Air France wants to lean towards the higher segment and towards elegance with their new advertising spots. Coupled with product improvements and a world opening up, this isn’t a bad strategy.
My best experience on an airplane this year didn’t come in front of a Middle Eastern or Asian brand. It came on a European flag carrier and it gave me hope that there is still room for elegance, ambition and high standards where others seem to rot.
The scene: Checking in at a particularly rushed terminal 1 in Dubai, I flew this particular airline’s business product and when I arrived at the counter after a few formalities, I was asked if I wanted to upgrade in cash. Normally I would refuse: a flat bed is normally sufficient for me. But in this case, it was a rare Pokémon that had appeared: LA PREMIÈRE, Air France’s distinctive long-haul product.
It’s positioned as true luxury, meaning not everyone can access it: it’s very much for Air France’s customers who spend the most. My best guess is my Delta Diamond status and early check-in may have led to the offer. I handed over my credit card and got my ticket in a striking bright red ticket jacket.
The product is exclusive: there are only four seats in Air France’s 777 cabin. The experience feels like aboard a yacht, rather than an airplane, with a palette of creams and grays. Service was impeccable: 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 for the guests that evening. The food, bedding and everything was perfect. And while I normally like to fly direct from Dubai back to the United States, the transfer was worth writing home about: car service to the lounge, attentive and attentive staff, and a quick nap before connecting. It was all the good about France, luxury and true savoir-faire, nicely wrapped together. And delivered consistently.
This type of product is normally blindingly expensive. And I was lucky enough to make a cash outing that was a fraction of what the full ticket would cost. But it did get me thinking about the branding opportunity France has with its flag carrier, and how they can revive their brand.
I was excited to see the new ad campaign, with the tagline, “Bringing elegance to new heights.” In the spots, the airline does not show seats, food or terminals and defies some category conventions. Rather, it responds to the concept of French art of living† This is all part of a strategy for the brand: they go to the higher end of the market: they lead deep to the best in the country to do this.
This may clash with some perceptions of France: think strikes, an often confusing Charles de Gaulle airport that seems extra chaotic in the summer and sometimes inconsistent onboard service. But as someone who votes with my wallet and generally picks what I know is great, I thought the advertising was a nice touch, one that could serve as the North Star to realign the brand after customers spend more . First, it can win back my business if the execution is as good as the reporting and art direction.
The product will also evolve: the brand has recently introduced changes for the LA PREMIÈRE product in 2023 and 2024, as well as newly refurbished business chairs. This is progress. My issue with the brand was a bit of inconsistency: the A380s had seats that didn’t lay completely flat, and the 777 company product seemed a bit worn and in need of a refresh. It always felt like there was another gear he wasn’t reaching.
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 becomes more on par with some of the other heavy-hitter airlines in the world (think Emirates, Qatar, Singapore and ANA), it’ll be fun to see how the brand in the can evolve over time: leaning towards elegance when many of the traveling public (at least from the US) seem to have their manners misplaced. My guess is the flying crowd will want to root La Republique Francaise.