Temerlin McClain: American Airlines “Engine” & “Way of Life” ads (2002)

Perhaps it is the vagaries of CRTC-regulated Canadian television, the fact that we are not the target audience, or their transitional (and presumably, ephemeral) nature, but I don’t recall seeing either of these ad spots eight years ago.  They are meant to capitalise on patriotic feelings amongst Americans after September 11th, 2001, but they are also fairly brilliant in underlining the message that airlines are an essential component of global commerce.

Engine.

Way of Life.

The director and cinematographer for these ads are geniuses. They are filled with tons of modern and old-school airline iconography; subtle nods to the decades-old liturgy of airline advertising, and the occasional subtle “screw you” to bin Laden and company.  For example:

  • Obligatory shot of arrivals and departures board with “On Time” status has become common in airline TV ads since the 1980s.
  • Aircrew in front of aircraft and cabin crew walking along jetway, both shot from extreme low angle = power and strength.
  • Baggage handlers and rampies running/moving quickly = efficiency
  • Marshaller’s clenched fist—part of “set/release brakes” and “do not touch controls” hand signals—(Engine, 00:50) = also an easily recognisable symbol of solidarity, strength and defiance; “we won’t let the bastards get us down.”
  • Mechanics servicing aircraft and pilots inspecting landing gear = we are diligent and safe.
  • Silhouetted AA MD-11 pushing back to reveal sunrise, another MD-11 leaping skyward in the background, accompanying text “the freedom” prominently displayed onscreen (Way of Life, 00:26).  This shot is pure visual poetry; the cameraman in me wonders how many mornings they spent out on an apron shooting that exact confluence of events.
  • Silhouetted MD-80 flying in golden sunrise/sunset above the Unisphere, accompanying text “anywhere” (Way of Life, 00:32).  Another superb shot where the visuals match the text.
  • The AA captain saluting passing military servicemembers (Way of Life, 00:41) is both a mark of respect for those in uniform, and a nod to past airline posters which have—paradoxically—often pictured their civilian aircrews saluting the public in their print ads.
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