As the world’s eyes are focused on South Africa for the World Cup, leaders of the world’s 20 most influential economies have been meeting in Toronto for the G20 meeting. Between news reports of the standard protests surrounding these meetings and the latest updates of the World Cup, a short news blip showed David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, arriving in Toronto.
During this unique press opportunity, Brand Canada was doing its best to assert its presence across international news media by greeting leaders at their airplanes with Canadian Royal Mounted Police (CRMP or “Mounties”) — officers in their globally recognizable uniforms. As one of the most recognizable symbols of Canada, the “mounties” were successfully symbolizing Canada’s brand.
What really caught the eye was that David Cameron arrived on a Virgin Atlantic flight from London, on a plane called the “Rainbow Lady.” Upon arrival in Toronto, the recently inaugurated British Prime Minister stepped off the Virgin Atlantic flight looking refreshed, (with smiling Virgin Atlantic stewardesses surrounding him on the platform) and ready for the heavy criticism he is sure to receive over BP’s problems in the Gulf.
It surprised me to see this, as I was assuming that he would arrive on a government plane—or that traditionalism would prevail and the Prime Minister would be flying British Airways. None of this is the case.
Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson is surely delighted at the choice, but British Airways CEO Willie Walsch surely feels that this is another thorn in the British Airways brand’s side. With ongoing strikes among British Airway personnel, and an uphill battle to keep the company alive, the brand seems to be losing it’s position as England’s (and the world’s) premiere airline. If David Cameron chooses to fly Virgin, it must be the more refined choice, presenting a clear challenge to British Airway’s current slogan “upgrade to British Airways.”
All eyes will be on British Airways over the next years to see how they manage to draw the company back together. Of key importance will be engaging employees that feel desolated and disconnected from the brand and its heritage. Virgin has always had the advantage of the engaging and inspiring person of Richard Branson being able to rally the troops and lead them into the future. British Airway’s troops need a rallying cry, and perhaps Walsch should make it a key objective to get Cameron to fly the airline again. Set the goal and march towards it. Claim the stake and celebrate the success.