The Other Legacy of Braniff Airlines

Before founding the agency that carried her name, Mary Wells (later Wells Lawrence) was part of Jack Tinker & Partners, where she was first recognized for bringing a theatricality to advertising, a more cinematic and story-driven approach to her commercials. 


Given the fledgling Braniff account, Ms. Wells re-introduced the carrier to the world by breaking out of the dull monochrome world that air travel was circa 1965. She splashed color outside and inside the planes and outfitted the "hostesses" (sorry, the "flight attendant" name was still years away) in stylish Emilio Pucci designs.


It was "The end of the plain plane," as the campaign put it, and it kept Braniff in the news for months on end.  


This commercial may not be the showiest example of a Mary Wells Lawrence production, but the announcement it made was strong enough to make up for the commercial's deficiencies (though the droll "cha cha cha" is a nice touch).


Realizing that, in Ms. Wells words, "the advertising had to live up to the planes," follow-up spots got more creative. In one that was a bit edgy for the era (but typically sexist in its view of its stewardesses), the new uniforms were ostensibly highlighted: 

(Incidentally, that spot first ran during the Superbowl, years before Apple thought of using a provocative spot to hold the attention of the huge audience.)


The success of the campaign and its cultural impact – “Airline advertising and marketing and design would never be the same,” she later wrote – led to Braniff encouraging Ms. Wells to start her own agency, Wells Rich Greene, with the airline as its first client.

That agency grew to become, for a time, the 8th largest ad agency in the world, creating popular ad campaigns for Benson & Hedges, Alka Seltzer, Ford, Sure deodorant, and the “I Love NY” campaign whose distinctive logo, with a red heart standing in for the word love, was an early use of an emoji in advertising.

And though the airline and the agency eventually parted ways, the success of Mary Wells Lawrence and Wells Rich Greene will always be one of the legacies of Braniff. 


In a roundabout way, I was another. 

But I’d better explain, lest you think I’m placing myself in the lofty company of Ms. Wells. 


It was 1979. I wasn’t working in advertising yet. And becoming a writer – any kind of writer – was probably the last thing on my mind. (In fact, one of my most vivid high school memories is of an English teacher returning a marked-up homework assignment to me on which she had written, “I despair of you ever learning the proper use of commas.”)


Frankly, those writing skills hadn’t improved much by the time I took freshman English in college. But that spring, to fulfill a course requirement, I signed up for a lecture class called “Introduction to Advertising.” The lectures took you through the usual basics of advertising and marketing – things like the difference between demographics and psychographics, product distribution models, media planning, blah, blah, blah. 


But if the topics were rather dry, the instructor managed to inject a little life into the lectures, mostly by finding places to diverge into complaining about – you guessed it – Braniff Airlines. He apparently flew on them quite a bit, and – their award-winning ad campaign to the contrary – he did not find the airline as enchanting as the advertising promised. I’m sure he felt vindicated when Braniff went out of business a couple years later. 


As for me, I was intrigued enough by the rest of what he taught to sign up for a follow-up class in copywriting. And when I got another A, I knew I’d found my calling … especially since perfect punctuation and grammar have never been essential in advertising copy.


Don’t tell my high school English teacher.


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