Air France is looking to move upmarket and leaning into elegance with their new ad spots. Coupled with product improvements and a world that is opening up, this is not a bad strategy.
Colin Nagy, a marketing strategist, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality and business travel. On Experience dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across the luxury sector, hotels, aviation, and beyond. He also covers the convergence of conservation and hospitality.
You can read all of his writing here.
My best experience on an aircraft this year didn’t come in the front of a Middle Eastern or Asian brand. It came on a European flag carrier, and it left me feeling hopeful that there is still room for elegance, aspiration and high standards where others seem to be rotting.
The scene: checking in at a particularly harried terminal 1 in Dubai, I was flying this particular airline’s business product, and upon arriving at the counter after a few formalities, I was asked if I’d like to upgrade with cash. Normally I’d decline: a flat bed will normally do the trick for me. But in this case, it was a rare Pokémon that had appeared: LA PREMIÈRE, Air France‘s distinguished long haul product.
It is positioned as true luxury, which means not everyone gets access: it is very much for Air France’s highest-spending customers. My best guess is my Delta Diamond status and checking in early might have led to the offer. I handed over my credit card, and was given my ticket in a distinctive bright red ticket jacket.
The product is exclusive: there are only four seats on Air France’s 777 cabin. The experience feels like being on board a yacht, rather than a plane, with a palette of creams and grays. Service was immaculate: it was clear that my flight attendant on AF 655 had served the airline for a long time, and she had also done some subtle prep homework on the guests that evening. The food, bedding, and everything was pitch perfect. And while I normally like flying direct from Dubai back to the states, the transfer was worth writing home about: car service to the lounge, polished and thoughtful staff, and a quick snooze before connecting. It was everything good about France, luxury, and true savoir-faire packaged nicely together. And delivered with consistency.
This type of product is normally eye wateringly expensive. And I had the good fortune to make a cash outlay that was a fraction of what the full ticket would cost. But it did get me to thinking about the brand opportunity that France has with its national carrier, and how they can re-ignite their brand.
I was pleased to see the new advertising campaign, with the tagline: “Taking elegance to new heights.” In the spots, the airline doesn’t show seats, food or terminals and defies some of the category conventions. Rather, it plays into the notion of French art de vivre. This is all part of a strategy for the brand: they are moving upmarket: leading deeply into the best of the country in order to do so.
Now, this may clash with some perceptions of France: think labor strikes, an often confusing Charles de Gaulle airport that seems extra chaotic in summertime and sometimes inconsistent inflight service. But as someone who votes with my wallet and generally chooses what I know to be great, I thought the advertising struck a nice note, one that could serve as the North Star to re-align the brand as it goes after higher spending customers. For one, it could win back my business if the execution is as good as the messaging and art direction.
The product will evolve too: the brand recently introduced changes coming to the LA PREMIÈRE product in 2023 and 2024, as well as newly refurbished business seating. This is progress. My issue with the brand has been a bit of inconsistency: the A380s had not-fully-lie-flat seats, and its 777 business product seemed a bit scuffed and in need of a refresh. It always felt like there was another gear it wasn’t reaching.
But there are attributes: staff are always dressed elegantly, and reflect the pride of the country and the brand. And as the actual product comes into closer parity with some of the other heavy-hitter airlines in the world (Think Emirates, Qatar, Singapore and ANA,) it will be fun to see how the brand can evolve over time: leaning into elegance when a lot of the traveling public (at least from the US) seem to have misplaced their manners. My bet is the flying public will want to root for La République Française.