In 1983, Saatchi launched a campaign to turn around the image of British Airways.

The campaign line was “The World’s Favourite Airline”.

The clever part was that it sounded like “The world’s largest airline” although it wasn’t.

Several airlines were larger, but they were mainly domestic not international.

So Saatchi could justify their line with: “Every year we fly more people to more places than any other airline”.

The campaign was very successful, too successful in fact.

Because British Airways management began to believe it.

They thought the company had moved from a mere commercial enterprise into a global mission, what we now call a ‘brand purpose’.

Paul Jarvis, the BA historian described it like this: British Airways had evolved into a clearly recognisable international brand leader possessing considerable “image” capital. The big issue was the belief that to be a truly global brand the company needed more than just a common identity, it needed the masterbrand element. The essence of the new image was to turn around the perception of British Airways from a British airline with global operations and morph it overnight to become a world airline whose headquarters happen to be in Britain.

So BA management decided to remove the traditional Union Jack from all the tailfins of the planes and repaint the tail of every plane to reflect a different indigenous culture of the various countries BA flew to.

BA spent £90 million (£150 million today) to repaint the tailfins of all their planes in the graphic style of a different culture: Indian, Chinese, Japanese, African, Russian, Polish, Aborigine, Romanian, Egyptian, Saudi Arabian, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, none of them had a common graphic identity.

Four years later the project was abandoned and all the tailfins repainted with a Union Jack.

So what went wrong?

BA management had let their emotions over-rule basic logic.

BA management had its HQ in London, and Heathrow is BA’s home airport, so their planes are in the majority there, and when all the designs are together they are very impressive.

But 60% of BA’s business is outside the UK.

At best there will only be a couple of BA planes at most foreign airports, often there will only be a single BA plane there.

In that case, the different ethnic tailfins don’t look like part of BA’s global image, it looks just like another regional airline.

It might have helped if management had looked at the numbers first.

BA acted like it was the world’s largest airline, so it didn’t have to worry about recognition.

But BA only has 280 aircraft, there are 25,000 commercial aircraft registered globally.

According to IATA there are 303 airlines registered in Europe, 224 airlines registered in Asia, 205 airlines in North America, 121 airlines in Africa, 79 in the Middle East, 63 in the Caribbean, 53 in Australasia, and so on.

Jonathan Glancy in the Guardian said, In marketing terms, BA’s ethnic tailfin design has been a flop because instead of lending the aircraft a clear-cut identity, in simple design terms it looks muddle-headed and messy. However well meant, the ethnic tailfins have had the net effect of trivialising art and design from around the world.

The problem was the management of BA put the emotional cart before the logical horse.

They forgot the purpose of a tailfin is the same as a logo, every time you see it it reminds you of the brand.

And to ordinary people the brand isn’t cerebral it’s visual.

If no one can see your brand it isn’t there, and you disappear up your own brand purpose.