Craig McNamara blogs and podcasts about advertising and working in advertising
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Fly Me Again
We referenced this ad campaign in an earlier post, but it really deserves its own entry.
This memorable/notorious American Airlines campaign appeared back in 1971, at the behest of National Airlines' Lewis Maytag who sought to modernize the airline and the image of its stewardesses. (Yes, they were still known as stewardesses back then.)
At the time, airline advertising had frequently based their messages on the friendliness and attentiveness of their stewardesses, but previous efforts tended more toward the chauvinistic end of sexism spectrum, treating them more like Ladies Of The Air than ladies of the night:
(Despite the caveman ethos of the headline and illustration, if you click on the ad to enlarge it and read the copy, you'll see it's actually about men being so beguiled by their stewardesses that they often took them for wives -- after first mistaking wives for servants, I suppose.)
But now, with the sexual revolution and women's liberation in full swing (and the swinging lifestyle in full swing, too), and probably influenced by the 1967 international best-seller, Coffee, Tea or Me? The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Airline Stewardesses, Maytag and its ad agency decided to tie into the new image of stewardesses as free-spirited, sexually adventurous women that was taking hold in our culture.
Braniff may have touched on it first, with its own cheeky 1965 commercial featuring a stripping stewardess, but it was National that really brought the innuendo front and center:
Other ads invited you to Fly Suzie and Fly Lorraine. The ladies' names were also painted on the noses of the airplanes, in a bid for synergy and probably, plausible deniability over the suggestiveness of the phrasing.
(By the way, Lewis Maytag is from that Maytag family; he skipped the family business and bought a controlling interest in National instead. Maybe that whole "Loneliest Guy In Town" thing helped inspire the Fantasy Girl come-ons of the "Fly Me" campaign.)
At any rate, the ads increased sales at National by 23% in the first year alone, inspired this 1973 quickie movie (pardon the pun) and of course raised the ire of feminists. In its obituary for the ad man behind the campaign, F. William Free, the New York Times reported that when the National Organization of Women demonstrated outside his agency, he tried to quell their anger by presenting them with bouquets of roses. (Why didn't he just offer to marry them?)
But were the stewardesses as offended by the ads? Some refused to the wear their mandated "Fly Me" button, but at least one of the ad's subjects was flattered by the attention, as she relates in a podcast here (Her interview starts about halfway through).
Three years later, National upped the ante with an updated campaign theme, "I'm going to fly you like you've never been flown before." According to a 1974 article in Time, the actresses were coached to "say it like you're standing there stark naked."
The randy fun all ended in 1980, when National merged with Pan Am. But not before being lampooned by this clever ad in 1977:
Craig McNamara, writer, has over 25 years experience in creating advertising, including 14 years at several of Minneapolis' best-known ad agencies. His work has won awards in both local and national award shows. He's also the author of a book on Minneapolis/St. Paul history and culture. You can find out more about him and view his portfolio at craigmwriter.com.
This is a non-profit account and is for entertainment and free expression purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. “Fair use” for purposes such as criticism and comment is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. All clips, audio, photographs and other content belong to rightful owners.