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Case Study: British Airways Magic of Flying

Client: British Airways
Agency:  OgilvyOne Worldwide London
Award: D&AD Yellow Pencil / Integrated and Earned Media / Digital Design , 2014

British Airways worked with OgilvyOne Worldwide to create a world first - digital billboards carrying creative executions, which reacted to specific BA planes as they flew overhead. The outdoor campaign was a huge success and OgilvyOne walked away with the prestigious D&AD Yellow Pencil for both Integrated and Earned Media and Digital Design. 

Take a look at BA's Digital Billboard Campaign in Action

How was 'The Magic of Flying' campaign executed? Not quite magic we're afraid.

The Brief

When flying to Europe, many travellers think first of those airlines which position themselves primarily as low cost carriers. BA was looking for ways to ensure it was also considered, and to communicate both the breadth of its destinations and its competitive prices.

The Creative Idea

'The Magic of Flying' comprised digital billboards in Piccadilly Circus and on the M4 route to London Heathrow showing other brands' advertising until a BA flight flew overhead. At this point, a BA ad was triggered featuring a child who stood up and pointed at the BA plane while dynamic retail messages relating to where each flight was from were displayed alongside with the call to action: #lookup.

"We were looking for a way to bring back to people the amazing experience flying is at a time when it has become normal," says Jon Andrews, OgilvyOne creative director, technology. "For most of us, our first experience of how special flying is happens when we are kids."

Case Study: Magic of Flying


The creative idea had an innate charm as it portrayed a simple truth: that planes look magic to children. However, its execution depended on complex technological infrastructure.

"Success involved reading a plane's location, speed, altitude and sign-in to create a virtual tripwire in the air which would trigger billboards to display BA ads at the right time," explains Charlie Wilson, OgilvyOne chief creative officer, EMEA. The billboards also had to 'know' if it was too cloudy to actually see the planes so each was linked to a cloud height sensor enabling them to turn themselves on and off if cloud was too low.

The solution comprised a number of key components.

The first was an ADSB antenna - an existing surveillance technology in which an aircraft determines its position via satnav and periodically broadcasts it, enabling it to be tracked. This antenna was mounted on a roof in central London to read every aircraft's transponder data within a 200 km radius.

Case Study: Magic of Flying

The second was a super low latency custom-built platform that would process the aircraft data fast enough so the ad played as the right plane flew over. It the ad was triggered a second too late the child would point at empty sky. As nothing like this had ever been done before, this platform was built from scratch.

Another important element was a database that could pull in call sign data from BA HQ daily then cross-refer it to the flight number and work out the route. Custom-built for the campaign, this was needed because transponder data does not include an aircraft's destination - something the agency wanted to feature in the ad.

Finally, a further source of information - up-to-the-minute best price information from BA - was also fed into the system so dynamic retail messaging would enable anyone seeing an ad to know instantly if BA's flight was the cheapest on that route.

By responding to the #lookup call to action, viewers could also access additional information about destinations and link to BA's booking engine via its website - so completing the retail journey.

Case Study: Magic of Flying

Due to its complexity, prototyping was essential.

"Though this was by far the strongest idea we had, BA is not a client to take risks and needed some convincing this was the right thing to do," says OgilvyOne chief creative office, EMEA Emma Delafosse.

"All of the agencies involved worked closely together to sell in the idea. Meanwhile we tested the technologies through a number of prototypes. The aim was to minimise the gap between expectation and reality which can exist when a campaign as innovative as this is readying for launch."

A media deal was negotiated so BA only paid for each activation of the ad rather than a full-time booking - the typical model. As a result, the campaign modified the entire ad serving platform of Clear Channel, the outdoor media company concerned, creating a new 'interrupt' mechanism for use in future campaigns.

Only paying for each activation of the ad meant that by running the campaign in winter - the cloudiest time of year - the campaign's media budget would not be blown too soon, Wilson points out. Furthermore, the timing allowed BA to capitalise on increased footfall in central London in the run up to Christmas.


'The Magic of Flying' ran for six weeks from November 2013. To support the launch of the campaign, a simple film of the first ad's activation was shot and posted on You Tube and tweeted via BA's official feed. Within weeks it had achieved 1m views. 

Case Study: Magic of Flying


Across the six week campaign, 'Magic of Flying' achieved an estimated reach of 350m. This figures considerably exceeded expectation thanks to the combined effect of views in situ and online, plus views of articles (online, especially) about the poster and the technology behind it.

The campaign also drove a significant uplift in traffic to the BA bookings website.

"The key to this campaign's success was the human truth at its heart," Delafosse observes. "It's a campaign which proves that technology works best where it is used hand in glove with people's emotions, desires and needs rather than simply for its own sake."

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

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