Air France is striving to shift the market and lean towards elegance with its new advertising space. Combined with product improvements and a world that is opening up, this is not a bad strategy.
Colin the Great
My best experience with an airplane this year did not come in front of a Middle Eastern or Asian brand. He came to be a European flag bearer and made me feel hopeful that there is still room for elegance, aspiration and high standards where others seem to rot.
The scene: I checked in at a particularly busy Terminal 1 in Dubai, flew with this airline’s business product, and after arriving at the counter after a few formalities, I was asked if I wanted to upgrade with cash. I would usually refuse: a flat bed will usually work for me. But in this case, a rare Pokemon appeared: LA PREMIÈRE, the distinctive product of Air France for long distances.
It is positioned as a real luxury, which means that not everyone gets access: this is a lot for Air France customers with the highest costs. My best guess is my Delta Diamond status and early registration may have led to the offer. I handed over my credit card and they gave me the ticket in a distinctive bright red jacket.
The product is exceptional: there are only four seats in Air France’s 777 cabin. It feels like aboard a yacht, not an airplane, with a palette of cream and gray colors. The service was impeccable: it was clear that my AF 655 flight attendant had served the airline for a long time, and she had also done some fine homework for the guests that evening. The food, the bed linen and everything was perfect. And while I usually like to fly directly from Dubai back to the States, the transfer was worth writing at home: car service to the lounge, sophisticated and attentive staff and a quick delay before connecting. Everything was nice in France, luxury and real treasure, well packed together. And it comes with consistency.
This type of product is usually expensive for the eyes. And I was lucky enough to make a cash outlay that was part of the price of the full ticket. But that made me think about the possibility of a brand that France has with its national carrier, and how they can rekindle their brand.
I was pleased to see the new advertising campaign with the motto: “Bringing elegance to new heights”. In some places, the airline does not show places, food or terminals and opposes some of the category conventions. Rather, it plays on the concept of French The art of living. It’s all part of the brand’s strategy: they’re moving up: they’re going deep into the best of the country to do that.
This may contradict some perceptions of France: consider workers’ strikes, the often confusing Charles de Gaulle airport, which looks even more chaotic in the summer and sometimes inconsistent flight services. But as someone who votes with my wallet and generally chooses what I know is great, I thought the ad impressed with a nice note that could serve as a North Star to redirect the brand as it goes after customers with higher costs. On the one hand, he can get his business back if the performance is as good as the messages and the artistic direction.
The product will also evolve: the brand recently introduced changes to the LA PREMIÈRE product in 2023 and 2024, as well as recently updated business seats. This is progress. My problem with the brand was a bit of a mismatch: the A380s had incomplete reclining flat seats and its 777 business product looked a bit worn and needed refreshing. There was always the feeling that there was another gear that was missing.
But there are attributes: the staff is always elegantly dressed and reflects the pride of the country and the brand. And as the actual product comes closer to some of the world’s heavier airlines (Think Emirates, Qatar, Singapore and ANA), it will be fun to see how the brand can evolve over time: lean towards elegance when a large part of the traveling audience (at least from the USA) seems to have lost their manners. I bet the flying audience will want to support The French Republic.