How To Sell An Emotion Rather Than Product

Alexander Novicov
6 min readApr 11, 2024
British Airways Latest Campaign /Done By Uncommon Agency

A couple of weeks ago, British Airways launched a new outdoor campaign with stunning photography showing passengers gazing from the window at 35,000ft. It stands out and it’s inspiring.

But if we look at the advert, we can’t see any website, or call to action. No ‘Book now’. Why is that? We can’t see any special offers either.

Well, the reason why we can’t see the typical marketing QR codes and call to action buttons is because they are selling a feeling, not a product or a price.

There’s no slogan, no website, no call to action. There isn’t a QR code for curious minds to learn more. In fact, the name of the airline is barely visible. — Skift

The reason why this campaign works so well is because it doesn’t feel like an advertising campaign.

In a world where most clients ask for BIGGER logos in their ads, BA does the opposite — half their logo is not even visible!

Different Types Of Outdoor ads

But they didn’t just start here out of the blue. In 2022, British Airways launched another feeling-forward campaign showing us reasons why we fly. The same agency — Uncommon — created 512 different versions of the campaign for outdoor, digital and print placements.

512 Different Campaigns

As you can see above there is NO call to action button! There is no pitch telling us why we should fly British Airways.

Actually, what they are doing is focusing on emotional brand advertising over typical commercial ads.

Understand the audience

In today’s day and age we know that within two clicks we can compare any flight and any hotel on different websites. Competing on price is a losing game. It’s a race to the bottom — that looks like it’s a race to the top.

BA know that they will never win on price. We all know that. Their operations are too expensive, they fly to the best airports (Heathrow) and they pay to be at the good gates that are closest to security. The service is much better, and the quality of the food is better.

You can never compete with EasyJet and RyanAir.

The BA advertising strategy is to get in your head before the price game begins.

When you see a flight from London to Venice, Italy and you have two options: RyanAir £50, and BA £150, you pay £150.

So why don’t they promote their features as well? Why don’t they communicate that you don’t need to journey to a far off airport to catch a BA flight. Show the comfortable seats, include some food and rename British Airways to Better Airways.

Here’s why they don’t do it — because once they start talking about features they are inviting a conversation about pricing — a game they will never win and I don’t think they want to.

Is a slightly better seat worth really £100 more? Do I need to pay not to walk to the terminal? What happens if the trains are on strike again? I will need to pay an extra £50.

What they want to do is for you to avoid that conversation. They want you to get excited about traveling and associate that excitement with BA. They want you and me to make BA our main choice for a great trip.

When the brand is default, the question shifts from saving to downgrading:

  • Before: do I pay £100 to upgrade to British Airways?
  • After: do I downgrade to RyanAir to save £100.

Their brand advertising puts BA in the driver’s seat, setting the bar for customer experience and expectations. And the ads are just a part of the strategy.

The ads they run set an emotional tone for the brand, while the customer experience delivers on those expectations.

Writing this article made me curious to see the price difference as I’m traveling to Venice, Italy, next week for a client shoot and I booked the typical £50 flight with RyanAir. I checked the price difference between going to Stansted Airport vs going to Heathrow Airport and I have to say it looks like based on price alone it’s £30 more with BA, but you have all the advantages of taking one train to Heathrow and don’t have to worry about changing tubes and trains etc.

Focusing On Emotion

“We were very clear that it will be a brand campaign and not an advertising campaign as it’s much bigger than an ad…The food menu’s part of it, the entertainment is part of it, the uniform is part of it and the safety video is part of it,” [BA Chief Customer Officer Calum] Laming says. Laming is of the firm belief that everyone in customer and brand roles in the service industry has a role to play in how the brand is perceived. -The Drum, Uncommon extends 500-ad Cannes Lions-winning British Airways campaign

Don’t compete on price

Choose any market, any industry and you will notice one thing — you can’t compete on price, never. Amazon won the game in the ‘everything category’ from books to toilet paper. Costco won the game in food and being the cheapest when buying bulk. EasyHotels won the game in being the cheapest accommodation.

The worst thing we can do is compete on price, because if we compete on price, there is nothing else the customer can judge us on. Look at all the low price airlines — RyanAir, EasyJet, WizzAir — what’s the difference between the blue, orange and purple branding? I don’t really know. The airplanes seem the same, the staff seems to be the same.

What we need to compete on is brand. Brand marketing can sell on value, it can lift expectations.

Don’t get me wrong, some customers will always choose the lowest price — that’s how the world works. Some customers are going to be casual customers in the category — we can’t really force anyone to become loyal and we can’t change people’s mindset.

But what we can do is focus on the way we create our brand story, on the way we execute it, and our advertising.

We have the power to work on our brand and add emotional and visual value to our customers.

If you find yourself looking at prices and competing on lowering pricing, you join a competition to the bottom. It’s much better to have less customers but be more profitable. This is what a strong brand does.

I understand that small businesses don’t have the budget to run 512 outdoor campaigns in the UK without their logo — but all small businesses can work on their positioning and create meaningful brand stories that inspire and make an impact.

Something really interesting that I read in Alchemy, a book by Rory Sutherland that said that most people don’t know anything about planes — what engines they have, how much they cost and how much the plane costs. But most passengers will judge subconsciously the quality of the plane and the engines by the sandwiches they eat while they are traveling.

Now try to explain at a board meeting that just invested 11 billion on new planes that their new advertising campaign should be about the cucumber sandwiches and not the plane engines and safety.

Human beings are not as logical as we like to think. We are all emotional human beings that make our decisions based on emotions and logic together and the primary emotion always dominates our decisions.

The packaging, the content, the tone of voice, the marketing we create is all part of our product. If the product is really good but the packaging is not that great, we will not go far.

If you need help with brand storytelling and brand positioning I run Way Boutique Agency in London and can help you create a brand strategy. You can get in touch here or book a session here.

Every week I send a Thoughtful Thursday letter with ideas on brand storytelling and creativity. You can sign up for free here.



Alexander Novicov

I wake up every day striving to become the best version of myself. I’m a human, an author, ultra runner, skydiver, speaker and CEO at Way Boutique Agency.