The “Fly Me” advertising campaign of the 1970s, initiated by National Airlines, stands as a significant example of the era’s marketing strategies, particularly in the airline industry. At a time when airlines were seeking innovative ways to attract customers, National Airlines broke new ground with an approach that was both daring and controversial.
This campaign was spearheaded by the advertising agency Wells Rich Greene. The primary tactic was to leverage the appeal of their stewardesses, using their images and suggestive slogans to draw attention. The inaugural advertisement in this series featured Cheryl Fioravante, a stewardess with a distinct freckle-faced and boyish look. The ad, displaying her close-up photograph, carried the straightforward yet suggestive tagline, “Hi, I’m Cheryl. Fly Me.” This blend of innocence and innuendo set the tone for the campaign.
Following this initial launch, National Airlines continued to produce ads that invited travelers to “fly” with various other stewardesses, each ad featuring a different stewardess with a similar inviting message. This approach was aimed primarily at the male demographic, intending to position National Airlines as both a desirable and upscale brand.
Despite the controversy it stirred, the campaign was a financial success for National Airlines. The company invested approximately $9 million annually in these advertisements, a significant expenditure that yielded substantial returns in terms of increased bookings and enhanced brand awareness. This commercial success indicated that the campaign effectively resonated with its target audience.
However, the campaign also drew severe criticism for its sexist undertones. The National Organization for Women (NOW) was particularly vocal in its opposition. NOW criticized the campaign for objectifying flight attendants, referring to it as a “flying meat market” and raising concerns that it encouraged passengers to make inappropriate sexual advances. This led to protests, including demonstrations outside the office of F. William Free, the advertising executive behind the campaign. Protesters, in one instance, carried signs reading “I’m Bill-Fire Me” to express their discontent.
In 1972, despite the growing controversy, National Airlines doubled down on its approach, releasing more advertisements along the same theme. One such ad featured Cheryl once again, with a slightly altered tagline, “Millions of people flew me last year,” which continued the pattern of sexual innuendo.