Commercial Analysis

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“To Serve. To Fly.”

with 4 comments

“I don’t intend to build in order to have clients; I intend to have clients in order to build.” – Howard Roark, The Fountainhead

This is an exceptionally beautiful commerical. It dramatizes a much-neglected, often denied, connection between the romanticized heroism of the past and the equally-heroic heroism of today (ie: it points out that our modern, technologically-advanced culture is not automatically going to remain simply because it exists). Perhaps it was British Airways’ intention to produce a commercial that was so abnormally romantic in nature – so “old-fashioned” – that it would grab greater attention by that fact alone, and thus it’s implicit message would be more widely disemmenated. In other words, the company was hoping to strengthen and regenerate pro-Western, pro-science, pro-business sentiment in the general public (and, in lifting up the public in this way, serve itself by making it that much more insulated from anti-business persecution). Wonderful. Given today’s culture, heroic, even.

Perhaps that was the intention, but if so, whatever proper thought it provoked was crushed by capping it off with the company’s motto. Even if “To Fly. To Serve” has always been British Airways’ motto, it never has been, is not, and never will be (if BA is to remain in existence) it’s real motto. It’s essence. Just look at this commercial and ask yourself what British Airways is really in love with: flying itself – or customers.

None of the men featured in this commercial – or in the longer version produced fifty years from now in some luminous future – fly in order to serve. They serve in order to fly – because they fly in order to live. “To live” does not merely mean to produce enough value to support one’s existence, it also means fully, completely embracing and loving the means by which one does so. Contrary to popular sentiment – the sentiment pandered to in the motto “To Fly. To Serve.” – there is no choice to be made between being materially competent and emotionally fulfilled*. To enjoy working is proof that one enjoys living. It is only those who do not enjoy working – those who work in order to, for example, serve – that do not enjoy living; and in fact the reason why they come to regard the primary purpose of their their work as service to others is because they seek an emotional fulfillment that they are unable to otherwise have. This commercial is not for such people. It’s a shame it attempts to be.

*To say that serving (ie: trading with) others is impossible to the person who works for no other reason than his own personal enjoyment of the experience is completely incorrect. In virtually all contexts, it is not only possible but preferable to do so. In many – such as aviation – it is even necessary. Obviously, without any customers, aviation of the sort featured here would be impossible no matter how much the men in the cockpits wanted to do it. This, however, is not a testament to the value of service to others as a moral ideal. Rather, it is a testament to the fact that self-interest – because in virtually every circumstance it is in harmony with, and serves, the self-interest of others – is what allows men to soar; both figuratively and literally.


Written by commercialanalysis

October 23, 2011 at 4:21 am

Posted in Transportation

4 Responses

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  1. Just a note to readers: My first comment was in response to another of GDW’s analyses, so I don’t know why it wound up here. The “To Fly, To Serve” video is one of the most beautiful ads I’ve ever seen.

    Edward Cline

    May 9, 2013 at 11:03 pm

  2. GDW: You should’ve introduced yourself earlier. You have a terrific and very informative blog site devoted to the philosophical analysis of commercials. There is one quotation of yours that is especially noteworthy: “The purpose of this commercial’s message isn’t to ensure that all “cultures” (read: individuals) have their individual rights equally protected, but rather to elevate inferior cultural elements by capitalizing on the confusion and conscientiousness of those who hail from superior cultures and have something to lose.” Or, as Ellsworth Toohey put it: “Don’t raze shrines. You’ll scare people. Elevate mediocrity, and the shrines are razed.” I highly recommend your site to other readers here. But my favorite video was the British Airways, “To Fly, To Serve,” and I loved your analysis of it.

    Edward Cline

    May 9, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    • Mr. Cline. Thank you very much for the kind words. As a long time reader of your blog, I can say with confidence that all of the things you have said about my blog are just as applicable to yours. Your recent analysis of Madmen, in particular, was very refreshing to read.


      May 9, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      • You’re very welcome. It’s so refreshing in turn to discover a new blog site worth reading. I have just sent out a broadcast notice to my list about your site. Hope you see more hits.

        Edward Cline

        May 9, 2013 at 8:59 pm

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