The kernel of the whole idea, that thing at the very centre of it, was to make the planes themselves a visual statement, an object that differentiated the Braniff ‘way’ from all others’. Wells Lawrence had already come up with the idea by the time she commissioned Girard to paint each of the airline’s fleet of Boeing 707s different colours – seven in total – including green, red and turquoise. It was this, and the advertising tagline “The End of the Plain Plane”, which created the before-and-after effect Braniff chief Harding Lawrence had hoped for. So radical was the idea of adding colour to the body of the planes that it immediately acquired press all over the world. The initial response from other airlines was shock. Some even argued that painting the livery added a dangerous amount of extra weight to a plane, but, as with most of the Braniff innovations of the time, the idea was soon copied throughout the industry. In 1968 Continental Airlines, taking a leaf out of the Braniff look-book, hired graphics guru Saul Bass to redesign its logo.
But even before the deregulation of US air travel in 1978, the Braniff glow was beginning to fade; it wasn’t that the idea had run its course, or that those behind it had lost confidence in this grand project, it was that they had too much confidence in it and believed its potential was limitless. The tale of Braniff and Harding Lawrence is a case study not only in the power of marketing and image but also its weaknesses. If “The End of the Plain Plane” was a statement of intent, then “The Air Strip”, followed by copy lines like “The Most Exclusive Address in the Sky”, were indications of a growing arrogance. In fact, it became less and less about the experience of flying and more about the power of advertising and the sweet smell of success.
Ads like “When You Got It, Flaunt It”, are a neat example of the fine line which the brand walked between branding and bragging. Imagine: Sonny Liston sitting next to Andy Warhol on a plane.
Andy: Of course, remember there’s an inherent beauty in soup cans that Michelangelo could not have imagined existed...
Voiceover: Talkative Andy Warhol and gabby Sonny Liston always fly Braniff. They like our girls, they like our food, they like our style and they like to be on time. Thanks for flying Branif,f fellas.
Andy: When you got it – flaunt it.
Voiceover: Braniff International. When You Got It – Flaunt It.