart at ease / Gonna make a sentimental journey / To renew old memories." The problem for Aer Lingus, however, is that for "lapsed customers", the brand conjures up only old memories rather than creating new ones.

A review of Aer Lingus by strategic brand positioning agency MCCP told Rutter that its image was in need of an update. “The brand in Ireland, while very strong, very comfortable, needed modernising and it also needed to appeal to the people who had lapsed and gone to Ryanair.”

The findings prompted the airline to put its creative advertising account out to pitch, with the Dutch-owned KesselsKramer winning out over the shortlisted DDFH&B and London-based Krow Communications. (Irish International had held the account for the previous three years.)

Another recent brand-building exercise – its move to cover two of its aircraft with rugby-themed livery as part of its sponsorship of the Irish rugby team – is about “anchoring the brand in the heart of Ireland”.

But this new ad is not purely about winning Irish customers. Awareness of the Aer Lingus brand outside Ireland is low, he admits. That's not great when the airline is attempting to increase its long-haul business. Smart Flies Aer Lingus will run "with minor adaptations" in the US and UK, with online promotion elsewhere, in an effort to correct this.

Counting senior marketing roles at G4S, American Express and Bausch & Lomb as well as 12 years at Flybe to his name, Rutter has "done this before", he notes, but claims to be "very pleased" with this new "brand manifesto" for the airline.

“It’s genuinely a piece of creative that’s done justice to Aer Lingus,” he believes. The ad is “not a one-off”, but part of its wider revenue growth strategy – and it’s a strategy that includes “dealing with any threats from the guys across the car park”.

Watch the ad here.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics